Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
The Pro Era movement is moving. And one of the forces behind its success this past year and change has been producer/rapper Chuck Strangers. We first got acquainted with Chuck’s material on breakout Pro Era MC Joey Bada$$’ debut mixtape 1999, where he produced four tracks, and rapped on two. Most notable was “Fromdatomb$,” a highlight from the tape that warranted its own music video. The Strangers-produced beat was steeped in ’90s nostalgia, and though lyrical lyric fans may hate to admit it, Chuck spit bars on his verse, rapping with mad charisma, ‘I know how to write these songs, I know how to light these bongs/I know how to rip thongs, and I’m pretty good at beer pong.’ Awesome.
After contributing beats and rhymes to Pro Era’s two latest projects—the crew’s PEEP: The Aprocalypse mixtape, and Joey’s Summer Knights mixtape—and also showcasing his talents on Super Helpful’s The Help EP (a supergroup he formed with producer Lee Bannon and rapper Kwame over last Thanksgiving weekend), Chuck recently relocated from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to work on his forthcoming debut project. Intrigued by his coast switch, we hopped on the horn with Chuck to see what he’s been listening to out West (aside from Pro Era) for our latest edition of Heavy Rotation. And other than one new Drake joint, he’s been mostly on a bi-coastal ’90s rap kick. Check out the five songs Chuck’s been bumping the most in his new habitat when he’s not hard at work on his own music (or while he’s hanging with his producer pal Alchemist), and stay tuned for his official debut project coming soon.
1. Ice Cube “The Nigga Ya Love to Hate”
Chuck Strangers: “It’s funny, I was saying to Alchemist that I can’t listen to my New York raps out here because they just don’t make sense. How are you gonna be in a car driving through palm trees [listening to someone] talk about ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ and all that shit that I normally listen to when I’m shuffling through the city, getting in and out of cabs, and all that east coast shit.
“But [me listening to] that particular song has nothing to do with [me being in California], because that song just says a lot of powerful ass shit, if you really listen to it. He talks about, ‘I never tell you to get down, it’s all about coming up.’ Little stuff that I was fucking with. I haven’t been listening to a lot of [new] rap music lately, because—not like, ‘Oh, your shit gotta be deep’—but I just feel like the person that’s rapping doesn’t have an opinion on anything. [Laughs.] It’s just a song, and shit.
“I found out about Amerikka’s Most Wanted in like seventh grade. I used to play basketball at this YMCA, and one of the older guys that worked there, I told him that I made beats. And he was like, ‘Oh, well if you’re trying to do music, there are albums that you have to hear.’ So he brought me Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Death Certificate, 2Pac All Eyez on Me, both Biggie albums, everything. And as long as I would burn it to my computer and bring it back to him, he would lend me his music.
“This shit was just different, and it wasn’t mainstream. He had another song on there called ‘Turn Off the Radio.’ And when I was first making beats—and I’ve been making beats for a minute—I would play them for my friends, and because they didn’t sound like D4L, they’d be like, ‘That shit is wack.’ So I love that [he wasn’t afraid to go against what was popular]. I can relate to that.”
2. The Notorious B.I.G. “Everyday Struggle”
“I don’t care who you are. If you’re stressed out, that’s a song you can throw on. Not to say that you’re not gonna be stressed out any more, but it will make it a little bit easier. ‘I know how it feel to wake up fucked up.’ That’s just my shit. It always give me power when I hear shit like that. And that beat is fresh. You hear the horns in that? That is a dope ass beat.
“I’m a real musical person. I don’t even watch TV like that. To me, albums be like movies. That’s why when you hear a wack project, it’s almost like watching a bad movie. I actually like Ready to Die better than Life After Death. A lot of people hate on me when I say that, but it got that little edge to it. He came with the flows that were unmatched on Life After Death, ‘Notorious Thugs’ and all that. But Ready to Die stuck with me. I had a connection with that shit. Being a fat black kid from Brooklyn, who else are you gonna connect with? [Laughs.]
“The one thing I really liked about Biggie is you felt like he meant what he said. It was just hella authentic. Same with Ice Cube. You just felt like he meant the fuck what he said. You would never say, ‘I bet he’s not even like that in real life.’ You heard that shit, and were like, ‘Damn, I probably don’t even want to meet this nigga!’ [Laughs.] And also, there was a stance. A story. It wasn’t just like endless music.”
