Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, better known by his stage name, ‘Joey Bada$$’, first entered the minds of hip hop heads everywhere when he released his debut mixtape 1999 in 2012, at the age of seventeen. Joey impressed everyone with his intricate lyricism and boom bap beats that hearkened back to the golden age of New York hip hop in the 1990s. Joey was raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and he sought to bring back a side of hip hop that was steadily being pushed to the side by more pop-friendly and electronic sounding rap. The critically-acclaimed 1999 was followed a year later by Summer Knights, a mixtape that I still really enjoy, but critics were expecting something more from Joey, who had brought such a raw and natural sound to the game at such a young age. Over the last couple of years Joey has released a handful of mixtapes with his ‘Pro Era’ collective, as well as having to cope with the death of his best friend and fellow Pro Era founder Capital STEEZ, who tragically committed suicide at the end of 2012. Joey has finally released his debut album B4.DA.$$ – a name that treads a fine line between cheesy and genius – on his twentieth birthday.
Having watched Joey Bada$$ perform live at the Institute in November, I was really looking forward to listening to his debut studio album. Joey has kicked off his 2015 with a bang because B4.DA.$$ lives up to almost all of the expectations that I had for the record. For those who weren’t fans of Joey previously, this album probably won’t change your mind; on the whole, Joey sticks to his formula that has already given us two very good mixtapes. The majority of the beats are based around musical samples and utilise 90s-era drum kits. Much like 1999, many of the tracks are produced by members of Pro Era, such as Kirk Knight and Chuck Strangers, although Statik Selektah, who often acts as Joey’s live DJ, provides four great beats. Legendary producer DJ Premier is the creative force behind the beat for one of the best tracks on the album, ‘Paper Trail$’.
B4.DA.$$ has one of the strongest openings to an album in recent memory. I thought the opener, ‘Save the Children’, was decent but when I listened to it for the fourth time as I wrote this review I couldn’t help but bop along to the smooth beat. The ‘introlude’ labelled ‘Greenbax’ is relatively unnecessary, but it is followed by a flurry of amazing tracks. ‘Paper Trail$’, ‘Piece of Mind’ and ‘Big Dusty’ all have great beats and Joey’s complex rhyme schemes interlace with the instrumentals with ease. The next three tracks, ‘Hazeus View’, ‘Like Me’ and ‘Belly of the Beast’ are not bad by any means but I do find myself skipping these most out of any on the album. However, B4.DA.$$ has a very solid final half. The single ‘Christ Conscious’ is a perfect example of Joey’s more aggressive flow, which is still as catchy as ever. The Chuck Strangers-produced ‘Black Beetles’, which was teased in the announcement trailer for the album, has a lovely sample and is a signpost for how far Joey’s Pro Era collective have come since 1999. None of the featuring artists on B4.DA.$$ really stood out to me apart from 22-year-old reggae artist Chronixx, who appears on ‘Belly of the Beast’, and acts as a shout-out to Joey’s Caribbean heritage.
Overall, I really enjoyed this album and I already find myself listening to it through again because it feels very cohesive. Some people may not think it lives up to the fantastic mixtape that was 1999, but I would argue that this is even better. The album is even more impressive when you consider that Joey has only just turned twenty-years-old on its release date. I very much look forward to seeing how Joey improves in the future and what direction his music takes.