Joey Bada$$ is a 17-year-old Brooklyn MC, and “1999” is his largely anticipated debut mixtape, after releasing several tracks here and there over the past couple of months. He’s also part of the Pro Era (Progressive Era) collective of MCs and producers. One of the main things that becomes so obvious when listening to Joey Bada$$ is that he’s incredibly aware for his age, both socially and musically.
Although his age should give him no advantage or disadvantage when considering his music, but in comparison with ignorance in popular hip-hop like Lil’ Wayne or Waka Flocka Flame (and perhaps the whole of Young Money’s roster), it’s hard not to admire his talent at this day and age. Although he does touch on the popular subjects of girls and weed at times, it seems out of teen frustration or lessons learnt, instead of continuous bragging. The mixtape also features an impressive list of producers: MF Doom, Statik Selectah, J Dilla and more.
The mixtape opens with a short track, like an intro, called Summer Knights and basically acts as the tape’s opener – some soft keyboards while you hear Pro Era members joke about, throwing insults at each other. Eventually Joey Bada$$ begins to rhyme over the beat, which doesn’t really grab you, but the apology “sorry I kept you waiting” sets up what follows nicely.
Second track Waves opens with these alien-high pitch-shifted vocals over this old-school beat, creating a heavy The Pharcyde vibe. It’s so strange to hear “I had the fuckin’ (Xbox) 360” mentioned by this voice too, snapping the listener back into reality that this is a 2012 track. Lines like “You get it in your vocals / If you ain’t a local / That’s why I’m trying to go global / That’s why I’m trying to be a mogul” and “I know n*ggas who trash-rapping / Worried more about the trends in fashion / Than the descend in passion” pretty much summarise Bada$$’s frustration with today’s hip-hop chart scene. Almost giving it a shameful cold shower.
FromdaTomb$ features some scratches and turntablism from Statik Selectah bringing a raw and organic sound that’s missing so much these days. Then the single Survival Tactics changes the atmosphere to a more outright aggressive one with stomping boots, sirens and military chants. Joey is louder, rapping about life being like a war, full of metaphors and connotations between the two. Guest and fellow Pro Era member Capital STEEZ also blows it away on this track, with brutal and quirky humorous lines – even calling out Lil B (and this is just the first time on the mixtape) by spitting “They say hard work pays off / Well don’t tell the Based God to quit his day job”.
Killuminati has a ridiculous MF Doom sound that it might even sound too much like something from Madvillainy, although that isn’t a bad thing and changes the pace of the mixtape again. Second single Hardknock has this really sombre boom-bap sound and Joey gives us lyrics about feeling his hope wavering and questioning his lifestyle, the chorus featuring “One day I’m trying to have a wife and kids / So I just can’t live my life like this”.
World Domination is the first MF Doom produced track, and opens with a pitch-shifted sample from the cartoon Pinky And The Brain, and then pops into a skipping piano riff while Joey speaks about biding his time and honing his skills and education. Pennyroyal is also an MF produced track, and just like Killuminati, seems like it should be on the Madvillainy album with an exaggerated monotone delivery. Ninth track Funky Ho’$ has such a strong The Pharcyde-vibe, with the freshness of a light breeze on a sun-boiled day. However, it is where Joey’s identity seems to waver, and repetitions of “I don’t trust these bitches / They will never catch me slippin'”, and shout outs to different members of Pro Era, it’s hard not to zone out slightly.
Daily Routine also suffers from being fairly forgettable like… well, a routine, and sort of feels like one in terms of an approach to a hip-hop track. However, Snakes picks it up, a chilled J Dilla produced track. While Bada$$ skims along so smoothly over this hi-hat orientated beat, T’nah Apex truly makes the song when it comes to the chorus, her flow like a sharper Mary Ann Vieira and so refreshing to hear. Don’t Front then feels like a dip again and fails to sound memorable in any way.
Then Righteous Minds comes in and regains momentum again, being especially lyrical and feels like a return to the wit and attitude that’s potent in the earlier tracks on the mixtape. Where It’$ At has a real funky synth-keyboard rhythm and fits well with the relationship-theme of the lyrics, but again, suffers from lacking signature moments.
The last track, Suspect, is over 11-minutes long and features a number of other Pro Era contributing their own personal verses, broken up by the choruses with the whole group in unison. It’s almost a revolving showcase of the collective’s personalities and what we should expect from a future release from the group. Each MC clearly has their own style and really stops the idea becoming boring, which some collectives would have fallen short with. Dyemond Lewis has this real lazy and slick flow and T’nah Apex, yet again, stands out with her controlled viciousness, for example “Never am I vexed I’m always calm, cool, collect / Unless you disrespect I wreck you verbally /So expect the worst from me /I deck you with my intellect / You best be circumspect”.
Although “1999” could do without a few of the later tracks, which would make the mixtape a whole lot more airtight, it’s a promising release from Joey Bada$$ and only begs the question of what will he do next. The mixtape has been described as a throwback to old-school hip-hop, however I think it could be said that Joey Bada$$ is dragging it back to the surface of 2012. A remarkable tape from a 17-year-old.
Favourite tracks: Survival Tactics, Waves, Suspect.