3. MC Eiht “All For the Money”
“Me and Alchemist were just tweaking to that song. I listened to that song like four or five times yesterday. It was in my head. You know when a song is in your head, and there’s no music playing, and you’re just rapping [along to it]? And Al was like, ‘Oh yeah, that song is hard.’ And we had to just bang it real quick. His flow is the smoothest. He was just [spitting] some L.A. scum. And he was killing it. But in a smooth ass tone, like, ‘I gots to get mines, or I’m a take yours.’ I love that shit.
“I thought it was a great nod when [Kendrick Lamar put him on good kid, m.A.A.d city]. One thing I want to say about that song is that [Ice Cube’s] ‘A Bird in the Hand’ is one of my favorite rap songs. I used to rap that song coming out of school in eighth, ninth grade, and people [my age] didn’t know what it was in New York like that. So when I heard him rehash that, I thought it was dope. He definitely knows what’s up, because that’s a really great song. And to throw MC Eiht on it, I was like, ‘Nah, that’s what’s up.’ That was fresh. That’s probably my favorite joint on the album.
“I actually used to be a big fan of The Game. When The Documentary came out, and even LAX, I was all about The Game. He was the nicest to me. It’s funny, because I’m from Brooklyn and shit, and I listen to East Coast shit all day, but I always loved old West Coast rap. That’s one of my favorite genres. I fucked with how they weren’t trying to be super lyrical and always drop knowledge. It was just about the shit that they saw, and the shit that they did, over dope ass beats. Plus, with the skits, and the way the albums flowed, they were more thought out then a lot of East Coast projects.”
4. Jay Z “D’Evils”
“I had to put one Jay Z song on here. If there was one Jay Z song I’d want my fans to hear, it would be that one, so they know what made me be like, ‘Damn, Jay Z is hella nice.’ I remember before, I used to hate on Jay Z. And my homie was like, ‘Nah, you’re trippin’! Listen to Reasonable Doubt.’ And then [after I listened to it], I was like, ‘Hov is dead nice.’
“I heard The Blueprint before I heard Reasonable Doubt. And that kind of made me a Jay Z fan. I used to be a bigger Nas fan. I’d be like, ‘Nas is clearly better.’ But when I heard Reasonable Doubt, I was like, ‘Well, it’s arguable.’ [Laughs.] He’s fucking nice. And I like a lot of songs that I don’t hear a lot of people bump off Reasonable Doubt. I like ‘Cashmere Thoughts,’ ‘Bring it On.’ Jay Z was just talking shit the best way he ever could on that CD.
“It’s just the sinisterness of the whole thing. When I was a kid, my rap had to have some sort of sinister, evil, fucked up shit about it. And when I heard Jay be like, ‘I don’t pray to God, I pray to Gotti,’ I was like, ‘Damn. That’s crazy. He’s going off.’ And the beats, too. The darkness of that shit. It wasn’t really the scratches, because I’m not really a big scratch person. It’s just how raw that shit was. I can play ‘D’Evils’ a bunch of times over.
“I wouldn’t say that no one nowadays is making hot music, but [the songs I’ve mentioned on this list so far and the rap music from the ‘90s] is the shit I’m letting influence me [while I’m out here working on my first project].”
5. Drake “The Motion”
“That song is hard. He’s talking about some real shit, like when people need a favor from you they won’t leave you alone. He sings about his life, and I feel like a lot of people give him flack for that, but it’s like, what the fuck else do you want him to do? That’s his life. Drake is ill. I would produce for Drake. I think that would be dope.
“The beat is on some different shit. Sampha is on there. I always hear songs, because I’m a producer, and be like, ‘I would’ve done this differently.’ But it’s a good ass song. But what I fuck with most about the song is what he was saying. Talking about where he’s at right now with the people around him, and his girl or whoever that is. Not everyone has to be a tough guy. I think his shit is real authentic, in the same way that Ice Cube was authentic. If Drake was coming at us like one of these thugged out dudes rapping, we would be like, ‘Hell no. Stop it.’ For somebody in his position, he’s killing it.
“That’s the hardest shit. That gets the rewind. I play that shit when I’m chilling with my girl or some shit. You can’t listen to Wu-Tang all day. Your girl will come over like, ‘Take this shit off, nigga!’ [Laughs.] Not that [girls don’t like Wu-Tang]. But, you gotta [mix it up, and smooth it out sometimes].
Yeah, [I’m looking forward to Nothing Was the Same]. I like Drake’s albums. I think that they show progress. He got better from the first one to the second one, and the first one was already good.”