Joey Bada$$ Strikes Gold with Golden-Era Inspired “B4.DA.$$”
Joey Bada$$ has had a challenging and powerful journey between the emergence of his first mixtape in 2012 to the release of his debut this past January. 1999 generated the Brooklynite a fair amount of buzz, but it was his firm stance at just seventeen and asserting his dedication to the independent grind, that really garnered public attention. That same year, Capital STEEZ, close friend and fellow artist in the Pro Era collective, committed suicide on Christmas Eve. The devastating news seemed to inspire a fire in Joey and he began releasing material from his follow-up tape Summer Knights, with the first single produced by the esteemed DJ Premier. Joey’s flow, described as conscious, young and forceful, was celebrated as a tribute to the Golden Era. After three years of mixtape material, B4.DA.$$ dropped on Joey’s 20th birthday, January 20. His debut was well worth the wait and honors boom bap with a fusion of his Caribbean roots while showcasing his clever lyricism.
Guests include BJ The Chicago Kid, Chronixx, Pro-Era member Dyemond Lewis, Maverick Sabre, Raury and Action Bronson and Elle Varner on one of the bonus records. The lengthy album runs at seventeen tracks long and preserves his gloomy and gritty flow throughout. Bada$$ enlists the best in beat making, drafting Statik Selektah, Kirk Knight, DJ Premier, Hit-Boy, J Dilla and Chuck Strangers to provide tracks. Although the all star production team allows little room for Joey to expand past his sentimental and conservative cadence, the bars are at an all-time high. Reminiscent of a young Nas and showcasing brilliance, Joey has the ability to shake up the soundscape.
“Save The Children” opens the album and the stadium chant of “Joey” is epic and transitions into powerful rhetoric via Bada$$ spitting through an energetic flow. The sample of “People Moving” by Azar Lawrence repeating, “Black Republicans, black Democrats/ Black educators, black entertainers/ Black, black businessmen, black people” is a compelling hook and a provocative foundation.
As the album evolves, Joey still doesn’t alter his vocal tone, but the variety in song vibe of “Like Me” forces Bada$$ to travel to more imaginative places with his music. Joey sounds refreshing over Dilla and The Roots melodic drum emphasized production. BJ also harmonizes exceptionally over the smooth instrumental, although the content remains commanding and significant. “Cats get decapitated for actin’ a fool/ Blacks get sprayed for makin’ a move.” The record tackles both Joey’s personal experiences and people of color’s oppressive relationship with the police.
Similarly, Bada$$ sounds his sharpest over Hit-Boy’s “Belly of the Beast.” Reggae artist Chronixx sings the hook and helps Joey pay homage to his Jamaican heritage, Brooklyn home and beloved rap influences; specifically Biggie Smalls. Remnants of The Notorious’ “Gimme The Loot” make Joey’s rhyme “It’s the Brooklyn sound, a pro found, Biggie would be proud about” that much more genuine.
“Curry Chicken” closes the project and is also a standout as Joey finesses over Statik’s head nodding creation, reflecting on his journey from child to recognized emcee. The record sums up the album and stamps Bada$$’s impact as a rhyme heavy grind. Joey is still finding the balance between valuing the hip-hop he was raised on and contributing something innovative to the genre in 2015. However, his consciousness and skill is that of a legend in the making and I imagine as he continues to find himself, greatness will surely follow.