Review Summary: A life cut short, a legacy cut short--promise cut short.
--Steez is Dead--
Since the birth of hip hop in 1990 with Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby
, production has proved to be just as important as the rapping itself. Take Illmatic
by Nas for example--some people (the minority scream the loudest after all) found it a travesty to have different producers scattered throughout the album versus the prior standard of a single dedicated producer. In the 1994 release, Nas commissioned six different producers for ten tracks--in the 2004 reissue, he commissioned an additional four for the sixteen track album. Prior to this contextual heresy in 1994, it was generally accepted that hip hop artists were to work with a single producer almost exclusively. Public Enemy worked with The Bomb Squad for its first four albums, A Tribe Called Quest’s first three albums were produced mainly by member Q-Tip, and Gang Starr was in-house with duo MC Guru and DJ Premier. It is these type of teams that make certain visions truly pop
(Not to say this sort of collaboration doesn’t exist nowadays; Flatbush ZOMBiES’ tracks are almost all produced by member Erick Arc Elliott, J. Cole self produces roughly 95% of his tracks, and RZA has dominated the Wu-Tang Clan production discography since 1995 - of the 101 studio album tracks since 1993, 86 have been produced by RZA).
Mixtapes, however, are a completely different entity. A fair amount of them use a variety of previous beats, essentially just giving an old track a new spin. Unfortunately, a lot of mixtapes (mainly those found in mailboxes or in kids’ Halloween buckets) are just made up of beats that the artist likes
versus beats that the artist could actually work with. Even if a beat is good, that doesn’t mean that it works with the artist’s style. Listen to all of those “Hot Nigga” or “Black and Yellow” remixes: the vast majority of them suck. Good beat, but it wasn’t really made
for these rappers. To reference Illmatic
again, Busta Rhymes had a relatively interesting thing to say regarding one beat (“Halftime,” produced by Large Professor, who also produced “One Time 4 Your Mind,” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”) that ended up on Illmatic
"I didn't know what to do with it. I didn't know why I didn't know what to do with it, because I loved the shit out the beat."
-Busta Rhymes, 1992
He would leave the studio as well as the beat on the cutting room floor, to which Nas liberated and obliterated almost immediately. The rest, as they say, was history.
This may have all seemed long-winded, but it is just meant to show how synchronicity can make or break an album. This is where AmeriKKKan Korruption
’s falls short: Steez has an amazing flow, but he needs to figure out his style and what types of beats he can actually work with. It’s clear that his flow is creative enough to warrant some sort of definite vibing with his beat choice, but it ended up tripping over its own potential.
"Cause P.E's about to take off" - Steez on Joey Bada$$' "Survival Tactics"
Not for Steez. fucking sad. Easily the most talented member of PE, and I'm sure his
posthumous release will be just as good. He could've been huge. It's really too bad.
Rest in fucking peace, man. I'm sorry that you didn't think there was an alternative. but I
guess some people just don't wanna live.
I wrote that on May 24th, 2013. Steez had been dead for 151 days. 5 months. 21.6 weeks. 3624 hours. You get the gist.
There had been 151 days where Pro Era had refused to release any posthumous material. It is nice when people respect artists. Michael Jackson and Notorious B.I.G. in particular. No one messed with their stuff after their respective deaths. Completely untouched.
have been huge. His rapping on this mixtape certainly shows potential. Track 4, “Free the Robots,”’ remains a favorite ‘flow-displaying’ hip hop track of mine in recent times. I’m sure Free the Robots didn’t think to visualize his work in another context, however, such a drastic change in sound is able to reveal a new depth that one might have initially failed to see (see: Trent Reznor 1994 vs. Johnny Cash 2002). So when Steez released his take on the track, Free the Robots surely realized that he had only scratched the surface of his music’s potential. Peep the instrumental--”Diary.” Free the Robots definitely knows what he is doing.
You can almost perfectly copy that prior paragraph when trying to understand and appreciate “Dead Prez,” produced by none other than Pro Era head Joey Bada$$. You can tell that there is a definite synergy between Joey and Steez; this was a track produced for
Upon realizing the actual impact that Joey had on this repackaged beat (originally released as “Coffee Cold’ by Galt MacDermot), you can see how this mixtape could fall apart. Joey & Steez were as tight as Stevens/Twitty, but the potential in their collaboration was never able to be fully realized. Had they maintained a tight-knit duo, their synergy would allow them both to flourish instead of having to make Steez grasp at straws for the right beat while letting Joey fall into the blackhole that is ‘90s worship.
Despite the frequent inconsistencies found within the beats, the rapping remains solid. Tracks 2, “Dead Prez,” and 4, “Free the Robots” make political statements without being too “KRS” to not take them seriously. In both tracks, Steez references “dead presidents,” a term coined by Nas in ‘94 (I knew I could make it full circle), without making such super-brave political statements such as “the government stinks!!!” or “Bush is GAY.” While it is clear that he has problems with the government (“It’s a man’s world but a white man’s planet” - “Free the Robots”), it remains subtle enough to remain under the radar for those who don’t want to look into it too much.
Despite the solidity of these tracks, there are definitely some completely putrid ones. As usual, this mixtape is too long. Rappers never seem to understand this. That certainly may have something to do with the “duds” found here, but still.
Track 6 “Dead on Arrival” is a complete earsore. Despite the MF Doom beat, Steez decides to croon out some shit and make it apparent that he cannot sing at all
. “Hype Beast” sounds like a 13 year old Clams Casino trying to make his first cloud rap beat. Sounding like a discombobulated version of Drake’s “Pound Cake,” Steez trips line after line whilst trying to follow this far too busy beat. The Uno Hype feature does nothing to help redeem this track--they both have similar flows, and they both fall flat here.
“Infinity and Beyond” seems to realize how undeniably lame the previous two tracks are. Putting a slight spin on Souls of Mischief’s classic track “‘93 til Infinity,” Steez spits smooth-as-butter lines over this beat. As the clear standout of this mixtape, Steez shows off his Big K.R.I.T. influence via divergently tonguing certain vowels and taking a progressive step in the enunciation of his words; each line has a different flow when properly listened to. This is the bittersweet thing about Steez: his potential is easily seen here in his ability to step outside of his safe zone, and yet he will never be able to fully realize that.
”It just hasn’t been the same since my homie’s death”
-”Infinity and Beyond”
The mixtape completely falls off with closers “Bonified” and “Chicago.” With beats you could find as demos on a $10 MIDI keyboard, they both sound like shitty tango night at some bar that flourishes on reeling in terrible spouses that think “a night on the town” will fix the unfixable. In the end, it just makes things worse. The husband can’t dance, and the wife is too busy eyeing that man-piece making googly eyes at her saggy B cups. “Chicago” is another MF Doom production. I guess Steez just has a thing for subpar Doom beats.
This mixtape leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Despite the strength of the first half, the second half struggles to maintain even a portion of that quality, with the only oasis being “Infinity and Beyond.” It can be a chore to listen to this in one sitting. Like most of Pro Era’s work, they flourish in small doses and take a while to truly find their sound. I’m sure that Joey Bada$$ will eventually realize that there is such a thing as being too ‘90s, and I’m sure he will eventually spew out a classic. However, he has to get over his gimmick and try to find himself. Pro Era is a solid group, but they all seem to be out of step with each other. I know Steez will eventually walk in step. I know Steez could have eventually walked in step.