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Joey Bada$$’ debut album B4.DA.$$ leaves doubters with nothing to question. On this record, the rapper pulls out all the stops. From beginning to end, he explores an ark that spans across all facets of his persona, and his artistry paints a picture that is nothing short of expansive. Most of the people who will read this fail to realize one thing: if you’re not into underground hip-hop, then you probably don’t know who Joey Bada$$ is. The average rap listener has probably seen the names of rap moguls like Eminem and Dr. Dre, but to these listeners, Joey Bada$$ is someone new. You might put this record on and think it sounds great. Imagine what this album sounds like to someone who’s never heard Joey’s flow before. I reiterate: this is an album. I say this because one of my common complaints about hip-hop is the lack of cohesion in modern albums. More often than not, new albums consist of tracks that stand great when seen alone but falter in relation to others. B4.DA.$$ is not that kind of album. Created to sound like a live performance, the album starts out with a chanting crowd hungry for Joey Bada$$ to perform. As the chanting fades, the young emcee comes on with the tongue-twisting flow that he’s known for. The verse is made to dazzle, the delivery is katana-like in sharpness, and the lyrics are zen-like in skill. This diving board sets him up for a flawless dive into a swimming pool of lyricism. The album is filled heavily with metaphors and similes like:

“Carry the vest you know the reason/ I’m in Chi-raq and I’m getting blown like the breezes.”

Allusions like the ones to Gang Starr’s “Moment of Truth” on “On and On” serve as indicators to the depth of the album and its relation to hip-hop culture. One of my favorite parts of Kendrick Lamar’s or Nicki Minaj’s flow is their use of different timbres when they deliver different verses. The characters this method creates makes even the simplest beats sound like a city chock-full of individual stories. Joey Bada$$ has managed to harness this type of power, making this debut different from anything Joey has put out in the past. On B4.DA.$$, the emcee’s delivery ranges from gung-ho bellicosity like on “No.99,” to somber contemplation like on “On and On.” In fact, everything Joey does on the album, he does for the sake of variety. I beg you to ask yourself the last time you heard a Brooklyn rapper spit so effortlessly over a British-tinged drum-and-bass track like he does on “Escape 120” or “Teach Me.” All this talk about Joey doesn’t bode well for the beats; in lyrically intense hip-hop albums, the instrumentals are often brushed aside. His delivery is so strong that it’s almost stentorian; fortunately, however, the instrumentals can reciprocate with equal force. Take a minute to read over the list of this album’s producers. Kirk Knight and Freddie Joachim stand side-by-side with heavy-hitters like J Dilla (and The Roots), DJ Premier, and Statik Selektah. I say this again: this is an album. Live acts (in any genre) are judged based on one quality: the artist’s ability to create a seamless flow of energy that climaxes and dips when it needs to. There’s no need to emphasize that B4.DA.$$. does exactly this. The first quarter of the album begins with celebratory horn lines and tickling hi-hats. The second quarter then features colossal snare hits and dissonant bass lines. This climaxes at the third quarter with the obstreperous “No.99” and “Christ Conscious.” Finally, the album cools down with reverb-soaked piano and major (chord-quality) melodies in “Black Beetles” and “O.C.B.” Even the two bonus tracks make great encore pieces. This album is nothing short of commendable. I’d like to take a moment to discuss the criticisms of Joey Bada$$, past and present. The Pro Era head has always been one to wear his influences on his sleeve. His past two efforts, Summer Knights and 1999 are prime examples of this tendency. Miles Davis said, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” Badmon would agree, and he’s found his voice on B4.DA.$$. This brings me to a critique that I predict we’ll hear about the album. People will argue that this album, while cohesive, can never reach the level of good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Perhaps he doesn’t tell stories as well as his contemporary, Kendrick Lamar. Don’t forget that this album is a summary of everything that makes up Joey Bada$$. It’s his Jamaican roots. It’s the bodegas caught in the increasing gentrification of Brooklyn. It’s the deaths of Junior B and Capital Steez. It’s him being pigeonholed into the 90s Brooklyn sound. It’s the marijuana in his brain. It’s the alcohol in his veins. It’s all this and more that defines the rapper also known as o.G. $wank, and the culture around him. Music has a beautiful ability to document and recapitulate astonishingly specific aspects of a culture. I suspect Joey titled his album B4.DA.$$ for this reason. This is his debut. This is his chance (commercially) to show the world everything that defines him. I say one more time: this is an album, not a “project” or a anything else. It’s made of lyrically-dense verses filled to the brim with double entendres, complex metaphors, and even occasional humor. The album also features a diverse sonic palette by employing varying moments of head-nodding syncopation and blaring dissonance. It may only have been pure coincidence (or a hoax) that a picture of Malia Obama wearing a Pro Era T-shirt surfaced on the social media a few days ago. Whether it was planned or not does not matter. Either way, it was the harbinger of something great. If Joey Bada$$’ debut album is any indication of the crew’s mettle, then I want more. Purchase B4.DA.$$ by Joey Bada$$ via iTunes | Amazon.

10/10

Tracklist:

1) Save The Children
2) Greenbax (Introlude)
3) Paper Trail$
4) Piece of Mind
5) Big Dusty
6) Hazeus View
7) Like Me (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid)
8) Belly of the Beast (feat. Chronixx)
9) No. 99
10) Christ Conscious
11) On & On (feat. Maverick Sabre & Dymeond Lewis)
12) Escape 120 (feat. Raury)
13) Black Beetles
14) O.C.B.
15) Curry Chicken

Tags : DJ PremierFreddie JoachimJ DillaJoey Bada$$Pro EraStatik SelektahThe Roots
BC

The author BC

Born in Singapore and raised in Minnesota. I'm an aspiring jazz / hip-hop musician who loves to do anything related to music. If I'm not composing or listening to jazz / hip-hop, you'll probably find me at a concert. My rule is simple: be willing to change your mind as it is the only way of remembering you still have one.