Some 20-year-old Americans spend their birthdays imbibing alcohol, flirting with the edge of legality. Some head to the neighborhood pizza place with friends to celebrate life, while others may be satisfied simply with a small family get together.
Brooklyn fire breather Joey Bada$$, (real name Jo-Vaughn Scott) on the other hand, spent his golden birthday on Tuesday, January 20th a little differently than ‘most’ Americans: by dropping his debut album, B4.DA.$$ (pronounced Before Da Money).
The jazz inflected, 90’s boom bap-influenced work follows a duo of respectable mixtapes, 1999 and 2013’s Summer Knights, featuring production from heavy hitters such as The Roots, J Dilla, Hit Boy, DJ Premier; plus frequent collaborators Statik Selectah, Chuck Strangers, Kirk Knight and more. Although the production roster boasts impressive capabilities, much like B4.DA.$$’s predecessors the spotlight shines on Bada$$’s lyrical contributions.
For example, on the Wu-Tang alluding “Paper Trail$,” Scott’s lexical lava flow spews like a volcanic eruption as he swaggers,
“Listen into the chamber, get hyperbolic/ They raisin’ max, I raise stakes to keep the brolic/ My visions is macrocosmic, pass the chronic/ The mastered sonics is light-years above your conscious/ You’re novice…”
Bada$$ pilots DJ Premier’s production with keen wordplay and spitfire assonance; and his approach follows suit throughout the record, never waning on a single track.
Apparent throughout his catalog, Scott holds strong admiration for 90’s hip-hop production made famous by prolific acts like Gang Starr (which explains Premier’s inclusion); but with a plethora of similar arrangements, the composition behind Bada$$’s scorching syntax would benefit greatly from more diversity.
By no means do these throwback rhythms spell pastiche, but instead a rightful and insightful homage. However, as illustrated beautifully by the current titans of rap, Run the Jewels, an eclectic array of production can go a long way and keep the listener guessing and involved. Without such a skilled technique on the mic, B4.DA.$$’s music – while beautiful at time – might appear stagnant with multiple listens.
For that reason, B4.DA.$$ is at its best with an involved sense of urgency, highlighted on singles “No.99” and “Christ Conscious,” as well as “Escape 120” featuring 18-year old Atlanta songwriter, Raury. On the latter, Scott rhymes about the pressures a 20-year-old budding rap star must ponder amidst delicate synth flourishes, fast-paced drum programming and record cutting.
Chuck Strangers channels more neo-soul N.E.R.D than 90’s boom bap on the track, providing perhaps the most engaging beat on the young MC’s debut—not to mention, an avenue for the self-proclaimed Indigo Child (Raury) to flex a fantastic and furious verse, conveying a young Andre 3000.
While the album oozes nostalgia and flashes back to a golden age of hip-hop, it’s not without its own originality. As popular rap radio shoves constant overdoing and convoluted production down our throats, maybe a trip to the past isn’t such a bad thing after all, even if the sound has a twinge of uniform complacency.
Joey Bada$$ will continue to grow as an artist and the thought of his lyrical capabilities improving even more is plain scary. His palette will expand, his sound will advance and if B4.DA.$$ is the building block to start from, Scott’s ceiling stretches as high as his hometown’s Empire State Building.
(Featured Image courtesy of Joey Bada$$ Facebook page)