Album Review: Joey Bada$$, B4.da.$$


Joey Bada$$

B4.da.$$ (to be released January 20, 2015)

Y’all know my patience is paper thin when it comes to today’s generation of young rap fans. You know the type — the ones who consider Drake’s moist towelette verses the pinnacle of elite lyricism, believe every time their favorite artist drops an album — regardless of quality — it’s a “classic” and think rap didn’t exist until Jay Z dropped The Blueprint.

This is why I have a hard time talking to most of y’all born after 1990.

And it’s not just young fans — many young artists seem unable, or unwilling, to embrace the lessons of hip-hop history.

Not all young artists, though. Joey Bada$$ has done his homework.

Joey’s celebrating his 20th birthday by releasing his debut LP, years after creating a deafening buzz on the mixtape circuit for his throwback style and boom bap production. The high-profile connections he’s made during that time, including veterans  Statik Selektah, DJ Premier, and the immortal J Dilla, help Joey craft an album that sounds like it came straight from the crates of 1992.

B4.da.$$ isn’t just a cute, stylized version of Joey’s name, it means “before the money” and the album is a look at a young man maturing into stardom.

And this young man has bars for days:

Sitting back plotting, jotting information on my nation
Really started from the bottom, boy, cotton
But they still planting plantations, we keep buying in
Closed-minded men, pride is higher than the prices on your Pradas

“Paper Trail$” is Joey at his best, using intricate wordplay to paint portraits of his thoughts. He’s wise beyond his years.  “Before the money there was love/But before the money it was tough” — Joey hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from.  The dismal soundscapes of “Big Dusty” and “Black Beetles” are the norm, with even bleaker verses on “No. 99” — “Please put your bread up/We ain’t gon’ settle for no iceberg lettuce … End up like venison meat in the street/They’re not ready for beef.”

While Joey’s not afraid to lash out at his enemies, he always sounds best when embracing his fam. The soulful “Curry Chicken” is an ode to his family, who patiently wait for their son to return from conquering the world. Even the melancholy “OCB” — only child blues — rings with a bit of hope (“Pedal to the gas/Life is but a getaway dash”).

The album’s only shortfall is that they’re a lack of energy at times, especially around the middle of the album. That’s not attributed to the often-sullen production — it’s more about Joey’s delivery. Sometimes he’s TOO focused on his intricate lyrics, which makes his flow a bit monotone, damping the energy of the track. It’s a rookie mistake that he’ll likely overcome in subsequent releases.

Joey’s biggest victory is while B4.da.$$  definitely harkens back to the greats — the delivery of Nas, the insight of Black Thought, the production of A Tribe Called Quest — he never outright bites their style. He’s his own man, he just knows his history.

I’m glad he’s passing that history along to a new generation of fans.

Best tracks: “Paper Trail$,” “Black Beetles,” “Big Dusty”

3.5 stars out of 5


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