I believe sometimes Joey Bada$$ was born in the wrong era. When 1999 dropped back in 2012, I remember a lot of my friends feeling as if there was a feeling restored where in their minds, Hip-Hop was nothing but boom bap beats and rhymes weaving in between street knowledge and consciousness. It blew people’s minds when they pressed play on the tape and heard a 17-year-old kid from Brooklyn rapping over MF DOOM and J Dilla beats. At least for me, I had been so overwhelmed by what Odd Future and their juvenile antics that I thought any artist under the age of 21 was looking to replicate what they were doing or be the next teen star groomed by Birdman or Lil Wayne.
So hearing a tape like this and then the albums that followed like B4.DA.$$ and All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, was a breath of fresh air from what we are used to hearing from rappers his age because for people his age. More often than not, it is about a vibe, or they are used to getting their introspective/lyrical raps from Kendrick, Cole, or dare I say Logic; you get the gist. Ten years pass and with only two mixtapes and two studio albums, I wonder if Joey’s heart is even in it to release music, being that his focus is steering more towards breaking through Hollywood.
So, months leading up to the release of 2000, I wasn’t that excited. Joey sounded very out of place on a song like “The Rev3nge” (luckily, this is not featured on the album). Yet as more songs were released (“Head High,” “Where I Belong,” “Survivor’s Guilt”), we were reminded of that time of the hunger he displayed all those years ago, but now older, more experienced, wiser (though his Twitter contradicts that sometimes). Will the rest of the album sound like those songs? I’m going to take a dive back again for the 9-9 into the 2000.
1. The Baddest Featuring Diddy; Produced by McClenney & Erick the Architect Underneath a piano loop and some snaps, Diddy reintroduces us to the one and only Joey Bada$$. The Badmon reappears from his 5-year hiatus and declares himself as one of the “holy trinity” of this Hip-Hop music, no matter how many are still sleeping on him, all while Puffy does his legendary adlibs in the background. It is unapologetically New York and it is a good start to once again reminding us of what Joey can do while letting those who have been sleeping aware that this is the realllllllll… Hip-Hop.
2. Make Me Feel Produced by Statik Selektah & Dreamlife Beats There’s nothing too crazy in the way of lyricism, but it doesn’t need to be. The Stephanie Mills sample weaving throughout Statik Selektah’s production creates that aura made for closing your eyes and nodding your head to Joey flexing verbally on how to hustle hard, paying his respects to his fallen comrade, Capital Steez, and reflecting on where he was and where he is now. Play this when you want to relax and lay back. Already on my playlist.
3. Where I Belong Produced by DopeBoyzMuzic, Statik Selektah, Fred Warmsley, & 0445c More introspective raps from Joey. It didn’t really hit me right away when it first dropped as a single, and while I still don’t think it is as hard-hitting as I would like, it is still a nice song. Three songs, I think maybe I was expecting a banger to hit like “Survival Tactics” or something akin to mid-career tracks like “Christ Conscious.” Still a fine song.
4. Brand New 911 Featuring Westside Gunn; Produced by Chuck Strangers, DopeBoyzMuzic, 0445c, & Fred Warmsley While Pro Era and Beast Coast were doing their thing above the surface, another movement was forming beneath it. The wave initiated by groups like Griselda and all their imitators. Pro Era affiliate Chuck Strangers made sure to craft the beat to sound like something Westside Gunn would get on. As I may have mentioned in the past, Westside can either make a track with his charisma and off-beat flows, or he can wear out his welcome in a matter of seconds by being too abrasive. Westside isn’t too annoying on this one, except for his signature stretching the last word of a bar while killing 30 people with his adlibs. As for Joey, nothing too special on his behalf but nothing bad either. It just felt kind of there. Not disappointed by this, but I wish this could’ve been a little more hard-hitting.
5. Cruise Control Produced by Mike WiLL Made-It, Marz, & Cardiak If we’re not getting bangers, we will just have to take it for what it is going to be. The song is reminiscent of “Juicy” due to the nocturnal production and Joey paying homage to Biggie’s classic at the start of his second verse, letting this be his own rags to riches story. This is nighttime riding music throughout, and at the end, Joey gets the seal of approval from Mr. Nasir Jones. Good co-sign to have.
6. Eulogy Produced by Statik Selektah, Dreamlife Beats, DopeBoyzMuzic, 0445c, & Fred Warmsley It is a step above what was already a decent to good album. Statik Selektah continues to bring heat, and Joey flows effortlessly throughout the grooves lamenting on today’s generation of rappers, the music industry, and mourning over the people he lost. If you wanted that 1999 feel, this track will give you what you need.
7. Zipcodes Produced by Mark Borino, Kirk Knight, 0445c, & Fred Warmsley One of the strongest singles released off this album and a backdrop from Kirk Knight that is soothing to the ears, and Joey once again flexing lyrically with a clever line paying homage to the late MF DOOM.
..masked up like MF DOOM, don’t know what truly had.
8. One of Us Featuring Larry June; Produced by Statik Selektah, Dreamlife Beats, Surya Botofasina, & Joel Desroches Statik Selektah returns with a beat that reminds me of something I would hear in the 90s cruising through the streets as the sun sets on a summer evening. I didn’t really expect to see Larry June on this, but he fits well on this track being that production like this is within his wheelhouse. You know what, matter of fact, how about we get a Larry June/Statik Selektah album in the future eh? This is fine for your Luxury Rap playlist aka the songs you play on payday (until you spend it all and you’re back to playing 2Pac [paraphrasing King Jerm]).
