On his 20th birthday, Brooklynite Joey Bada$$ delivered a gift to the hip-hop world in the form of his highly anticipated debut album, B4.DA.$$ (pronounced “Before Da Money). Early on in the listening experience, the “Badman” claims to have “…been insane since Biggie smacked (him) at his Christening,” and with unparalleled wordplay accompanied by an endless amount of flows, Bada$$ does a compelling job convincing listeners that he actually was.
After a cataclysmic arrival onto the scene as a 16-year-old with his critically acclaimed mixtape 1999, Joey Bad has taken a dip in relevance as he battled the adversity of his follow up effort Summer Knights failing to match the hype and consistency of its predecessor as well as fans’ irritation with the continual pushing back of the debut. The wait was worth it. B4.DA.$$ broadcasts the life of Joey Bada$$’s; the life of a Brooklyn kid as he tries to find his roots and place in the world while never letting you forget that he can just straight up rap.
Previously released singles “Big Dusty” produced by fellow Pro Era member Kirk Knight and a Basquiat produced “Christ Conscious” solidify Joey Bad’s position as one of the premier wordsmiths in hip hop today. While addressing the current state of hip-hop and its penchant for trendy “turn up” tracks, Bada$$ admits “Truth is, if it ain’t real, I don’t feel it / If it don’t hit my spirit, I don’t get near it.” The latter harkens a braggadocio style that only Brooklyn can influence as the emcee is out to let the world know that if you give him a beat, he’ll put you next to (always have to say Rest in Peace) Dilla.
One of the most refreshing aspects of B4.DA.$$ are the tracks that find Joey Bada$$ breaking out of his East Coast comfort zone and exploring a more uptempo, modern, Chance the Rapper/Vic Mensa-esque sound.
“Paper Trail$” is another standout track filled with a grammar-boggling ability to bend words in a way that Joey Bada$$ does better than the majority of his peers. Perhaps the most dominant display of emceeing is the third track “Paper Trail$.” Produced by the legendary DJ Premier, a duo that is shaping up to be a dangerous combination, Joey Bad delivers a fiery verse that tackles the age-old plight of the corruption of money through such a classic, East Coast sound that it’s almost a shame. This track is serious.
Partnered with European songwriter/rapper and fellow Pro Era member Dyemond Lewis, the single “On & On” finds the “Badman” exploring his mind in order to find his place in the world. Possibly the most powerful bars of the album are found in the second verse. It wouldn’t be right to exclude the whole verse due to its purity, so just listen to it and you’ll understand.
Kirk Knight produced “Hazeus View” and the Statik Selektah constructed single “Curry Chicken” find Joey Bada$$ showing an appreciation towards his ancestry by incorporating sounds of the island of St. Lucia and the Caribbean. Each track brings the boom-bap that Joey Bad is so synonymous with while incorporating a style reminiscent of his single “My Yout.”
One of the most refreshing aspects of B4.DA.$$ are the tracks that find Joey Bada$$ breaking out of his East Coast comfort zone and exploring a more uptempo, modern, Chance the Rapper/Vic Mensa-esque sound. Pro Era member Chuck Strangers produces such tracks like “Escape 120,” “Black Beetles,” and “Teach Me” featuring musical duo ASTR on production and Canadian artist Kiesza on the vocals. There is a very subtle struggle in Joey’s voice as he attempts to achieve a new sound, but he does a job well done nonetheless.
Overall, B4.DA.$$ is a carefully constructed project that has the ability to be remembered as a boom-bap, East Coast classic. Despite this ability, the album still comes with a few flaws. While the vast majority of Joey Bada$$’s lines sound like they are the only words made for his instrumentations, there are a few dispersed throughout the album that just don’t fit right. This is a minor flaw to an album that can and most likely will be played straight through without any skips and a serious amount of head nodding.