Old school hip-hop has been reincarnated and University of Wisconsin students had the rare opportunity to glimpse its revival last Friday. The revival comes in the form of 18-year-old Brooklyn native Joey Bada$$. His rap collective is The Progressive Era (Pro Era for short), and they, along with fellow Brooklyn-based hip-hop groups Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers, graced us with their presence at Memorial Union’s Der Rathskeller.
Joey Bada$$ is an up and comer in the world of hip-hop and arguably the most exciting artist to come out of Brooklyn in recent memory. His flow is smooth, his raps are genuine and creative, and his music brings us back to the Golden Age of boom-bap hip hop. His album is called 1999 for a reason.
The supporting artists, Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers, also hail from Brooklyn, specifically Flatbush Junction. These three hip-hop groups are part of the Beast Coast movement, a term derived from their origins on the East Coast, of which A$AP Rocky and the rest of the A$AP hip-hop collective are also a part.
The show started first with a selection of songs and mixes from DJ Statik Selektah. He played sections of songs from Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky and other popular, contemporary hip-hop artists to get the crowd fired up.
The Underachievers came on next and that’s when the crowd “turnt up” (as was repeated multiple times during the night). They played pump-up songs such as “Gold Soul Theory” and finished their set by playing “Herb Shuttles” twice. The show stopped after their set because the crowd was encroaching on the stage and being too rowdy in the front. A bat-wielding manager tried to get his point across, which had no effect on the crowd’s exuberance, and eventually the police made an appearance onstage. Issa Dash, a member of The Underachievers, gave a speech, telling the audience that if they crossed the line onto the stage, the show would be canceled. After the departure of roughly a third of the audience and a chant of “Don’t cross the line!” Flatbush Zombies came on and played their set.
The energy was high but not uncontrollable for the Flatbush Zombies. They seemed annoyed at the lengths it took to calm the crowd down and played an exceptionally short set.
The problems with the crowd were a product of misunderstanding the situation and not preparing fully for the size and demographic of the audience. Der Rathskeller is not a venue built to hold hundreds of rowdy students who are trying to get revved up at a hip-hop show. Visibility of the performance was very poor due to the Rathskeller’s stage being a foot high at most, and clearly the popularity of the artists, as well as the passion of the fans, was underestimated. The audience had its fair share of men at least six feet tall and when the front of the audience has their arms up and waving, one could not see the performance at all. Standing on chairs and benches was prohibited early on, so as a result, only those in front could actually see the performance. However, these problems evaporated as the crowd, staff and artists came to an understanding: don’t be obnoxiously rowdy and everyone will do their best to provide a good time.
The result was Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era performing an incredible show. Joey’s slick flow and great songs had the audience listening intently, instead of pushing and shoving for a view. Audience members were clustered around the stage on all sides, ravenous for a glimpse of this talented, relatable young rapper. The whole audience chanted “I went to high school but … I went to school high!” during Pro Era’s song “School High” and were rapping Joey’s complicated verses in unison with him in songs such as “Hardknock” and “Survival Tactics.”
Old school hip-hop doesn’t make one feel reckless and violent, it channels that emotion into an art. Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers reappeared on stage, likely feeling the vibe and impressed by the turnaround of energy. There was a circle in the rear of the Rathskeller, with attendees watching others breakdance, pop and lock and show off their moves one by one. Joey Bada$$ finished by spitting a freestyle while a member of Pro Era beatboxed. Good vibes were felt all around, the audience proved that maturity can prevail and immense talent was just witnessed. Keep an eye on Joey Bada$$. He’s making underground hip-hop mainstream.