On Monday morning, while millions of people were frantically running around getting last minute gifts and/or preparing their Christmas Eve festivities, the lives of one of the world’s most promising young hip-hop performers and lyricists ended far too early. While Brooklyn‘s Jamal Dewar‘s (bka Capital Steez) official cause of death is still out, the media swarms quick and public assumption is that he may have taken his own life. Apparently, at 11:59 pm on December 23rd, the following message was cryptically generated through Dewar‘s official Twitter account:
He was only 19 years old.
According to recent sources that we’ve come across, his body was reported as being found just hours later. As you can see, however, if you view the tweet now, it states that it wasn’t made until 8:29 am on December 24th, but that’s just a detail and details are the one thing that we still don’t really have that many of.
@CapitalSTEEZ_ yerrrrrrr! Where you at“
I, more or less, put the momentary brakes on the site to focus on the family during the holidays. [side note: One thing that I did manage to write up, however, was a year-end wrap-up for Ghettoblaster magazine, in which I actual mention Steez’s Pro Era crew in my “best new artist” category.]
Nothing goes up on Monster Fresh without it being filtered through me first, so this isn’t the type of autopilot scenario where I can take a break and keep things rolling. Avoiding the digital world, I was unaware that the tragedy had occurred until seeing a few Facebook posts last night (Christmas day) generated through the twitter account of Steez‘s friend and, arguably, the most recognizable figure to come out of Pro Era so far, Joey Bada$$.
The first one that I caught was…
“This unfortunate xmas eve.. Lost a best friend, a brother, a pro, a partner. Letting go is never easy.. May ur soul rest in peace Jamal..”
Shortly after that, it was clarified with…
“RIP CAPITAL STEEZ!!! 7.7.93 – 12.24.12“
I was well aware of Capital Steez and the work that he’d been doing. In fact, I had even recently considered the possibility of reaching out to him regarding setting up an interview, so this was quite a surprise. More and more statements continued to come out via Joey, including the following
“SICK TO MY STOMACH…“
“part of me still doesn’t believe this“
Bada$$ changed up his subject matter for a little bit, trying to redirect from such a dour topic, but how could something so heavy not weigh on someone’s mind. With a bigger audience than he’s ever had in his young life–Joey himself is only 17 years old, at this point–he, and the rest of his young cohorts in the rap collective are faced with the challenge of continuing to move forward at an extremely vital point in their burgeoning careers, while experiencing tremendous tragedy in such a public forum. It is something that will truly test their resolve, with equal potential to create incentive and inspiration as it could become an all out deterrent and distraction.
Just today, Joey posted the following:
“fuck the fame and the money I’d give it all back 4 my nig. in a heartbeat.“
For those that aren’t familiar, the “fame and the money” reference pertains to the fact that Joey Bada$$ has been blowing up like and AMC Spirit over the last year. Although not quite officially an adult, he was first discovered from a Youtube freestyle at the age of 15 (rocking braces in lieu of a grill, no less), using the moniker “Jay Oh Vee.” After being posted on WorldStarHipHop.com, the video came to the attention of Cinematic Music Group founder, Jonny Shipes; the same man credited with discovering Big Krit, Smoke DZA, and Nipsey Hussle. For many of us, however, the first real exposure to Joey Bada$$ came with the “Survival Tactics” video that featured Capital Steez handling the second half of the track. While Joey‘s name took on the main credit (Steez was technically just “featured”) and forced so many of us to pay attention and recognize this kid’s skill, Dewar‘s verse was definitely just as engaging, if not more so.
The level of surprise created from this cut didn’t just stem from the sheer fact that Joey was pulling influence from the bygone golden-era of rap that took place over the first half of the 1990s, that he was doing it so proficiently and effortlessly, that he was managing all that at such a young age, or even that it was evident that he was destined to make an important impact on both the current and future hip hop world at large, but also that he was so clearly surrounded by talents that rivaled his own. He appeared to have a solid crew behind him. The track “Waves” further reinforced that Bada$$ wasn’t a one hit wonder, while “Hardknock,” featuring CJ Fly, continued to showcase the sort of skilled cohorts that this young artist had affiliated himself with. Joey continues to be the face of the Progressive Era, not to mention a growing figure in the progression of hip hop overall, but it’s been clear from day one that he’s not doing this alone and that he’s never had any intention to. Like Wu Tang before them, Pro Era seems to recognize that their strengths as a unit outweigh those as individuals and, while Joey‘s star continues to rise, the stock of the collective around him continues to follow suit. It should be noted that he is not carrying an entourage, but rather that the collective, collectively carries each of the individuals involved therein and, although the 17 year old was the first one to truly breakout, the rest of these guys are coming up fast. Capital Steez was not sitting in the background in a simple supporting role; this guy was bringing heat and, if one individual was next in line to really break out, I would have put my money on him. His contribution to this group is not only immeasurable, but irreplaceable, and his loss is undoubtedly shaking this crew right now. This is a group of friends composed of around 10 or so emcees, along with producers, visual artists, etc., that have grown artistically by challenging each other up until this point. This is when their resolve will be tested. What they do after this point and how they fare after such a tragedy will mark an even greater accomplishment.
