B4.DA.$$: A Remarkable Nineties Hip-Hop Comeback

Hip-hop has gone through many different phases, from the social-commentary focused sound of Grandmaster  Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine, to the beginnings of gangster rap in artists like N.W.A. and Coolio, 50 Cent and Lil’ Wayne. However, this barely even scratches the surface of the different types of hip-hop sounds there are, some reaching into the realms of new genres like nu-metal rap group Limp Bizkit to R&B –style rhymes and flows most characterized nowadays by artists like Drake and The Weeknd. Not all these different brands of hip-hop are treated equally by the genre as a whole though; most fans would place the nineties era, with the likes of Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, Eazy-E, Big L, Wu-Tang Clan and Big Pun, as being the “Golden Age” of hip-hop as a whole. More recently, there has been a shift in the genre, with much younger artists exchanging the flashy, overly-gangster images of the rappers of the early 2000s for the more lyrical and technical rapping of the nineties. At the forefront of this is New York based rapper Joey Bada$$ of Pro Era, and his new album, B4.DA.$$, also known as Before Da Money, is a strong statement by the young artist testifying to the fact, with largely positive results.

Most of the beats on the album, from tracks like “Curry Chicken,” “O.C.B.,” and “Hazeus View,” have an old-school vibe to them that sounds as if Joey got them straight from a nineties record. And, although most of the producers on this album are relatively young, such as Hit-Boy and Pro Era’s own Kirk Knight and Chuck Strangers, the production sound of older artists like DJ Premier and J Dilla of The Roots definitely manage to create an old-school vibe on many of the tracks, establishing a nostalgic feel throughout.  The fact that the beats on these songs still maintain a somewhat modern feel within the classic sound they were aiming for is a testament to the excellent detail-oriented work on this album.

As to the lyrical ability of Joey Bada$$, he is as poignant as on his previous songs, creating great multi-syllabic rhymes and a grand, ever-changing flow throughout. Though on some tracks his hooks can be a bit weak, such as on “Escape 120” and “Run Up On Ya,” his verses more than easily make up for them, with catchy punchlines and unforgettable quotable lyrics in many of these tracks. Sometimes they take a comical approach, such as on Save the Children when he states “I’m trying to jack the booty like I’m Sparrow,” or they are much more serious and thought-provoking, like the tribute to his deceased Pro Era member Capital STEEZ on the song “On & On.” Compared to his highly acclaimed mixtape 1999 and his more recent Summer Knights EP, B4.DA.$$ is more versatile in the topics Joey talks about, ranging from his thoughts on death, his qualms about the money and fame in the music industry, and even his family (specifically his mother) being first priority in his life. As a package, this album has much to offer, and Joey is certainly going to hit on at least a couple of subjects that listeners can relate to.

The best tracks on this album seem to be placed in the first half of the record. Songs like “Christ Conscious,” “Paper Trail$,” and “Big Dusty” stand out as remarkable tracks, primarily because these songs showcase either no hook or a quick and catchy one that becomes sidelined by Joey Bada$$’s amazing lyricism. These tracks, among others, put a focus on what the emcee is best at: rapping. These tracks have a classic flow with hard rhymes that sound stylistically similar to Nas’ classic 1994 debut album Illmatic (also produced by DJ Premier) while retaining Joey’s distinct vocals and lyrics, a feat that even older, more experienced emcees have difficulty doing on their own records.

However, this is not to say that this album has no low points; the tracks “Escape 120” and the bonus tracks “Run Up on Ya” and “Teach Me” are easily the worst songs on the album for various reasons. “Escape 120” is easily the most experimental and risky of the tracks on this record; however, the extremely fast drum beat in the wake of unnecessary electronic backing just doesn’t work as a whole, and is a dark stain on an otherwise pristine record. Joey’s rhymes on this track are also a bit off, sounding too forced and simplified in comparison to the rest of his work on the album. To make matters worse, guest rapper Raury ends up rapping a much better verse than Joey, making the multi-syllabic rhymes and punchlines that Joey should have been making in the track as well. It is certainly the lowest point on the album for Joey, and doesn’t fit in lyrically, musically, or conceptually to the rest of the record. The bonus tracks are not terrible, but they sound very cheesy and corny, especially when the hook on “Teach Me” is the line “Teach me how to dance” on full repeat for a good portion of the song.

Taken as a whole, B4.DA.$$ is certainly a step in the right direction for Joey Bada$$. The special, airy beats hanging in the background, similar to those on Summer Knights, are taken full advantage of by Joey Bada$$. Hook-wise, he could use some improvement, but, with some guests on the album doing that for him, it is not that much of an issue. That is also not to say that his hooks are always horrendous; he does manage to pull-out some great ones in the middle of this album with songs like “Piece of Mind” and “Hazeus View.” What’s best, however, is when he isn’t trying to make a technical song, but just a banger that can simply hold its own through the beat, the flow, and the lyrics. B4.DA.$$ takes classic hip-hop and reinvents it in Joey’s style, establishing himself as the leader of the New York revivalist hip-hop sound, and setting the bar for many other New York emcees today. It is certainly an accomplishment Joey himself should be proud of.


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