The Biggest “What If” In Hip-Hop

Capital Steez
Capital Steez

Conversations that begin with “what if” have always been  the lowest form of verbal interaction to me, they are on the same level as conversations that begin with “remember when.” These discussions fail to find any tether in reality, they actually achieve nothing. Take recounting those past stories about the fun times you once had; the persistent retelling of stories almost always puts to death any chance of evolution. Everything else that follows is simply secondary to what once was and that “one time” becomes solidified, acknowledged, and codified as memory.

What if” is just as problematic, highlighting our own inability to accept the world as it is. We exhaust ourselves theorizing about these hypothetical situations where the outcome is whatever we want to play out. Like hip-hop, sports are filled with it. In a domain where what ifs are played over and over and over again to the point of insanity. What if the Seahawks had decided to run the ball on the goal line? What if the Spurs got the rebound in game 6 of the 2013 finals? What if OKC never traded James Harden? Does it matter? What’s done is done. Learn your lesson. Survive and advance.

Even though we’re all aware of the futility of “what if,” we’re all guilty of this armchair philosophizing; is it human nature? I make no claim to be some super philosopher sitting behind a laptop preaching to the masses; I am just as guilty as the next person, but I always try and catch myself before I get too caught in the “what if” quicksand.

However, there is one “what if” I cannot keep quiet any longer. I have toyed with the idea for a long time, I try to dispel it, but this “what if” seems to come back and haunt me.

To me, the greatest loss that hip hop has ever suffered leads itself to one of my most persistent “What if’s“; what if Capital Steez never died?

Greater than Big L, greater than Biggie, greater than Pac, greater than Guru. You see it all the time in the comments section on YouTube, Lil Wayne wouldn’t exist if Pac was still around, Biggie’s freestyles are better than this guys actual song…You get the point. Not only have these “what ifs” been exhausted, they make no absolute sense at all. You can sit there and predict what would of happened if Pac or Biggie never died. For these legends, death put a full stop on their music careers. They left us classics that are celebrated every day by listeners, bluntheads, fly ladies, and prisoners. Their death chiseled their legacy into the marble of hip hop; murals all over the world pay tribute to these guys and they all stand as testaments to the old saying “you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain.”

With Steez it’s different. He left us with nothing to cherish. Just verses.

On closer examination, the verses Steez leaves us are diamonds. Capital Steez was always the most interesting part of the Pro Era, the enigmatic leader who avoided the spotlight. Pro Era is a hip-hop collective that was born out of Brooklyn, New York in 2009 by members Capital Steez, Joey Bada$$, Cj Fly and Powers Pleasant. The group had an interesting dynamic where Joey Bada$$ was the mouth piece, but Steez was the man behind the movement. His spiritual outlook always underpinned everything he blessed us with and when Joey and Steez came together on tracks, they created a tag team that sounded like the hoodrat Blues Brothers on a mission from God himself.

Anyone who knows me knows that I preach the gospel of “Killuminati” as the greatest song of all time and a lot of the reason has to do with context. 1999 stands as a tribute to innocence about a 16-year old who finally got his chance; within the project you see these developing minds going for verse after verse, a seamless seminar in the art of flowing, about seizing the beat and expressing yourself in an unadulterated vernacular that relates and unifies. 1999 was neo-boom-bap and “Killuminati” is emblematic of all this.

Steez and Joey just go in; their styles are similar yet they are fundamentally different, married together in perfect contrast. The beat is powerful, a tyrannic driving force that hits you in the teeth, the drums hide in the background while this melancholic feel engulfs everything. You have Joey, the coarse and edgy vocalist, the undisputed king of double entendres floating out lines like “they say I’m evil coz I train my eagle to see gold, see these seagulls couldn’t see my gold.” Joey is testing you, daring you to try him, the young German Shepherd, ferociously collected, ready to strike as he fades out you have the crying call of Steez.

“Soul searching til my flow is perfect”

The prophet comes through.

Flowing like syrup out of a bottle, Steez delivers his verse without the slightest semblance of effort. He’s blowing up like a ceiling fan. This is child’s play. He’s got flows that could melt Antarctica if he wanted, but he keeps it all under wraps as if holding back the best yet to come. You didn’t quite understand or know what he was thinking. Steez ruled a realm of mystery.

However among all the excitement that was growing around Pro Era, the mind behind it all was obviously carrying an immeasurable burden of knowledge and responsibility unbeknownst to those closest to him. When his world eventually caved on December 23th, 2012, Jamal Dewar committed suicide. Confusion surrounds Steez’s death, and conspiracy theories have spread across the zeitgeist; the date of his death, 23/12/12 adds up to the number 2047, the number 47 being the numerical symbol of Pro Era. Many think Dewar took his life in the belief that he will return as a prophet in the year 2047. These conversations, though tempting, do nothing other than make an attempt to rationalize death.

The “what if” about all of this doesn’t come from “what might have been”; it is not as if Capital Steez had untapped potential, the guy had potential dripping from every dread. It was there in waiting, he just needed more time. I couldn’t possibly see myself ever saying “wow that Steez guy had so much potential, he really fucked it all up though.” Steez was meant to be.

I don’t know where this leaves us or what I hoped to achieve by any of this. I know I should take my own advice and accept reality, but I can’t; asking “what if” leaves me feeling that what happened, really didn’t.

It is interesting now, to dissect this feeling of loss and depravity with any artist. Why do we feel this, how does the life of someone who has never met you or I, affect us? What did I stand to gain from Capital Steez’s continued living? With the last question being a tough one, there is no real answer. At the center of every single experience we have ever had, we are at the direct center looking out; all we can do is speak from experience.

The work from fine artists has always altered my understanding of the world, calling into question my own ideas and giving birth to a whole internal turbulence. When Steez died, my favorite artist was taken from me, and one of my primary sources of information on knowledge and creative thought was gone.

Dead.

I don’t feel the similar loss one feels after a death of family member; of course it’s sad but the loss is closer to regret, a missed opportunity of what may have been, just another useless and impotent “what if.”

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