Review: Joey Bada$$'s "Summer Knights"

Review: Joey Bada$$'s "Summer Knights"

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of his debut "1999" mixtape, Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ proves he's hip hop royalty with the release of "Summer Knights."

In February of 2012, Pro Era’s Joey Bada$$ and Capital STEEZ dropped the visuals for their collaboration “Survival Tactics,” which quickly went viral. Crowned the future of New York rap, Bada$$ served the perfect blend of youthful, braggadocio-tinged rhymes, and laid-back flows-- not to mention an ear for classic 90s-referencing production that would make Gangstarr proud. With the hip hop world eagerly waiting to see if the Brooklyn native rapper was worth the hype, Bada$$ dropped his debut 1999 mixtape in the summer of 2012 to much fanfare. Lauded by critics and fans, 1999 helped Bada$$ earn a spot in the XXL Freshman Class of 2013.

To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the mixtape that started it all, Bada$$ drops Summer Knights just as the season's heat picks up. Fans of his first mixtape may be surprised at the direction Bada$$ shifts in. Though Summer Knights has the same chilled out feel as its predecessor, the tone and vibe is much darker. Opening up with the declaration that he is “the champion, reigning that is, from Flatbush, Brooklyn,” Bada$$ makes it clear he is determined to earn the title that was bestowed upon him.

Known for his wit, Bada$$ is just as sharp as ever (“I don’t drink too much. I know the bud’s wiser;” “Never lost my groove. I don’t know no Stella”). He may only be 18 years old but he attacks the track with the maturity and vigor of other well-known Brooklyn rappers that came before him. Looping a phrase borrowed from Busta Rhymes, Bada$$ is joined by Chuck Strangers, Dessy Hinds and Kirk Knight on the jazzy “Satellite” where he simply outshines:

"Word to mother, I’m goosed up/ My two fucks in two cups/ Another double entendre/ She fell in that Bombay/ Now she tumble dry lingerie/ Chardonnay nothing but the bottle of emotion/ But the love potion when it sprays/ They just caught up in the daze."

Song after song, the Brooklyn emcee proves he’s far more advanced than other rappers his age. Using his razor sharp lyrical skills, Bada$$ is an intelligent street hustler and storyteller. Writing poetry as young as 11 years old, Bada$$ covers a broad range of topics on Summer Knights, from the consequences of living recklessly and trappings of sudden fame to his best friend’s death.

It is only fitting that Bada$$ uses a beat from fellow Pro Era member Kirk for an homage to their fallen partner in rhyme Capital STEEZ. It’s clear STEEZ, who committed suicide at the end of last year, was Bada$$’s rap mentor and much more. Bada$$ hasn’t publicly addressed the tragic situation too much and when he has, he’s been very tight-lipped about it. In “LongLiveSteelo,” Bada$$ finally opened up about the affect his friend’s death had on him:

"But how could I have done it without you though?/ You was the big bro I never ever had, you know?/ Why you had to go? It hurt me inside/ I feel guilty walking around outside with false pride/ If only we could vibe like one more time/ Hear one more line or share one more rhyme/ Even show me one more sign of destiny itself would be fine/ But there’s no turning back the hands of time."

In “Death of YOLO” featuring Smoke DZA, Bada$$ gives his fans some food for thought about the real meaning of “You only live once.” Joey goes back to his Jamaican roots for the reggae-splashed “My Youth.” Proving that he is a throwback from the 90’s, Joey Bada$$ is at his best on the DJ Premier produced “Unorthodox.” Released back in February on iTunes, Bada$$ goes in and shows why he deserves at least a $3 million signing bonus:

"The kid is that sick so expect more coffins/ I’m the chosen one so you can expect more offerings/ I be sonning niggas so expect less orphans/ Best rapper alive, hear that line used less often/ Word to God, I’m the best offering/ BMX like Hoffman, BMF like Ross man/ Young boss man. Got Jimmy Fallon endorsements/ From porches to Porsches, getting portions of fortune."

Bada$$ is joined by his Pro Era crew for this latest project. Kirk Knight, Chuck Strangers, Dirty Sanchez, Nyck Caution, CJ Fly, Dyemond Lewis and T’nah Apex all get ample shine on Summer Knights, making it as much a Pro Era project as it is a Joey Bada$$ mixtape. For production, he recruits both Pro Era members as well as some of the best producers in the game.  Strangers, Knight, MF Doom, DJ Premier, The Alchemist, Statik Selektah and Lee Bannon create the perfect sound for Bada$$ to flourish on. His voice and flow melds seamlessly with each beat as he weaves through bar after bar, song after song.

In a 2012 interview, Bada$$ stated he wanted to bring the golden age sound back to hip hop. With the release of his latest effort he’s done exactly that. Summer Knights is his best project yet, the perfect combination of classic New York hip hop rhymes and smoothed out beats. It is the best soundtrack to play while cruising on a late summer night. 

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