Catching Up with Brooklyn’s Latest Sensation: Joey Bada$$ and The Pro Era

Photo by Nick Harwood/RESPECT.

After waiting about 15 minutes for Joey Bada$$ and friends to get a nice buzz going, we were invited out onto the roof. A roof that just happened to be the perfect setting to speak with New York’s crew of the moment on a summer eve. The Empire State Building stood over us as a symbolic reminder of the Progressive Era’s quick and high rise in the birthplace of hip-hop. Joey Bada$$, Chuck Strangers, CJ Fly, Dyemond Lewis and  Nyck Caution – one-fifth of the Era— spoke through the haze and heat about the positives of being a collective, their reaction to critics and the breakthrough female artist T’nah Apex. The only thing Joey still managed to avoid telling us was his real name…

On my way over here I heard someone playing your song on the train.

Joey Bada$$: Oh my god. Word? What song? Was it “Survival Tactics?”

No, it wasn’t “Survival Tactics.”

JB: Yes!

So you’re called the Progressive Era, but the album is 1999. How do you keep this forward thinking approach while still appreciating the past?

JB: The past—it’s balance. I just stay level-headed, on level 9 [laughs]. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Can you repeat the question?

How do you keep it fresh while still using old MFDOOM beats?

Just the whole idea that it’s being released today. It’s not anything from the past and the stuff I talk it’s present. I mean, it’s not even that I try to bring the ’90s era of hip-hop back in any way, it’s just that’s the type of beats I wanna rap over. That’s just the type of music I like to make. It has nothing to do with me bringing anything back. Yo, that’s my style.

You said in a recent interview that you don’t need to be critiqued by Odd Future or any other artists. Is there anyone producing music now that you appreciate or would perhaps like to receive some constructive criticism from? 

JB: We fuck with Underacheivers, so definitely them cuz those are our homies. [Flatbush] Zombies, those are our homies too. The Village. Kembe X and Alex Wiley.

CJ Fly: 2 Chainzzzz!

Chuck Strangers: I’m still saving up for that [2 Chainz] verse. About 100k. If you hear me, I’m out here my nigga.

What do you think of the fact that a lot of people on the come-up now are crews, the collective?

JB: That’s dope, I actually think that that’s dope. The whole thing with people coming out now in crews, that’s definitely dope. Cuz you know, like, what’s doper than a crew of artists? You can just have one artist and after a couple of years you get tired of him, but if you got a crew it’s just like nonstop talent, but we gonna build off each other and things like that, so it’s like we’re always gonna be getting better as long as we’re together.

Do you each bring something different to the table?

JB: Definitely.

CJ: There are different elements and all that, so we try to do our own thing. We try to do our own things, bring what we can to the table, what interests us. And we all don’t have the same interests. We’re different people, so we try to bring different things to the table to make sure it’s all one cool collective.

Photo by Nick Harwood/RESPECT.

Is it all rapping? 

Dyemond Lewis: I sing.

JB: He’s a frontin’ singer. I’m only saying it cuz I want him to sing more.

DL: Why you gotta play me like that man?

CJ: We have an actor in the group.

Nyck Caution: I act too and rap.

JB: He’s gonna put Pro Era in the Sundance films. He’s going straight to movies. The next thing you do that involves acting is gonna be a movie. Just think about that.

NC: I know, hell yeah.

CS: Or an adult film. [Laughs.] You never know, nigga.

NC: I’m 18, I’m 18. [Laughs.]

I was at your SOBS show the other night. Did you guys read any of the reviews?

JB: Uh, yeah. [Laughs.]

What do you think about them? Do you care?

JB: No, they could, like, suck my dick [all laugh]. I mean, it was just like mad people hate. It’s like, yo, you shoulda just said that to us while you was at the show. Be straight. You gonna be straight on your website, be straight to our face.

CS: You see the crowd is thumpin’, nigga, how you gonna say some fuckin’…?

JB: Yeah, that didn’t matter, like, we had that place crazy. We had it crazy. We were crowd surfing.

CS: “I didn’t like when they sat down and shit.”

JB: “I didn’t like how many people were onstage.” It’s Pro Era, the movement.

Are you coming out with a collective album?

JB: Yeah, that’s definitely in the works right now.

Who else has individual albums coming out soon?

JB: STEEZ is re-releasing AK 47. And then CJ’s working on a little sumchin, I’m working on a little sumchin. We all are.

At the show CJ and T’Nah mostly performed together. Are they a duo?

JB: Yeah, you know what? I’m just gonna leak the information just because we’re that great. They’re actually working on a project together. It’s gonna be really dope.

What do you think about T’nah as a female MC? Because she’s something different than I’ve seen…

JB: She’s gonna cancel out so many people in the game when she comes out. It’s over. It’s nobody like her. It’s nobody like her. Like, yo, she’s never even released a solo track. Do y’all realize that? I just thought about that. Like imagine when she just releases a solo track.

NC: She only has one verse out.

JB: Word. And she killed the game with that.

CJ: Before Pro Era even existed, it was Capital STEEZ, T’nah and I. We did a show [together]. It was like a fundraiser…so boom we did that show and then it started right there. I heard T’nah sing and she was just amazing off the bat. I never listened to anyone sing and got cold chills, you know? I said to her, “One day I’m gonna make my own label and I’m gonna sign you to it.” And she was like, “ok.” We started writing each other and stuff like that. It started like that. I told her to rap. She didn’t rap at all either. She said, “I can’t do it.” [Then] she wrote something and it’s been amazing ever since. And we just decided to do a tape together.

So you two have a tape out together?

CJ: We’re working on it. I gave you a little drop by accident.

JB: [Laughs.] I said the same thing.

What do you think of her compared to other female rappers out now?

CJ: She’s nice. It’s just a whole nother level. Like, she’s not even at her full capacity with what she can do. She just started rapping. Imagine when she actually grasps all the elements of rapping like lyricism, its gonna be amazing. Her voice is only getting better.