Joey Bada$$ has dropped two solid solo mixtapes, but does his debut album live up to expectations?
Joey Bada$$ is a young Brooklyn emcee who was influenced by those who came before him from his region, the same way most young rappers from any region show clear influence from those who came before them in their region. As rappers from other regions have begun to dwarf New York rappers in popularity and New York rappers have begun taking more influence from other regions, some have viewed Bada$$’ New York influenced style as a flaw. In defense of Bada$$’ critics, outside of being skilled lyrically and having a healthy dose of cynicism in relation to authorities, who is Joey Bada$$? As solid as 1999 and Summer Knights were, they gave very few glances into who Joey was, or why and how he stayed so true to the influence of music that was released before he was born. While tracks like “Waves” gave glances at who Joey is, B4.DA.$$ is extremely personal, without deviating from much of what Bada$$' fans have grown to love.
The true highlights of B4.DA.$$ come when Joey Bada$$ opens up. As solid as his previous projects have been, most of the tracks lacked the human element. They had dope rhymes and dope beats, but were lacking in personality and emotion. On “Black Beetles” Joey rhymes “...see division in my people/how many lives will they take today, we ain’t equal/another world war sequel and doomsday prequel/ this ain’t the world we thought it was when we was in preschool/ sometimes it’s hard to be cool/sometimes I feel like I’m see through/ sometimes I really wish, yo I wish I could be you/ away from all the Hollywood acts, and record contracts/ I won’t say I’d take it back, cuz I worked hard for that” The chemistry between Joey and Chuck Strangers (fellow Pro Era member, and producer of the track) is ever prevalent. The same can be said for Joey and Statik Selektah, who handles production on another standout cut, “Curry Chicken”. The personification of Bada$$ that takes place throughout B4.DA.$$ paints a picture of Joey as more of a true artist, as opposed to someone who just raps well.
The transition from dropping mixtapes to albums is often a difficult one. In an attempt to boost record sales, artists sometimes find themselves chasing hit records. Fans of Joey Bada$$ need not worry, Joey makes the transition without reaching outside of his lane. If any attempt at radio play was made, it’d have to be “Like Me”, the track posthumously produced by J Dilla (with assistance from The Roots), featuring BJ The Chicago Kid. The jazz inspired track finds Bada$$ flipping from bedding ladies, to speaking on the stress of being ambitious where he’s from. The track is far from an actual reach for radio play, yet smooth and simple enough to possibly get play, without coming off as Bada$$ "dumbing it down".
While B4.DA.$$ checks in at 15 tracks for the standard version (one of which is a skit), the project seems to drag near the midway point. Perhaps it’s simply sequencing, perhaps it’s the abundance of dark soundscapes. Tracks like “Belly of the Beast” and “No. 99” probably shouldn’t play back to back. While B4.DA.$$ features several producers, it’s clear they all came to the table with a specific sound in mind for Bada$$, many of which blend a little too closely together. The result is an album that at times feels like one long extended track. While in theory that sounds great, like cohesion, in reality, it feels more like redundancy.
B4.DA.$$ shows a more complex Joey Bada$$. More open and introspective, fans get to a see a different side of one of the most promising up and comers not just in New York, but in the game period. Still, the project is held back by its production and sequencing. While the sample based beats most fans loved Bada$$ over are there, they lack the life and variety of the production on 1999 and Summer Knights. While that prevents a good album from being great, Bada$$' growth as an artist is evident and B4.DA.$$ is a solid project.