Winter in New York City was continuing its warm streak on a rainy February afternoon when one particular side door to a charming house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn was cracked open. Fresh out the shower and shirtless, a towel nearly managed to conceal the bed of wet locks on the head of 22-year-old Pro Era spitter Nyck Caution as he pushed ajar his bachelor pad entrance. To the naked eye, the unassuming youngin’ could be mistaken for just another South Brooklyn kid being hospitable to his guests, that is, until you take a cue from the yellow “CAUTION” tape design on his black socks. Intentional or otherwise, it was a suitable reminder that Jesse Cordasco’s alter ego was ever-present–even if he wasn’t fully dressed.

Though “Caution” is the latter part of his hip-hop sobriquet, a walk-through of Nyck’s apartment quickly allows one to get comfy. His bedroom, drenched in deep purple paint and adorned with yet another nod to his rap name by way of a painting that reads “F**k You Mr. CAUTION,” is both neat and messy. Neat for a rapper, messy for a clean-freak, as a crumpled up ten dollar bill makes an appearance at the foot of the bed. Black leather sofas serve as the stars of the art-accented living room, where carefully colorful pieces hang on the walls of the too-dim-for-his-taste common quarters. A painting of a man and woman playing footsies. A Buddhist sculpture minding its own business so as not to disturb. On the glass coffee table, marijuana takes its rightful place in a rapper’s home, sprawled across the transparent furniture while it awaits its turn to be lit.

VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

When Nyck Caution is finally ready–his hair pulled in back in a ponytail beneath a Florida Marlins 1997 World Series baseball cap–he cozies up on the couch to be probed about everything from his initiation into Pro Era to his full-length debut Disguise The Limit. But first thing’s first on the agenda: the fact that he’s Italian and Jewish, and not Latino like most people assume. Upon introduction to his fiery rap lines, Nyck recalls surprising folks, whose responses range from “Yo, I didn’t know you were that ill,” to “I don’t usually f**k with white rappers.” Surprisingly, Nyck didn’t really f**k with many white rappers either. For him though, there’s more to the spectrum than just black and white.

“I’m not gonna come somewhere like I’m not supposed to be there,” he says adamantly, tossing his phone to the floor as it buzzes. “If I’m in a cypher, or I’m at a show, or anything, I’m not even thinking about the fact that I’m white. I know when it comes to rapping and sh*t, that I can hold my own. I’ll go against anybody; I don’t even look at it like that.”

VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

The first time he held his own was amongst his future Pro Era cohorts, Joey Bada$$, CJ Fly and the late Capital STEEZ at their Edward R. Murrow high school in Midwood, Brooklyn in 2011. Following the discovery of his rap ability, STEEZ coerced an unsuspecting 17-year-old Jesse over to participate in their cypher, as he swiveled to assure that he was the target of the invite. Nervous but willing to rise to the occasion, Nyck Caution rapped his way onto the squad.

“I was there, so I couldn’t just walk away. So I just rapped a verse–CJ was there, Joey was there–and then after that, they all f**ked with me. Every time I saw CJ, he was like ‘Yo, what’s good?’ And that was probably like my ticket into Pro Era, that little verse.”

Fast forward five years, and Nyck (New York City Kid) Caution is sharing stages with Joey in corners of the world he never thought rap would take him: London, Japan, Croatia and host of other destinations, a far cry from his “just for fun rap” beginnings. In his formative days, Nyck would take cues from the likes of Eminem, Drake and Big Sean–name drops that shed light on his wet-behind-the-ears position. Ask him which rap group was the illest, and his answer is less Wu-Tang and more G-Unit, a refreshing realization of rap’s future, one he hopes to seize.

VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Whetting appetites with the on-the-fly release of his 22 EP, Nyck added fuel to his fire with impressive offerings such as his “Proceed With Caution” and “Light Through The Cracks” freestyles, which trigger nostalgia from rap’s word-focused golden era. His quick, calculated verbiage makes it easy to understand why listeners’ face-to-name ratios hardly ever match up, but aesthetics have also helped to further deliver his artful rawness. Take the visuals for “Church,” for example, where a violent trip teeters between reality and delirium.

