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I Reminisce: ATA Reviews and Revisits Joey Bada$$ Classic 1999

Joey Bada$$. A prodigy of rap truly ahead of his time with a sound that oozes nostalgic New York rap. Back in 2012, I was a senior in high school obsessed with dumb shit like prom, you know typically teenage minutia. I remember exactly when this album dropped because I grew up in Jersey but made New York my stomping ground. I knew a bunch of dudes in the City and would go see them regularly. I was talking to a girl from Brooklyn at the time and she turned me onto Joey, claiming that she went to school with him and knew him well. At the time, I had never heard of him and she passed me his newest album, 1999, and told me it would change my life. It did. In this article, I want to pay homage to an album that really opened my mind up to hip-hop and break down exactly why Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott is still badass.

Joey Bada$$ created the group Pro Era and every artist that was affiliated had quality written all over them. This album showcased the vibe this group and Joey truly represent; a youthful infusion of old school rap. Joey Badass is only 23 years old yet he captivates his audience with his Wu-Tang Clan style like a seasoned OG. We are going to get into how he pulls that off on this record, but I want to first talk about the production. We have veterans on this production line up that were instrumental in recreating that boom bap sound fans love so much. MF Doom, J-Dilla, and Chuck Strangers can’t touch a track without bringing soulful samples and beats that are emblematic of what rap is. If you were to ask me what the definition of rap was, I’d say fuck you because that is a stupid question, but my rebuttal would be a mixture of this sound. You can feel the soul of these tracks in the beats alone. There’s something about that grainy percussion that is just so hip-hop to me. So, the stage was already set for a murder spree before Joey and his band of lyrical goons spit a single verse. And of course they killed every second.

The preparation for this album was such a beautiful combination of talents. But the talent of Joey Bada$$ and crew cannot be understated. His vocals sound like he was born next door to Biggie back in the day. He has such a unique sound and flow that both convinces you that your listening to a lyrical virtuoso and somebody who’s been through some relatable shit.

I want to start with my favorite track, Killuminati, but don’t get it twisted, almost every track here has some gems that will stick in your temple for years to come. The chorus says it all. Joey wears his influences on his sleeve like a sweater, letting you know exactly what you’re getting into. Yes, he was influenced by legends of hip-hop and yes that comes out tenfold in this album, but he pays his respects, separating himself from those that came before. This song is so Wu-Tang it’s silly. I’m pretty sure if you drive around after midnight in a top-down lowrider, this song automatically plays on your speakers. I love this track because it is such an amazing blend of what Joey Bada$$ meant for the rap genre; progression in the right direction.

Let’s back up and start from the beginning. Summer Knights lead us in perfectly with a chill conversation and background ambiance, preparing the listener for smooth sailing. The rhythm of those mystical synths smoothly transitions into a more upbeat vibe in the next track, Waves, which complements the vibe and the lyrics incredibly well. The flow on this track is tsunami quality, hence the name, evolving from decent to lines like, “And I’m hopeful that me spittin’ it soulful will have me in the Daily Postal Flying coastal eatin’ tofu. Like I told you…!” lo-fi percussion makes bars like these that much easier to swallow and Bada$$ does it so effortlessly, you can help but get sucked in.

Jumping forward to Survival Tactics, one of my favorite tracks on the album, we see Bada$$ in his element, delivering bar after bar over a sick military sample. The difference is this is the first feature and Capital Steez graces the mic, bringing just as much flare as Badass. Rest in Peace. It really hit me when I found out he passed away, especially considering this track showcased such amazing potential. You can hear the struggle of the New York streets in this song like a musical portal to the nearest Harlem bodega.  These tracks all have a cohesive beat structure mixed with some really well-chosen samples, and yes, I have to mention the Pinky and the Brain sample on World Domination. Its so 90’s it hurts, man. Joey Badass is fully aware of his sound and brings it consistently, making the listener head nod compulsively, never taking you out of the experience. That is the sign of true quality. When you start asking your mom what’s the word word, pass the herbs you know you’ve gone too far.

Whenever young heads step into the ring of any genre, you should pay attention.

Why? Because they determine whether a genre stays afloat, fades out of existence, or changes forever. Joey Badass showed that young generations were hungry for the past in a sea of new and changing rap. Change is good. Anything that produces more music is good in my book because difference can inspire others and spark even more creative abundance. Joey Badass inspired me to continue loving a genre I loved from afar. He made old heads mainstream for me and showed me how powerful the soulful boom bap can be.

Logic rode in on a similar wave but Joey Badass was one of the first that really did it for me. Listening to this album again really reminded me of a time where albums were whole afternoons with the boys blasting tunes in the hotboxed cars we borrowed from the folks. Late nights and freestyles with every puff pass. A definite staple in my treasure trove of most memorable albums.

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