Joey Bada$$ - B4.DA.$$
Released January 20, 2015
By Brendan Tuytel
I’ve always been amazed with young artists. Youth is a tumultuous time with duels of identity and change; if we believe art to be an extension of self, then that should be a period of inconsistency for maturing musicians. Following the critically acclaimed mixtapes Summer Knights and 1999, Joey Bada$$ was poised for a breakthrough. Anticipation fluctuated as singles surfaced in the period of B4.DA.$$’s development with the best tracks hitting all the lyrical marks with conscientious attention to detail. Words flowed rhythmically emphasizing the beat; both complimented each other, never detracting from one another. But others were noticeably raw, underdeveloped to a point of being unenjoyable. The young rapper just turned twenty this year and was still finding his way. Even his three mixtapes featured very different tropes. Unfortunately with B4.DA.$$, the effort to explore different avenues affects the album’s development of cohesion. Tracks can just be so jarring in all the worst ways.
With Like Me, Joey works with a track produced by two respected hip hop staples: deceased producer J Dilla and the Roots. His execution on the track is flawless with diverse rhymes and purposeful stresses. It keeps the track enthralling making it easy to get lost in the four and a half minutes. It’s followed by the reggae inspired Belly of Beast, a track that drags on and bores. This is the integral conflict on the album: Joey versus, well, Joey. While this would be an interesting theme to indulge in, it is done superficially and certain aspects of his persona are executed much better resulting in a very dominant sound in juxtaposition with the tracks given less spotlight and consideration. Part of this comes from trying to bridge the artists of the city he lives in with the influences of his parents’ heritage. But trying to channel Caribbean sounds with tracks that shout out Biggie and provoke reminiscing of Nas and Wu Tang just doesn’t work. These are the two sides of an artist who either hasn’t learned how to harmonize them or doesn’t have the range to bring it all together.
Overall, however, the album strikes some resonating chords. The simplicity of the refrain “They say money is the root of all evil/I say money is the root of all people” on Paper Trail$ indicates Joey trying to make a point, just his points are made with mixed proficiency. There are hip hop staples on this album: Hazeus View, Christ Conscious, Black Beetles, and the aforementioned Like Me. If these songs had slightly more consistent filler, B4.DA.$$ would be in early contention for album of the year. When Joey says “I just booked my first class ticket to my destiny” on On & On, he isn’t all wrong; he just settled for coach.