22 January 2015

REVIEW: Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.$$

After numerous delays even though it's been complete for some time, Joey Bada$$ finally released his debut studio album B4.DA.$$ (Before the Money) on Jan 20th, his 20th birthday. It was only a few years ago when Best In The Mix first began singing this dude's praises. How could a 17 year-old (at the time) craft such a Golden Era classic? It was shocking to see such a young artist be so dead-on when emulating that gritty New-York boom-bap that was prevalent around the time of his inception. With two critically acclaimed mixtapes under his belt, Joey kicks 2015 off with another project worthy of praise by even the most trapped-in-the-90s purist.

Statik Selektah helps kick off the mid-90s tour on a mellow note with "Save the Children," showing that Joey understands the importance of his position in regards to inspiring younger generations. The production immediately takes you back to the days of rockin the red & black lumberjack wit the hat to match. After a quick introlude, B4.DA.$$ hits its stride with the DJ Premier-produced "Paper Trail$." The smooth iconic descending bassline in the beginning immediately triggers a wrinkle in the brain that takes you back to a truly special place; shit that makes you say "They don't just do it like this anymore!" Joey meets the challenge head-on doing exactly what a true lyricist is supposed to do on a Primo beat and slays it.

Joey goes back in-house with Pro Era's own Kirk Knight on another great song with "Big Dusty."  It's amazing to hear Joey's versatility over a basic boom-bap type beat. "If it ain't real I don't feel it. If it don't hit my spirit I don't get near it, and that's point blank peri'd." He is just comfortably in the zone across the entire track. Through the rest of the album, you might notice that you have yet to hear a single average record and you can't help but feel that this project might be something special. Joey throws in a curveball toward the end and takes his first risk with the aptly-named "Escape 120." The title accurately describes the vibe as this song completely removes you from the journey you were on prior, and takes you to where Joey goes when he wants to get away from it all. The beat is a total departure from anything else on the LP, which provides some necessary balance to the project overall. One thing Joey gets hassled over is his tendecy to be one-dimensional as an artist, despite already having abilities on par with rap's elite. But when he takes risks, purists take shots and assume Joey is trying to appeal to too broad a fanbase instead of remaining in his lane. I personally feel that Joey has become a well-rounded artist, and taking risks here and there will do nothing but help his career in the long run, which leads me to my biggest concern for the future...

The irony with Joey Bada$$ and all of his projects is the fact that even though he is the front-man for a crew specifically called Pro Era (short for Progressive Era), his sound is firmly cemented in the past. This could be seen as "bad" or "who-gives-a-fuck," depending on which side of the fence you're on. The thing is, Joey has mastered the sound from the Golden Era, so where exactly is the progression? It may be nitpicking, but at this point Joey should consider trying to find a way to push the genre forward without sacrificing his sound. A daunting task at first glance, but there's no reason an artist with Joey's level of talent can't pull it off.

There's concern that sets in when you think about whether or not Joey can sustain this level of quality without it eventually beginning to sound like the same ole 90s shit. These are fears that have echoed throughout the Hip-hop community since he released 1999 three years ago. Since this is his debut album, time will be the biggest proponent as to whether or not it's even necessary for Joey to grow beyond being just another young artist paying tribute to early 90s Hip-hop. Fans love his music for that exact reason, but when you hear the name "Progressive Era" and the music is the complete opposite of that, you start to wonder about the future.

These concerns are almost like splitting hairs though, because B4.DA.$$ as an isolated project has no weak tracks. A new verse or song will catch your attention with each playthrough, but you'll often find yourself lost in a nostalgic daze reminiscing back to when head-nod beats and masterful braggadocious lyricism reigned supreme. Joey's debut stacks up nicely against his predecessors, as well as his contemporaries. For that reason, B4.DA.$$ receives BITM highest praise.

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