Joey Bada$$ B4.Da.$$ Cinematic / Relentless
It was hard to resist the charm of Joey Bada$$’ debut 2012 mixtape. Entitled 1999 (the year that supposedly marked the end New York rap’s golden era), the tape was unashamedly retro, seductively conjuring up images of 40z beers being guzzled in the sweltering heat, yellow cabs cruising the streets of Brooklyn and the sound of boom-bap beats echoing down the stairwells of graffiti-smothered housing projects. Bada$$ and his Pro Era crew may have been luke-warm lyricists – mostly paraphrasing their influences rather than carving out truly original thought – but their adolescent energy encouraged repeated listens.
And despite an absence of breakthrough hits, Bada$$ has since found himself in high demand, satisfying more conservative-minded rap fans and unwillingly becoming a reference point for unhelpful arguments about the so-called “realness” of the old school in comparison to the alleged shallowness of contemporary rap.
B4.Da.$$ (pronounced “Before The Money”) mostly sees the 20-year-old stick to his guns, flaunting his syllable-packed rhyme patterns over throwback beats made with piano loops, jazz samples and prehistoric sounding turntable scratches. To his credit, Bada$$ sounds more confident than ever, occasionally deviating from his trademark laid-back delivery to adopt a ferocious tone (“Motherfuckin’ microphone eater / Spittin’ hot shit, hit ya dome with the heater,” he growls on Christ Consciousness).
But when Bada$$ quotes Biggie Smalls in Belly of the Beast, it reminds you that this rapper hadn’t even been born when Ready To Die was released. Joey Bada$$’ chosen aesthetic is based on a fantasy, an image of a New York that existed two decades ago. And while it might be pleasing on the ears, we should be expecting more from 2015’s key hip-hop releases.