Pro Era member Nyck Caution proves that he's ready for the big leagues on his new mixtape.
Why is this mixtape not Nyck Caution’s debut commercial album?
Pro Era has been making music for quite awhile now, releasing old-school New York revivalist hip-hop on Capital STEEZ’s AmeriKKKan Korruption mixtape, Joey Bada$$’s 1999, CJ Fly’s Thee Way Eye See It, and their posse mixtape Peep: The Aprocalypse. With such well-received projects by hip-hop heads and critics alike, it was really no surprise that the Pro Era members began putting out their debut commercial albums, taking their ‘90s New York nostalgia and re-working it into more modern production styles. This led to Joey Bada$$’s B4.DA.$$ and even Kirk Knight’s Late Knight Special receiving acclaim from Pitchfork to DJ Premier himself. And now, bringing Pro Era into 2016, Nyck Caution has released his new highly anticipated mixtape, Disguise the Limit.
Ever since Peep: The Aprocalypse, Nyck Caution’s proved himself to be one of the best emcees that Pro Era has to offer, and the New Yorker puts all of his ability on display with this new mixtape of his. His rhymes are tight, his flow is serpentine, and he’s even able to go toe-to-toe with fellow rappers like Joey Bada$$ and Kirk Knight without getting left in the dust. However, what makes Nyck special in his hip-hop collective is in the way he represents his city. Unlike most emcees who simply shout out their hometown randomly, Caution uses New York imagery as a launching point to talk about his personal life. For example, on the opening track, he says “In the apple we be rotting while I calculate a million”, while one the next song he spits “Freedom like a pigeon but this prison’s in your brain”. Caution knows that any good song needs to be interesting, no matter what the topic is, and he proves himself to be as proficient a storyteller as he is thoughtful with lines like these.
Another way in which Nyck keeps the mixtape exciting is through his choice of producers, of which there are three big names. The first is famed Atlantan Metro Boomin, who made one hell of a banger to close the mixtape out, and the second is Pro Era member Chuck Strangers, who takes his ‘90s aesthetic and sprinkles it with some beautiful ethereal tones on the opener. However, the real unsung hero on Disguise the Limit is Kirk Knight, who is credited for producing half of the songs on the project. Like Strangers, he mixes classic New York boom-bap production with elegant modern embellishments. Where the two differ, though, is in the way they mix the old with the new. Unlike his fellow Pro Era producer, Knight keeps the filthy drums and bass lines of standard boom-bap while contrasting it with gorgeous string sections, snappy snares, and killer guitar riffs. Critics had mixed reviews on Knight’s lyrical performance on Late Knight Special, but not one criticized the production, and it’s highly doubtful that anyone will take issue with his work on Disguise the Limit as well.
Where one is likely to find fault with this mixtape, though, is in its lack of song topics. “The Pursuit”, “Inspire the Escape”, “Somebody”, and “Just In Case” all deal with Nyck Caution’s struggle to succeed as a rapper in the city that never sleeps. Most emcees tell woeful tales of their life in the streets, and in moderation, that’s fine. Caution, however, becomes a broken record by the end of the mixtape, and sometimes lowers his lyrical ability just to rap as much about his hardships as he possibly can. Similarly, there are a few instances where Nyck is slightly outdone by the production, especially when female backing vocals or layered string sections appear. On “Density”, Caution continues to rap as well as he always does, but the J Dilla “Fall In Love” melody that plays in the background easily steals the spotlight away from the New York rapper. Still, if the worst thing about a mixtape is that there are too many amazing things going on in the music, it really isn’t that much of a complaint.
Even forgetting about the music, Disguise the Limit is simply a well-made mixtape in its track listing and feature list. The entire project is fourteen short tracks, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Secondly, only seven artists are featured, which adds variety while also giving enough space for Nyck Caution to shine. Lastly, the songs themselves are arranged so that each track flows smoothly into the next. Nyck Caution removed all of the fat from Disguise the Limit, and gave his fans the lean ribeye steak that we wanted and would have gladly bought if he put a price tag on it.
So I ask again: why is this mixtape not Nyck Caution’s debut commercial album?