June 12, 2022

Joey Badass "1999" (June 12, 2012)

The 17-year-old Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ doesn't sound like his contemporaries. The handful of young rappers with tread, most notably Chicago's Chief Keef or the recently returned-from-exile prince of Odd Future, Earl Sweatshirt, make music with pomp and bombast, as aggressive as it is catchy. But the kind of music Joey BadA$$ makes hasn't sounded contemporary since the mid-1990s, or around the time he was born. Today, Joey is the most visible member of a young artist collective called the Progressive Era (Pro Era), a crew mostly comprised of students from Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow High School. These kids take musical inspiration from a time before any of them existed, specifically, the era referred to by hip-hop purists of a certain age as the "Golden Age." That time period, however, was dead if not fully decomposed by 1999, the year of this tape's title. While albums from 1999 like Mos Def's Black on Both Sides and MF Doom's Operation Doomsday offered potent alternatives that year to the power-balling of Jay-Z's Vol. 3: Life and Times… and the literal "Bling Bling" of BG's Chopper City in the Ghetto, rap about "keeping it real" was as rare a find as those upholding the practice. Joey Bada$$, however, is doing his best to further the period's legacy of boom-bap production as an authenticator and advanced-level lyricism as a meal ticket. 

The young man clearly has an old soul. 1999 opens with "Summer Knights", an interlude produced by fellow Pro Era member Chuck Strangers, that with its shimmering keys, loop of gentle background singing, and words from Bada$$ decrying the lack of rap "style wit no gimmicks," sounds like the direct spawn of Nas' "Memory Lane". "Waves", whose intro regarding the coveted hairstyle of young black men nationwide is the only reference to the song's title, continues in the same manner, with smooth jazz production and Bada$$ rapping, "Like I told you, I know niggas who trash rapping/ Worried 'bout the tending fashions rather than ascendin' passion." There's no chorus, but he drops a 2Pac soundbite about rap not being ready for a "real person" in the middle of two verses... It's not enough to simply appreciate the sound: Bada$$ is wholly invested in the period. For all his "old New York" posturing, though, he's a prodigious rapper, one who could have guested on a revered proving ground like the now defunct Stretch and Bobbito radio show, only to have his freestyle dubbed continuously from cassette to cassette.... Bada$$ himself treats every verse as an opportunity to best whomever you'd been listening to prior, a habit that could have been altogether exhausting for the listener if not for his ability to stay on topic.... Regardless, Joey Bada$$ has succeeded at getting the attention he wants for the music he wants to be making. That in itself is a victory in any era. - Pitchfork (June 26, 2012). Joey is very talented and 1999 is still a solid album, revisit it!