9. Welcome Back Featuring Capella Grey & Chris Brown; Produced by BBEARDED Insert your radio single.
The song is not bad, but it is weird hearing Joey rap about sex. Not to mention Breezy sounds more like he is phoning it in more than he did on that new album and Ty Dolla, I mean Capella Grey’s hook is okay, but that’s all it is. Ladies will love it, but it’s not for me. Be mad.
10. Show Me Produced by Statik Selektah & Heavy Mellow This sounds more like it. You can say it was a ying-yang with the previous track where Joey is experimenting with lust and toxicity on “Welcome Back,” and now he’s back down to Earth on “Show Me” as he talks about love and all the troubles that come with it when fame comes into play. Again, proving why Joey and Statik Selektah are a deadly combo when paired up, and Statik’s beats bringing out of the best in Joey as a rapper and songwriter. If you’re going to put something in the love/sex playlist, put this in here and F that other song.
11. Wanna Be Loved Featuring JID; Produced by Chuck Strangers, Powers Pleasant, & Emani Taking nothing away from Joey’s verse, JID shines on this song where he goes into depth on the trauma that comes with being poor, growing up in the hood, and having to weave and maneuver through lkke paranoia, drugs, and the fear of being killed.
My nigga just left the pen’ and he been tryna get back on his feet His father died, he was inside, said the cancer beat ’em Baby momma playin’ hide and seek with his lil’ legacy Allegedly she fuck with some lil’ nigga that’s ’bout to wedding ring her PO on his ass, he can’t have so much as a misdemeanor Or he goin’ back, he doin’ bad so he been heavy drinkin’ Show him love for Heaven’s sake but I don’t know what the hell he thinkin’ A cycle that we gotta break or we just run in place One hand could wash the other, both hands could wash the face I’ma stand beside my brother, take the stand and fabricate Make sure that you good, you need a hug, you need a handshake Nigga back in the hood, he need some money so he antsy And he buggin’ and thuggin’, name buzzin’ in the city With the safety on the semi like Xavier McKinney Giant world, niggas’ mind too mini Ain’t too many minorities seen the possibilities Dodgin’ enemies, mind jittery, lookin’ to find an identity
It is one of those songs of stringing something general in the first verse and then revealing the details in the second, it’s kind of how I approach my songwriting. A true highlight so far.
12. Head High Produced by Statik Selektah, Dreamlife Beats, & DJ Pain 1 I kind of slept on this song when it first came out, and maybe it is because I was truly polarized by “The Rev3nge” and how out of place Joey sounded on it. But now listening to this album, the song is trademark Joey and the second verse is heartfelt where he talks about the bond he was building with the late XXXTentacion, humanizing him where other outlets (myself included) glorified him as a menace to society. To the point where it reminded him of the bond he built with his friend, the late Capital STEEZ.
Took a trip to Miami that March (Uh) Couple weeks right before my daughter got born (Uh) To meet up with this kid by the name of X Had to go to him ’cause he was on house arrest, nonetheless Our first time meetin’, we was always on the FaceTime He offered me his place to stay, “Thank you, but I decline” First impression in my mind, “Now that’s a stand-up nigga Someone I could call a friend of mine and that’s tough, nigga” Shit, I could talk about any type of stuff with him Never gave a fuck about who didn’t fuck with him See, that’s my nigga, I had to keep it a buck with him When he played me his album, I told him what he was missin’ A lot of niggas woulda took that shit different, woulda thought that I was dissin’ Instead, we found this beat and started riffin’ Shit had me reminiscin’, had me thinkin’ ’bout Steelo Now that I can see his vision
13. Survivors Guilt Produced by Rahki, 0445c, & Fred Warmsley A heartfelt tribute to Capital STEEZ, who took his own life in 2012. Describing what he meant to Joey as a rapper, a friend, how he struggled with mental health, and the guilt Joey experienced after where he feels he could’ve done something to delay or stop his friend’s demise. We’re even greeted by the ever-elusive Ab-Soul to tell a story on how they met. I take my proverbial hat off to Joey for being able to be transparent and give us this side to his mindset and salute him for being able to give himself some closure.
14. Written In the Stars Produced by Sean C & LV, Sal Dali, MarvinoBeats, 0445c, & Fred Warmsley Sean C & LV bring their trademark live sound, and Joey takes his victory lap along this beat with bar after bar coming off as a job well-done type of sentiment to himself, and Diddy at the end gives him the final co-sign as a passing of the torch to the next generation of New York Hip-Hop.
Five years is a mighty long time.
From what we saw with Kendrick’s new album and the reception it got from fans, critics like myself, and other artists, you can either play it safe and honor the fans that have rocked with you for what you already bring to the table or take a chance musically and thematically and wish for the best. Joey Bada$$ went towards the former yet trying new things with the traditional sound that he has been known for since coming on the scene a decade ago. When it comes to radio songs, songs for the ladies, or anything else that targets a more casual mainstream audience, the results are often a mixed bag from what we heard on “Welcome Back,” and I think Joey knew that too seeing as how “The Rev3nge” is not even included in the track listing.
However, when Joey stays within his wheelhouse and gets together with producers like Statik Selektah or his Pro Era cohorts like Kirk Knight and Chuck Strangers, Joey plays to his strengths and drops quality boom bap that pays homage to his influences but is not dated or up its own ass enough to turn off younger listeners. Maybe this didn’t need bangers. After all, this is the sequel to his breakthrough mixtape. Sometimes you don’t need a banger or a radio song or a song that ladies will bump at the function or something for your playlists, sometimes sticking to what brought you to the dance is enough. Maybe not for an entire career but at least for 50 minutes worth.