“I’ve been performing that song for over a year. When I do it live, I do a chant, I say ‘Live for the highs and live through the lows,’” he explains. “That line has like four meanings to me. So you literally live for the highs, the good moments of life. And when you’re depressed or not feeling it, you just gotta get through it. Then it’s also like, since the drug sh*t is such an important part of my influence, I was using as a reference that some people literally live for the high; they live to just get high. And when they’re not high, they’re just looking for that next high. So in the video, it was kind of a trip the whole time.”

VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Unfortunately for Nyck, he witnessed the very real rise of Xanax, Percocet and OxyContin before it made its way onto Future’s wildly-popular discography. Originally a resident of the Brooklyn outskirts of Mill Basin, the rapper recalls convening at the local park with his friends during a jovial childhood, albeit briefly. As his older friends aged, addictions transformed from Mary Jane to some of her more dangerous and distant counterparts, leading well-off kids to stack their 20-dollar-a-day allowances to cop prescription pills. And those that didn’t have the cash would ask around for pizza money until their pockets filled up to cop “sticks,” a street name for Xanax at the time. Watching this saddening lifestyle permeate into hip-hop culture has led the rapper to question the whereabouts of originality.

“With all the Xanax music and the lean music, people think that’s the way music should sound now. Autotune is huge again. I hear so much sh*t like that all the time,” he says. “That’s not you being yourself; that’s you trying to be like Future, or be like Young Thug. Leave that to them. You can take pieces of that, but make your own sh*t.”

VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Enter the antidote, Disguise The Limit: Nyck Caution’s debut project, inspired by the first time he was wowed by a rap peer. During a session with Capital STEEZ, Nyck witnessed the now-fallen Pro Era soldier record a line for his track “Negus:” “The sky’s the limit, that’s what they told the f**kin’ fool/I disguise the limit now I’m aiming for the sun and moon.” It was the “Oh sh*t” moment every connoisseur of rap lives for, forcing Nyck to revisit the line and decipher it. The result? A 13-track opus that finds the rapper far more mature. Picking up where he left off with his 2011 mixtape, The Pursuit, Vol. 1, the rapper’s voice and subject matter are deeper, as he fills his lines with pain, regret, purpose and inspiration. From pianos on “The Pursuit” and to electric guitar assists on “Wordsmith,” to mid-song tempo changes by Kirk Knight on “Basin,” the sounds are richer. The ode to his Pro Era comrade comes full circle on “Out Of Reach,” where Nyck recalls receiving the news that Capital STEEZ had taken his own life in 2012, kicking off the track with the assertion: “‘Cause sh*t could hit the fan in like a minute but I promise/ That a suicide don’t never make it simplified.” And herein lies the difference. Ultimately, Nyck and his team crew hope to positively “Inspire The Escape,” a goal personified on a track of the same name. Coasting on a soulful hook and familiar bass and Sharp & Rel-concocted boom-bap combinations, the rapper encourages liberation beyond self-medication.

For Nyck Caution, the bedrock of rap is less grounded in the unattainable. “That was the main sh*t in rap, the braggadocio, ‘I get more b**ches than you. I have more money than you, my house is bigger, my cars are nicer,’ that was the main underlying factor, that was what made you iller than somebody,” he notes. “Now it’s like, yo, you can keep all that.” The connection he hopes to foster is one striking different from rappers of hip-hop idol’s past, who earned their fan bases from a distance. If this Brooklyn kid shapes up to be the new rap role model, his dream is that the message will always supersede the money.

“Obviously I wanna be big and sh*t, but that’s not my dream,” he says. “My dream is to really affect people. To affect all these kids around the world, because I’ve spoken to them. After the shows, I’ll talk to fans for like 30 minutes, and they go through some f**ked up sh*t. They find outlets in music.”

VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis