Beast coast boom-bap

Joey Bada$$ and Statik Selektah lead a new wave of New York rap

The phone’s ringing. It’s more than three months since the first interview request was sent. Within a minute Joey Bada$$ — the 18-year-old Brooklyn rap phenom whose recent mixtapes ( 1999 and Summer Knights ) consistently cause hip-hop legends to salivate (Buckshot most recently) — will be on the line. Or so one would think. Because that’s what’s been scheduled.

But Pro Era the crew of rappers and producers of which Joey’s the ringleader is convoying to Rock the Bells in San Bernardino. And he’s in another car. So instead the phone’s handed to Patrick Baril better known as Statik Selektah who’s DJing the Pro Era set that night (he’s actually been doing that since February when the crew embarked on their continent-wide Beast Coast tour with Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers). But Statik’s considerably more than just a turntablist-for-hire and last-minute interview substitute. In fact although far too few acknowledge it he’s really the superlative new-era boom-bap producer. No exaggeration there.

Statik’s recent Extended Play which featured verses from the veteran class of East Coast rappers (Raekwon Prodigy and Talib Kweli) and the new generation (Action Bronson Mac Miller and — yup — Bada$$ and Pro Era) proved that. Without question. It was an outstanding effort with every track worthy of multiple listens. In that sense he’s the perfect person to be spinning for the throwback collective.

“Pro Era just carries the torch for the sound that I grew up with” he says. “I try to carry the tradition of the boom-bap sound — A Tribe Called Quest DJ Premier Pete Rock-type vibe. A lot of New York cats lost their way with that for like the last 10 15 years so it’s cool to see them — and artists like Action Bronson — coming out and holding it.”

Plenty of producers name-drop such legends for shits but Statik’s the kind of guy who actually knows what he’s talking about. By the time he was 14 he’d bought some 700 CDs. Nas’ Illmatic Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s Mecca and the Soul Brother Gang Starr’s Hard to Earn and Moment of Truth and A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders were the most formative of the bunch he says. Now Statik’s abandoned the CDs and has instead amassed a vinyl collection numbering somewhere between 20000 and 30000.

“When I was growing up hip-hop was a lot different: it was like a secret society” he says. “If you listened to Wu-Tang and Gang Starr and shit like that you connected with people that listened to it. Now it’s like everybody on the planet listens to hip-hop and it kinda made it a lot different.”

The cultural upbringing has paid off in a way that’s made Statik’s sound pristine. His sampling in hooks can only — but perhaps too obviously — be compared to that of DJ Premier. When he’s not sampling he’s referencing; that’s why he can integrate Melle Mel’s “New York New York” into the 11th track of Extended Play so seamlessly. When Joey shows up to record he’s ready to make gold.

The incredible track “Word is Bond” off of Summer Knights was finished in less than an hour with the beat in less than 20 minutes. The legendary “Deadly Combination” by Big L featuring 2Pac was heavily sourced — a producer can’t draw on a more pure golden age reference than that. But Statik assures that the creation of that beat wasn’t premeditated — he constructed it while Joey was in the studio. But he wasn’t the only one prepared for action.

“Joey doesn’t just sit there and bullshit on the mic” Statik says. “If he’s going to step to the mic and get into the booth he’s ready to do it. Whether he’s writing or whether he has something already he’s not gonna just sit there and waste your time and be like ‘oh one more time one more time.’ He’s ready to rock.”

That’s what makes the whole Beast Coast movement so vibrant: It’s a collection of emcees and beatmakers who respect the history of the ’90s boom-bap era without plagiarizing. There’s no formal list of contributors to the movement; it’s just a bunch of hip-hop-loving dudes with people like Statik Selektah at the centre who are bringing the mainstream back to the old-school New York pre-Telecommunication Act of 1996 sound.

It’s a good thing the impromptu conversation with Statik does happen. A few hours later when Pro Era’s at the festival site and Joey’s finally on the line (after yet another delay due to a pre-show afro trim) the background shenanigans — presumably the dozen or so members of Pro Era unwinding — derails the interview. The longest discernible quote is something along the lines of: “I ain’t got time to be fucking watching fucking Miley Cyrus fucking being a slut” with the remainder largely a combination of “what?” “come again?” and “I can barely hear you.”

In other words I may not have nabbed the Joey Bada$$ interview I’ve been pursuing for months. But really it’s all good. While each is clearly their own person Statik Selektah is repping the same movement as the young rapper and the sound’s a composite of greatness informed by both respect and determination. No matter who you talk to one thing’s perfectly clear: East Coast hip-hop’s back in force.