“It’s like 6 milli ways to die my nigga choose one
Doomsday comin’ start investin’ in a few guns“
I had this Steez line that launches his “Survival Tactics” verse constantly stuck in my head over the few days that led up to his death and through to when first discovered that he had passed. Now it seems even more potent; along with the song title itself, of course. Six million ways… but what did happen, exactly?
Doomsday itself has been a reoccurring theme with both Capital Steez and Progressive Era as a group. “Survival Tactics,” “Waves,” and “Hardknock” are all tracks that appear on Joey‘s breakout mixtape, 1999 (download HERE), which was released back in June. Prior to that, Steez had already released a mixtape of his own titled, Amerikkan Korruption. Since the release was heavily slept on and with some new found attention on P.E., he decided to release the “reloaded” version in October, adding an additional 7 new tracks, bringing the total to 21. The following is the first video from the release and is called “Free The Robots,” reflecting the fact that it’s actually laid over a beat created by California producer, Chris Alfaro (aka Free The Robots). It should be pretty easy to catch the line in this track where he clearly states “… apocalypse is getting closer.”
Of course, these guys take pride in the craftsmanship of their lyrics and when Steez references the apocalypse, he typically seems to be more focused on the broader concept of where we are headed as a society, in general, and not so much about some crazy religious 4-horsemen scenario or the impending doom brought about by a Mayan calendar.
That being said, just a few days before his death, the Pro Era EP, PEEP: The aPROcalypse was released on the very day that had been widely interpreted from the Mayan calendar to mark the end of days (12/21/12). I had previously communicated with P.E.’s publicist regarding if a scheduled date was set for if/when Joey Bada$$ would be putting out his official studio release and they informed me that, for right now, they were really much more focused on this then-upcoming mixtape and it was something that they were really excited about. This is the tape intended to elevate the crew into the public consciousness and it was already making a pretty heavy impact and getting some solid reviews within the couple of days prior to when Dewar’s death eclipsed it as the main focus related to the group.
Of course the death of Jamal “Capital Steez” Dewar should rightfully take precedence over the promotion of any musical career and album releases, but it’s important to remember that these things aren’t mutually exclusive. While Progressive Era has grown to include a couple dozen or so individuals (during one interview, CJ Fly and Joey Bada$$ claimed that the total was at 24), it originally began as a group of only 4 friends and Steez was one of them, along with CJ, Joey and producer/photographer Pow P (aka Powers Pleasant/Sir Phucking Pleasant). In fact, Capital Steez was the one who came up with the Progressive Era name along with Pow P. This crew is still fresh on the scene and there is still a lot more that we need to learn about them, but, from what has already been displayed, I feel that it’s safe to assume that Dewar was an essential element in the development of what P.E. has become up until now and, furthermore, will remain an integral force behind whatever it will continue to become in the future. In some ways, parallels could even be drawn between his influence in the Pro Era movement and Melvins frontman, King Buzzo‘s personal impact on Kurt Cobain and the incredible musical evolution that followed–Joey has openly stated that he was listening to a lot of mainstream shit before discovering MF Doom through Steez and that it’s the catalyst that truly opened opened up his mind, musically. But, of course, in this scenario, Dewar, as influencer,was the one whose life ended far too soon. Jamal was definitely a remarkable talent and we’d like to encourage you to check out the music that he was able to produce during his short time here on this planet. That being said, I feel that it’s important to remember that the legacy that he leaves behind is much more than the material that he’s already recorded. His impact has already been far too deep and penetrating for that. Capital Steez‘s legacy will continue to grow, remaining ingrained in whatever the fellow members of his crew manage to accomplish in the future and we’re sufficiently confident that they’ll be accomplishing quite a lot.
Our sincerest condolences go out to Dewar‘s friends and family. Keep moving forward.
Capital Steez’s verse from the track “RUN OR FLY” off of PEEP: The aPROcalypse
I call it astrum argentum
I woke up in a dream state
This life may seem great, but it ain’t
It ain’t the first time I seen gray
With more higrade purple rain for the pain
I said I hate to complain
But lately, all I see days are the same
The ways that a stress? can persuade me to change
But I blame it on the game cause it made me this way
I bet it started when I played Cee-Lo
4 5 6 then out came STEELO
A misfit I’ve been addicted to the weed smoke
All the youngin ever knew was reload the demos and steam on
Dream on, the plan to put his team on is mapped out
We gotta cross the map now
Caught a power surge and then we blacked out
I ain’t tapping out until it’s blunt ashes and clouds