Joey Bada$$’ career seemed like it was always going to be criticised by Hip-Hop purists from the off. The young rapper started his career absolutely reeking of his influences and revelling in the past, and it doesn’t help that he had a name as extravagant as he has which made some people instantly write him off as a 90s gangster rap wannabe. It seems odd that these critics are simply glossing over the fact that this kid can seriously rap, and he’s an incredible talent considering he’s just 20 years old (19 years old when he actually recorded this album).
‘B4.Da.$$’ (pronounced ‘Before Da Money’) is Joey’s major label debut album and despite what the critics have said regarding his nostalgia for golden age Hip-Hop, he’s still decided to go down that route like a true artist. He’s still wearing them on his sleeve and it’s evident in the production alone; Joey raps over an old J.Dilla & The Roots beat, as well as bringing the renowned DJ Premier to do a song as well as a host of up and coming producers who are affiliated with Joey’s group ‘Pro Era’. With the help of these guys Joey is showing us how much life there still is in the Boom Bap drum beat and how it can still have a place in Hip-Hop even when people are constantly using Trap beats. It’s not just the production either but Joey himself is reminiscent of artists like Big L and MF Doom when he spits. He still has a distinct style of his own – Joey values rap music on all levels and it’s evident in his music.
Production wise this album is definitely widely varied even though it all sounds similar to music of the past. You have the extremely moody tracks with spacious and varied instrumentation like ‘Paper Trail$’ which features subtle use of piano keys, horn samples, and a gloomy vocal sample that runs throughout over the Boom-Bap beat. They’re simple yet extremely effective as it allows Joey to flow in both his typical monotonous manner and with his more wild vocal deliveries like on ‘Hazeus View’ without it effecting the impact of his lyrics at all. Other tracks are slightly more similar to what he did on his last mixtape ‘Summer Knights’ which had him being extremely laid back vibe with influences of Jazz in his music like the song ‘Belly Of The Beast’. While moments like these are solid, they aren’t where he shines. He truly shines on songs like ‘No. 99’ which has him at his most ferocious and sinister as he raps about police brutality over the top of a beat with an equally as sinister bass-line. If truth be told Joey sounds best when he’s flowing like this with more passion and fire in his voice than when he’s going for an MF Doom style of flow.
Lyrically this album is what you’d expect an album from a 19-year-old rapper in many ways. He doesn’t quite have any sort of coherent theme but instead has an array of topics that feature on the album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s a bit frustrating when he succeeds so well in some topics and falls a tad short in some others. There is the braggadocio you’d expect on a debut album which can be great fun as Joey can seriously pack some brilliant punchlines and wordplay like on the track ‘Big Dusty’ which has him comparing rappers to ‘Now and Laters’. But this song is dwarfed by the touching song that comes straight after ‘Piece Of Mind’ which resembles the Nas song ‘One Love’ in which he plays the track down the phone to his friend in Jail and records his reaction. It’s times like these that you wish he would take on some of the more sentimental topics because it’s truly captivating. Because of the fact that Joey trying to prove himself lyrically on this record there aren’t many guest spots especially in terms of MCs; the most memorable ones come from the Irish/English singer Maverick Sabre who delivers a brilliant hook on the track ‘On and; On’.
It seems odd that so many people were so quick to jump to call this album pure nostalgia when Rock bands can literally spell out their influences for you and be praised to the high heavens for something that hasn’t been done in a while. This is all Joey has done on this record – he’s not copying artists from the past but simply giving us something we haven’t had in a while. It doesn’t mean that Hip-Hop is already getting stale. The genre has only been going for about 35 years and it’s a good time to be able to look back on what we consider to be the best parts of the young genre and give a modern take on it, which Joey Bada$$ has done fantastically. This album isn’t a classic and it does have the potholes that you’d expect a debut album to have and it is slightly over-long but it’s still one of the most exciting things to come out from such a young artist in a long while. If this is what Joey Bada$$ is writing at 19 years old, I can’t wait to see him progress into a more mature and fantastic writer.
Best Tracks: Hazeus View, Christ Conscience, No. 99, Piece Of Mind