Cinematic / Relentless
January 20th, 2015
Joey Badass (stylized Bada$$) is a 20 year old rapper from Brooklyn, New York who, at his age, has already accomplished quite a bit. He is a founder of hip-hop collective Pro Era, a progenitor of the Beast Coast movement, consisting of other New York hip-hop groups The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies, and released a few mixtapes to critical acclaim. After setting high expectations, he released his commercial debut, B4.DA.$$., on his 20th birthday. With the bar set high, Joey delivers.
When I started to first listen to this album, there was an odd familiarity to it. Throughout B4.DA.$$., Joey is trying to revive the sounds of East Coast hip-hop from 20 years ago, characterized by sparse horn, string and/or piano samples, murky bass lines and boom-bap drum beats. This is the type of hip-hop that got me into the genre in the first place. I didn’t think much of it at first, but there really hasn’t been an album I can think of that has fully committed itself to sounding like it was from the past before. Hip-hop has finally aged to the point where nostalgia plays a role in its creation. With that being said, I couldn’t be happier. Hip-hop is outgrowing its awkward teenage years (the early 2000s) – back when Nelly wasn’t doing Honey Nut Cheerios ads and we all knew Mike Jones’ phone number – and has grown into an adult; able to reflect on its past, but in control of its own future. (I understand hip-hop’s actual chronological teenage years where somewhere in the mid ‘90s, but it’s a shoddy metaphor just work with me).
B4.DA.$$. is a great example of the where hip-hop stands as a genre right now. It’s steeped in hip-hop’s past but still looks ahead to its future. As previously mentioned, the production on this album harkens to east coast hip-hop’s early days. At times somber like in “Save the Children” or “Paper Trails”, soulful like in “Curry Chicken”, upbeat and jazzy as in “Escape 120”, just straight hard beats like in “Christ Conscious” that make your head bob, or a combination of any of these like on “Like Me”. The beats are probably the strongest element of the album. There isn’t a dud or anything close to one in the entire track list. With the crew Joey had, which includes greats like DJ Premiere, J Dilla, and The Roots, it’s easy to see why.
Joey’s lyricism foregoes narrative and story in place of clever wordplay, rhymes, and references, to success most of the time. Joey’s first lines immediately hooked me: “It’s all a hidden history, and mysteries/ I see vividly, hysteria/Cause misery on the interior”. These words tickle your eardrum. They also do a great job of framing the message Joey tries to convey, that being the senseless violence he has witnessed in his home of Brooklyn and present in other cities across the country. Joey covers a wide range of topics in the album including money, higher levels of consciousness, growing up, his family, etc. and does a pretty good job getting his point across. However, there are a few parts that feel a little sloppy. There are a few lines that don’t really flow or rhyme in a decent fashion. There are also a few tracks where Joey raps in a singsong inflection that just sound off, sort of like that one guy who shows up to the karaoke bar sober and by himself (or I guess anyone in a karaoke bar). These songs happen back to back in the last quarter of the album and make it feel a little bloated, which is a shame because the songs after are pretty good. Joey also has somewhat of a monotone flow that I could see some people taking issue with, but I never found it dull. If I have one other complaint about the album it would be that “B4.DA.$$.” is annoying to type, but I won’t hold it against him.
B4.DA.$$. Does a great job of recreating ‘90s east coast hip-hop while retaining its own identity. The production is superb and Joey has some very clever rhymes. It’s a great start for what should be a very good year in hip-hop. For further listening check out 1999 by Joey Bada$$, Indigoism by The Underachievers, and betterOFFDEAD by Flatbush Zombies to get up to date on the Beast Coast movement.