Pro Era’s CJ Fly who gave us mixtapes Thee Way Eye See It in 2013 and Flytrap in 2016, today releases his debut studio album Rudebwoy. The LP’s artwork and title represents his familial heritage of Barbados and Jamaica but this island-referencing aesthetic isn’t exactly a constant for the entire album. Like many of Pro Era’s solo offerings, this release is chock-full of ’90s boom bap sounds. There may be a dash of West-Indian patois here and there but the overall N.Y. jazz-influenced soundscape doesn’t quite match the title. That being said, there’s lots to like in CJ’s debut LP. There’s a great flow in “Show You” and “LV Ascot”, there’s some personal, introspective lyrics in “Grew Up” and “Strugglin’”, and there’s some blunted, golden-era-esque production throughout courtesy of throwback beat-maker Statik Selektah.
The album begins with “Goin Thru” which is about Fly’s trials and tribulations that he’s faced throughout his life. This topic is recorded over slow-tempo, horn-infused production and this combination sets the tone for the entire album. The title track “Rudebwoy” featuring Joey Bada$$ (where’s his next album at?) sports yet more jazzy production, this time with a catchy chorus “Cause I’m a rudebwoy and I ain’t gon’ change”…
In a 13-track LP there’s a whopping 9 that contain featured artists which is arguably too many. Most of the features could have been removed and this may have resulted in better songs. For instance there’s some unwanted, wannabe cocktail-bar singing (“Hard Times” featuring Lexipaz and “Goin Thru” featuring T’nah) which could have been re-worked, removed and improved. Alongside the weaker shit however, there’s also “Grew Up” which features a powerfully-delivered chorus by Haile Supreme.
Rudebwoy is entirely produced by Statik Selektah and his trademark female-voiced “Statik Selektah” shout-out-slash-tag thingamabob gets slightly irritating. Given that this is a studio album, why would you insert a mixtape element into each and every song? By the third or fourth time we hear it we know who’s producing FFS! 🙄 Statik does however, keep an unabating tone from start to finish but as I’ve already said, alongside the sound of a tape or CD being inserted and ejected at the start and end of the album, the focus of the production seems to be something altogether different than the LP’s apparent concept. This release doesn’t conjure-up images of early-to-mid ’80s Jamaican sound systems but rather an early-to-mid ’90s ghetto blaster.
Given that it’s the start of March (and it’s still snowing in places) it’s an odd time to release an album that evokes Caribbean heat or Brooklyn dog days. If this LP had been released in a couple of months time, it may have been more potent. For example, the summery “Block Party” (featuring Kirk Knight) that opens with the lyric “It’s something about the smell of charcoal burning” may be effective if released as a single in July.
In terms of lyricism, there’s a great line in “Strugglin’”: “so much for the ‘land of opportunities’, or unity or community, no immunity, I guess it’s you and me, it’s usually just eulogies”. The piano-soaked “City We From” (featuring Conway The Machine) contains the best chorus: “[The] city we from made us, shooters keep the thang tucked. Talk shit, get your face snuffed, you might get your chain took. Lifestyle you live made up, never give ’em strange looks. You might be in danger, I don’t do well with strangers.”
Alongside the decent lyricism, there’s a couple of niggling things that detract from certain tracks. The confused non-chorus of “Barrell” and the lacklustre hook of “Block Party” drags each song down. The album also ends with a indistinct posse-cut “The Pro” featuring T’nah, Chuck Strangers, Dessy Hinds, Dirty Sanchez, Rokamouth, and Nyck Caution. Not a remarkable way of ending an album.
The standout tracks are “Rudebwoy”, “Grew Up”, “Show You”, and “City We From” but I use the term “standout” loosely. These are the best songs in this album (especially when compared to the mediocre “I Tried” featuring Oshun and the forgettable “Jooks”) but they don’t necessarily have future-proof re-playability (there’s no memorable hook or exceptional beat that’ll make you come back in a decade or so). Don’t get me wrong: this is a decent album (and there’s a couple of tracks I’ll be playing well into this summer) but there’s not much here that’ll set the chart, club, radio, car or headphones alight. Here’s the lead single which is one of the best songs on the album. Listen to it and compare it to other artist’s standout tracks…
With two average mixtapes to his name and a Pornhub music video (although it didn’t contain any explicit material) there’s always something missing from CJ Fly’s releases that could potentially make them something to chat or brag about. There is an “old-school” unique-ness to CJ Fly’s music when compared to most other contemporary Hip-Hop musicians; alongside this distinctiveness however, his monotone voice and lack of memorable material prevents him from breaking through into the mainstream. Pro Era as a crew always had more potential than actual classics to their name and Rudebwoy is another above-average album that doesn’t completely hit the mark.