By: Daniel Hodgman
Jamal Dewar, known by his stage name Capital STEEZ, was one of the founding members and architectural mastermind behind Brooklyn’s Pro Era. He rapped with focus and precision, often times making intricate allusions to his life while at the same time throwing around rhymes about the soul, inner-perception and the new “underground mainstream.” STEEZ was a genius; he was an established MC who poured the pulsating realities of his world into songs that could persuade even the tightest of critics to engage in a Pro Era yap fest. Ultimately, what STEEZ reflected in his music was that of an enigma-wrapped soul either lost in the mysterious cavities of life or a soul that simply punctured the surface of life’s very realm. On December 23, 2012, Jamal tweeted “The end.” The next day he took his own life. He was only 19.
His mysterious death has increased the intensity on an already glowing Flatbush (section of Brooklyn) hip-hop scene, and its untimeliness has thrust him into a new-age “Cobain-all-over-again” throne. But beyond the measure of a talented MC that left the game too early stands a more complex and perplexing story. Unlike past greats and their passing, the death of STEEZ was shadowed primarily by dark holes and the state of his mental health.
Capital STEEZ began rapping as Jay Steez for the short-lived group The 3rd Kind, and although his presence in hip-hop was cemented well before 2012, it wasn’t until that year’s 1999 mixtape by Joey Bada$$ where people actually took notice. Featured on the song “Survival Tactics,” STEEZ flows with detailed viscosity filled with sarcasm, metaphorical speak and truth. Lines like, “Fuck what I once said, I want blood shed, cause now-a-days for respect you gotta pump lead,” grasp more with one swift stroke than a majority of popular lines in hip-hop, and the following bars show how STEEZ’s writing oozes with double meaning: “I guess Columbine was listening’ to Chaka Khan, and Pokemon wasn’t gettin’ recognized at Comic-Con.” In four bars, STEEZ explains why there’s so much violence in our culture (fame and recognition) and how without it, even the most successful brands get overlooked (the example being Pokemon at Comic-Con).
Joey Bada$$ x Capital STEEZ -“Survival Tactics”
This is what STEEZ was. He was a tactical and beautiful lyricist with an honest hook, but at the same time was struck with the brutal realization that he was in fact human. On his song “Dead Prez,” he admits the harsh realities of going against his own beliefs. “Rehearsin’ verses in my head, no iPod,” he calmly states, “gave my life to Jah and still can’t find a job/ So what I’m grindin’ for, to put these new Nikes on/ Or to hide the scars from the eyes of God.” It’s a bitter admonition to what he ultimately carried out, and the hook supports this wholeheartedly:
“Is there heaven for us hip-hop heathens?/ Big Pop and Pac, even Eazy had ’em leanin’/ We all children lookin’ for a reason/ What do you believe in, betrayal, treason?”
Capital STEEZ -“Dead Prez”
Beyond the music, STEEZ was a believer in New Age spirituality. A lot of his songs are infused with references to the “third eye”, and this was a characteristic he shared with other Beast Coast artists The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies. Further, STEEZ spread and believed in the knowledge of “indigos”–a theory from the 70s that claimed children radiating an indigo aurora were capable of supernatural powers. In many instances, STEEZ claimed he was a superhero wanting to “get out.”
It might have been these beliefs that eventually led STEEZ to some dark holes. In many of his songs, he raps about the incoming Doomsday and that of God forgetting about him. Moreover, he claimed that he could “see deeper in the future.” He also made references to “some 47 shit” and was continually obsessed with the number. Along with his songs “47 Elements” and “47 Pirates”, STEEZ would often incorporate the number into his lyrics. He also believed Doomsday will occur in 2047. The date he tweeted “The end.” was 12/23/12, which adds up to 47.
Many of his beliefs and actions mirror that of singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston, an extremely talented artist tortured by the devils of manic depression and schizophrenia. Unlike Johnston however, STEEZ seemed to have a more perceptual view on it all, which resonated in his songs.
No matter what prompted STEEZ to take his own life, what remains is his influence, not only to the New Age Flatbush hip-hop scene, but on hip-hop and spiritual meaning as a whole. Says Issa Dash of The Underachievers:
“Most of our lingo and everything we say is actually from STEEZ. Everyone says ‘synchro life,’ and that’s STEEZ’s. He made that up. Whenever something happens, a coincidence happens, it’s like, ‘Oh that was synchro, it’s too perfect to be a coincidence.’ Then 47, and all types of other stuff. He lives on forever. It’s sad that it happened, but everyone’s holding up good because everyone was able to get closure because we all talked to him [before he passed]. It’s so hard, I think about it every day. I always wondered, ‘What do people mean when they say that? ‘I think about that person every day.’’ But literally, every day I think about STEEZ.” –via Complex
It seems that a lot of the time, we as outsiders look too deeply into the cause or event of a death instead of praising and cherishing the life of that artist. We like to delve into reasoning, as if maybe by procuring the problems we can simulate a scenario where the artist never really passed. The truth is, when it happens, it happens, and the best thing that can be done is to remember and cherish. For Jamal Dewar, a genius artist taken way before his time, it’s best to remember how big of an influence he actually had. In the realm of hip-hop as a whole, Capital STEEZ will be mentioned time and time again as one of the MCs that helped move and shift the New Age underground movements of the late 00s/early 10s. He helped cultivate the Flatbush hip-hop scene, further pushed Joey Bada$$’ success and introduced a new way of involving spiritual meaning and truth into rap lyricism. On top of everything though, Capital STEEZ was a person who took advantage of his skills and realized his faults. He was as honest as an artist can be, and that’s what’s going to be most missed.