Brooklyn, New York’s very own Joey Bada$$ begins the new year with the release of his debut studio album, B4.DA.$$ (Before Da Money), within which he shows a great deal of growth and maturity, while still maintaining the nostalgic 90’s tint that is a hallmark of this 20 year old’s style. As the title suggests, Joey approached the making of this album with the same mind state as he did before he was considered successful, encouraging others to follow his example, keeping the same hunger and drive throughout your career as you had at the start and before the money.
The album begins smoothly, allowing Joey to set the tone of the project, culminating in ‘Paper Trail$’, where the young wordsmith explains that despite how life changing the money he has earned has been, it comes with its complications, claiming “cash ruin everything around me”. On the aforementioned track, Joey is treated to some of the best recent work from DJ Premier on production, who provides a solid platform for Bada$$ to deliver his compelling rhymes. Joey continues the story with ‘Peace Of Mind’, which is reminiscent of Nas’ ‘One Love’, as the Brooklyn emcee speaks of/to a friend who has been incarcerated. Comparable with other songs from the Pro Era frontman like ‘#LongLiveSteelo’ from Summer Knights, Joey attempts to translate to listeners that he can delve into more personal subject matters, showing further proof of his maturity. This proof continues on songs like ‘On & On’ featuring UK vocalist Maverick Sabre and Pro Era’s Dyemond Lewis, where Joey shows a thoughtful and contemplative vision in his verses, as well as O.C.B. (Only Child Blues), as Joey muses over how he ended up as a “rap star”.
The first of a collection of tracks that carry an aggressive tone is ‘Big Dusty’, the lead single from the album. The spooky, jazz infused, Kirk Knight produced beat is attacked perfectly by Joey, whose delivery is the perfect example of aggression and cool, coupled with the catchy hook of “Check my style, check, check, check it out”. Similar sentiments can be expressed about ‘No. 99’ and ‘Christ Conscious’, which both allow Joey Bada$$ to focus on recreating that golden era rap feel through sharp, self-confident rhymes. In contrast, but still in keeping with the essence of 90’s hip hop, the album delivers us with some laid back, boom bap style pieces that come in the form of ‘Hazeus View’ (produced by Kirk Knight) and ‘Like Me’ (produced by J. Dilla & The Roots). Despite the light piano keys that lead the melody on ‘Haezus View’, Joey is more animated with his vocal delivery than you would expect, which provides an interesting juxtaposition. While on ‘Like Me’, assisted beautifully by BJ the Chicago Kid, Joey is appropriately at his most serene as he is on the entire album, despite the forcefulness of his lyrics.
The Chuck Strangers produced track, ‘Escape 120’ has a completely different sound to what we are used to hearing Joey Bada$$ on, so depending on how receptive you are to a transformation in style, you may love or hate the sudden change in direction. It’s refreshing to see Joey leaving his comfort zone, but it may take some getting used to for some listeners.
All in all, supporters of the Brooklyn emcee will no doubt be impressed and satisfied with what he delivers, which is a mature improvement on his first two efforts, showing clear growth in both delivery and lyrical content. As it’s the first major Hip Hop release of 2015, it will be fascinating to see if the album is still talked about throughout the year, or when compared with other expected hip hop releases of 2015, that should include Drake & Kendrick Lamar’s new albums. Irrespective, Joey Bada$$ has laid down a solid foundation in which to build his mainstream career on.