Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ appears to be an artist that has garnered more hype than his musical output deserves. In a time when all it takes to pop off is one song the Twitterverse can call “fire” and the creation of a brand, an artist’s name is always liable to spread at a viral rate. Bobby Shmurda and ILOVEMAKKONEN aside, fellow New Yorker A$AP Rocky was on the verge of stardom after essentially only two of his songs were known to the masses. By Rocky’s proxy and some grinding in 2012, Bada$$ was featured on the Long.Live.A$AP cypher “1 Train,” associating himself with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and making his name known to an even larger audience. All of this and more was the Bada$$ legacy before he even released a formal debut album. Now that we have an official release from the budding MC, fans and critics alike are ready to judge the Bada$$ career and what will become of his collective Pro Era in the foreseeable future.
Listening to B4.Da.$$ (pronounced ‘before da money’), it comes off as classic by production, incorporating many fast-paced drum tracks and a combination of strings, horns, and keys that feel from an earlier decade. It’s very listenable if you enjoy Eric B. & Rakim, Jurassic 5, or even Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick, Push.” The production is not infallible, though, as the looping vocal sample that starts off “Black Beetles” makes the track virtually unlistenable. Bada$$ also attempts some sing-songy lyrics throughout the album, but I recommend he stick to rapping.
Bada$$ brings lyrics and flow that I’d consider standard. “Paper Trail$” serves as his ode to the Wu-Tang, and the consecutive tracks “On & On” and “Escape 120” are both reflective and address leaving problems behind. Fortunately, the latter track features a fire verse by Raury, another artist blowing up before having a ‘formal’ release.
There’s no doubt the debut retail album serving as an artist’s first true release is a crumbling concept. Albums like Doggystyle, Straight Outta Compton, and Illmatic merely serve as works to emulate in terms of success over an entire career; nevermore are they an introductory milestone for emerging MCs. Consequently, Joey Bada$$’s essentially self-titled “debut” won’t define his career, but something new better be on the horizon if he wants to stay relevant in the dynamic sphere of hip hop.