The relative success of Roc Marciano’s two albums, 2010’s Marcberg and last November’s Reloaded, has been offered as proof that the boom-bap sound that dominated much of ‘90s New York rap is still somehow alive 12 years after that decade ended. To place intent, however, on his creative process, however, would be misleading: much of Marciano’s talent comes from his own comfort with the sound he has chosen to create.
Listening to a song like 2010’s “Snow”, for example, it is remarkably apparent that while the “Funky Drummer” style drum sample and Marciano’s Wu-reminiscent flow harken back to an era when those elements were par for the course in hip-hop, the song is a manifestation of Roc’s specific vision, rather than an attempt to form his music to the template of a sub-genre. Roc Marciano, in other words, makes the music he likes and that music just happens to be boom-bap.
The passing of Pro Era’s Capital Steez this past Christmas Eve was not only a shocking and tragic example of teen suicide, it was the loss of Pro Era’s most visionary member in a similarly visionary regard. Steez’s own mixtape, recently reissued as AmeriKKKan Korruption Reloaded was an enthusiastic showing of Pro Era’s true potential, exhibiting quietly envelope-pushing sounds and the crews most potent rapping.
While it would be easy to see Peep: The aPROcalypse as Capital Steez’s swan song, as the rap community has done with the final contributions of many of its late artists, his influence on the tape actually seems relatively small. No, it’s sounds like Joey Bada$$ is at the helm here, dealing out straight ‘90s throwbacks just like he did on his debut mixtape 1999. Unlike Roc Marciano and Capital Steez, Joey raps and picks beats with nostalgia in mind. The tape is a pastiche of golden age flavor with little backbone. All of the Illmatic and “Top Billin” samples in the world can’t give substance to rappers who show as little direction as these guys.
While there are definitely exceptions (Dyemond Lewis’ verse of “Last Cypher” comes to mind) most of the tape consists of a number of very similar rappers reducing Wu-Tang and Nas flows to their inessential elements, taking the easy going attitude and internal rhyme structures and removing all of the interesting and charged subject matter. In fact, it’s replaced with an equally outdated superiority complex. “F A Rap Critic” repeats the line “you talk about it while I live it”. While they are probably right, it’s not exactly a very good argument for music that puts up little other than the aura of “classic” and a big ego as evidence of its own quality.