Joey Bada$$ is arguably the most relevant young rapper to bring a throwback, 90’s style in his music. With a loyal fan base that allowed him to embark on a world tour before an album release, plus support from pioneers like DJ Premier and Statik Selektah, he seems to be pleasing hip-hop heads both old and new. Apparently, even Barack Obama’s daughter is a fan after being spotted wearing a Pro-Era t-shirt. Joey’s ebut album B4.DA.$$, released on his 20th birthday, sets to capture the essence of Joey’s come up from unknown rapper to recent rap stardom.
Stylistically, he doesn’t stray too far from the sound of previous mixtape efforts. Dusty samples and boom-bap drum patterns provide much of the backdrop to his raw lyricism, whilst the one blatant radio effort is reserved to the bouncy, Kiesza-featuring bonus track. His true spirit shines on songs like “Christ Conscious” where youthful references to Dragonball Z are combined with a vicious flow, mirroring the energy of an early Method Man. More introspective themes are featured on the J Dilla/The Roots produced, “Like Me”. One of the album’s highlights, he seamlessly switches topics from attracting females to social themes including police harassment. Background vocals by BJ the Chicago Kid add a soulful touch to the production, reminiscent of some of Dilla’s work with Slum Village.
“Hazeus View” touches on deeper, more spiritual ground, where Joey questions his ability to find faith. Despite opening up about how the death of fellow Pro-Era member Capital Steez affected him, he slightly falters where song concepts aren’t fully hashed out and braggadocios lyrics slip back in. However, his lyrical ability is fully displayed on the DJ Premier produced “Paper Trail$” where he examines how money has the power to both improve his life, but also change and corrupt him. Lines like, “Before the money there was love / But before the money it was tough / It’s a shame this ain’t enough”, show his current mindset adjusting to a new lifestyle, whilst Premier provides a re-invigorated beat that sounds unlike his usual rigid sample cuts. Even with a nostalgic template, Joey manages to build upon his influences and bring a new, youthful perspective of throwback hip-hop to the current scene.
For such a young artist, Joey shows his maturity and relatable human side when exploring the idea that money and fame have not made his life perfect. “Black Beetles”, the song inspired by a Kanye West lyric describes his low self esteem, as he says, “Sometimes I feel like I’m see-through / Sometimes I really wish that I could be you / Away from the Hollywood acts and record contracts / This life ain’t turn out to be what it seem”. This vulnerability shows completeness to his character, with a stark contrast to the aggressive and commanding lyrics on tracks like “No. 99” and “Big Dusty”.
Overall, B4.DA.$$ is a solid album showcasing a young rapper with enormous potential, but one who is still developing his style. Though it is certainly more refined than his earlier work, it somewhat feels like a long collection of songs rather than a solid body of work. Nevertheless, it is definitely a strong first step into the game, and does not fall victim to the common mistakes of the modern rap record such forced mainstream appeal. As the oft-discussed topic of New York’s current Hip-Hop scene remains confused, Joey Bada$$ shows how young artists like himself are no longer following trends, but creating their own diverse styles which provide much-needed variety within the genre. Speaking to a new generation of fans who were just about born when Jay-Z first released his debut, B4.DA.A$$ proves that pure lyricism and the basic elements of Hip-Hop are still as valued as ever.
Purchase: Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.A$$ (iTunes)
Words by Sej Jheeta // Edited by Ayo Adepoju