For the last seven years, the hip-hop collective Pro Era has been one the leading acts revitalizing the New York rap scene on a global scale. Joey Bada$$ and the late Capital STEEZ opened the door for Pro Era’s emergence with their debut projects 1999 and AmeriKKKan Korruption, two critically acclaimed mixtapes. Several members out the Pro Era collective followed suit by releasing a selection their own mixtapes, EPs and albums that showed the pure talent that emanated from the budding rap group. CJ Fly, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution were just some the names out the camp who released projects in that seven-year span. What began as a movement led by Capital Steez and Joey Bada$$ grew into a full-fledged hip-hop machine whose force is felt throughout the world.
The newest MC to emerge out the collective is Chuck Strangers, one the several in-house producers in Pro Era. Chuck, who’s mostly known for his beats within the collective, has been rapping for as long as he’s been producing. “Pro Era met me rapping; there wasn’t a time where I did one over the other,” Strangers tells Billboard. The first taste we have Chuck Strangers' skills on the microphone goes all the way back to Joey Bada$$’ mixtape 1999.
Strangers was featured on “Suspect” and “FromdaTomb$,” displaying a natural skill for rhyming. He quickly found himself on other songs but despite the excellent features, Strangers felt his lyrics needed some time to develop. He found much more success putting time in with his production, creating beats for members Pro Era and a select number MCs outside the group.
It took Chuck Strangers some time to finish his debut album Consumers Park, and that’s not a bad thing. Consumers Park arrives next Friday, and it’s truly a testament to the hard work Chuck put in for this project. The 14-track project features production by Alchemist, Animoss, Shepard Sounds, and Chuck himself while Joey Bada$$, Issa Gold and Kirk Knight make guest appearances.
Billboard caught up with Chuck Strangers to discuss the album, his introduction into Pro Era, and the importance his hometown New York City. Check it out our conversation below.
You emerged on to the scene as a member Pro Era as a producer. How’d you get introduced to the group?
I met them through Steez's sister. I had known her through my ex-girlfriend and she just messaged me one day on Facebook. She played one my beats for Steez and he was like, “Yo, I wanna fuck with that dude!” She told him she knew me and she hit me up saying I should fuck with her brother and his friends on some music shit. I told her for sure I'll check them out. Then, I just randomly met them on the street and we were just talking. They sent me music and it was fire. It jumped f from there.
You found success producing several records for Pro Era and others, so what made you want to begin a career as an MC?
Well, I was always an MC. Pro Era met me rapping, you know what I mean? I wasn't doing one or the other. As soon as I started making beats I was rapping. It just took me some time to get better at rapping. When I met Joey and the rest Pro Era I realized I wasn't as good as them at rapping or whatever so I was just honestly getting in where I fit in. I thought, “Alright, they like my beats, so fuck it.” They liked my raps too. They encouraged me to rap more and more.
From this point forward, is producing taking a backseat to rapping? And which the two do you prefer and which do you feel is more challenging?
Those are two very good questions. I would say no, it’s not taking a backseat, because I always just come up with ideas and shit. So rapping and producing go hand-in-hand. Oftentimes, I just put raps on top beats I’m making to make rappers like it better. To me I feel like sometimes you need to hear an example vocals on top something to really hear the beat. So one skill isn’t really over the other. I’m still doing both.
I would say rapping is a little bit more difficult, though. They're both fucking hard, man. You could make a beat, but to make something good that might take you awhile. I think probably I would say I'm leaning closer to rapping, though.
Is there anyone in Pro Era or even outside the group that has fered you the best advice going forward with your career as an MC?
Oh, I’ve gotten tons advice. Joey was helping me out with my stage presence. CJ is always on me to keep creating. Every time I'm around him, he’s urging me to create new stuff. Even Alchemist, he's always telling me to push it out. Never hold onto anything. I have a shit ton music no one is ever going to hear for several reasons like me not thinking it's good. He told me not be so hard on myself and my music.
This has been a long time coming. About five years, right? How do you feel about the completed project?
Yeah. Even though it's my only project, I think it's the best project I ever was a part . I never worked this hard on anything in my entire life. This project showed me the meaning hard work. I don't think I really understood what that meant before I made this. Creating an album is a process. We went to different places. I would have to take the train with my big ass MP back and forth from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Days I was tired and didn't give a fuck but I still had to go and work. Don't let anyone tell you making a project is easy.
What’s the meaning behind the title Consumers Park and the cover?
The meaning the title is whatever it means to you. My dad painted the image on the cover when I was five. It's a picture me looking mad as hell. I don't even remember what I was going through that day. I remember him watching him paint it too. It's funny because we went through mad covers. I wasn't rocking with any them and then Joey had the idea to use that picture my dad painted.
On the opening record “Backwood Falls,” you mention your journey from Brooklyn to LA with the line: “I hit Whole Foods and there’s no more Kobe’s/ So I moved to LA and there is no more Kobe.” What was the transition from Brooklyn to LA like for you?
It was rough at first, you know? You miss home. It took me awhile to get used to the way people are out there. But after when you find your niche people that you're around, you find places you like to go, things you like to do and shit, to me it just became ill. I was loving it. I've been out there for five years. I couldn't tell you when I'm about to move back to New York.
New York really is home for you. There’s three tracks on the record named after things you’ll find in New York like “Lorimer Street,” “Riis Beach” and “1010 Wins, Pt. 1 & Pt. 2.” How important is New York to you and how has it shaped your career?
Man, New York is everything. It made me who I am. When I go to other places and I see how people are there, I'm just so thankful to just be from New York. I feel like you got to be somewhat smart to live here. You got to work hard and have some sort toughness to you. It made me a survivor, someone who just perseveres. I feel like New York has a realness to it, like having no time for bullshit. I wouldn't want to be from anywhere else.
As a producer, I’m sure you know what you want to hear for your debut album. What was the process like in terms production? Are these producers able to match what you want to hear or do you improvise and work with what they give you?
Well, the song Alchemist produced, “Fresh,” was the first song I ever recorded for the album and that set the tone for the entire project. I had asked Shepard Sounds and Animoss, the other producers on the album, for a bunch samples and beats. There were certain beats I heard that were fire like the first part “1010 Wins” and “Thoro Hall.” They would play me beats and whatever I thought was fire I used it.
Out the three features, who had you challenge yourself lyrically?
Issa Gold from The Underachievers. He spazzed out on that shit and it was kind unfair because I had already done my part so I sent him the song and he just wrote until the beat was over I'm not even going to lie to you, I was thinking about extending the beat and rapping again after him but that would have been corny. I was just going to let that moment shine. But he did that. He got me on that one.
Steez played a major role in your life and in Pro Era. In an interview you did with HipHopDX you mentioned how Steez steered you away from the wrong things and helped you keep focus on the music. What was his influence on you making this album?
Steez always had a way being so expressive and he could come up with the best way to say exactly how he was feeling; he was the best at that. I tried to channel that somehow and he wouldn't have let me quit on this project. I just wanted it to be really good. He wouldn't have been involved] for like just money grabs or stuff like that. He had already passed away by the time I started working on the album.
I would think in my head like, “Damn, I hope he would fuck with some the shit.” I wanted to articulate my thoughts as good as he did. The album is dedicated to his life but I made this for me. I don't want to sound crazy because I wouldn't have been able to do any this had I never met him. But I just had to express myself and give my shit to the world. I pray he's in heaven listening to it proud me.
Pro Era and the whole Beast Coast movement has massive support from fans. People love the music you guys have put out over the years. Now that it’s your turn to shine do you feel there’s any pressure on your end due to the success the other members have found?
I don't feel pressure with that. I do feel conflicted sometimes, though. Hoping people will like it, but at the same time, not giving a fuck if people like it or not. I'm not on a mindset that I have to make music that people like. I'm trying to do some shit that I like. But if you like it, too, then thank you, you know what I mean? I won’t lie, who doesn't want people to like their work? It's always an inner conflict with me. I don't let it get to me or stress out about it. Everything is going to work out the way it's supposed to.
You open the album with, “This is the prequel to the see e equal ill shit to let you know the illest shit is coming.” What do you have in store for us moving forward?
Just fly art shit man. That line was like the manifesto to me, that's why I said that. If you fuck with this, trust me my n—a, I got more shit for you. This is the prequel. You know with A Tribe Called Quest and their first album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths Rhythm]? It's dope but the two albums after that were crazy. I feel like that's what I'm about to be on. We're about to make The Low End Theory next. I'm just going in.
Lastly, looking back on the genre, who are your 5 favorite producers that also got behind the mic that inspired you to do what you’re doing now?
Damn. I’m going with Havoc, Q-Tip, Large Pressor, Kanye West, and RZA. Those dudes can put together albums.