Three and a half years ago I stepped inside The Observatory Orange County in Santa Ana for the first time, ready to see Joey Bada$$, Vince Staples and other Pro Era affiliates for my first ever rap concert. I left that show with a healthy sampling of what was to come in the next few years, both in regards to my blossoming concert addiction and a deeper profile on a kid named Bada$$, the same age as me, on the brink of becoming one of hip-hop’s most special voices.
Fast forward to 2018 and Joey is still championing off the success of his second full length record All Amerikkan Bada$$, which dropped early last year. Loaded with jazzy, pop-rap instrumentals and driven by a narrative focusing on the state blacks in modern America, the album propelled Joey to a new level of commercial success, although still a far cry from the massive sales numbers of “conscious” peers Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. But unlike Kendrick and Cole, Joey is an independent champion of sorts, evident by the crowd response to classic mixtape cuts “Survival Tactics” and “Waves.”
His lyrical displays on tracks from his breakthrough mixtape 1999 remain among his most impressive verses. His bars on “Hardknock” still hold as some of the best hardcore hip-hop dissertations from the early 2010s, and he nailed them in performance to no fault. No screaming, no hype man, just pure poetry. The same can be said of “Paper Trail$” and “Big Dusty,” two of the best cuts from B4.DA.$$. These tracks are a fantastic reminder that Joey’s supply of fierce and thoughtful raps are second to few others in the game.
As much as I enjoyed the nostalgic boom-bap tributes, the real attraction lied in the liveliness of his newest material. “ROCKABYE BABY” sounded as cold-blooded live as it did upon its initial release and the fuzzy synth loops on “FOR MY PEOPLE” reached new, hypnotic heights inside the small, smokey venue. The ultimate apex came with “DEVASTATED” – the obvious choice for a closer and an undeniable banger, so much so, that young Bada$$ had to play it twice.
Two albums in, Joey has come into his own as a creative mind, displaying immense confidence in every artistic move he makes. His cadence is top notch and his stage presence has developed into that of an established MC who is poised to continue evolving artistically and growing personally. At only 23 years old, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that Joey may still have his best music ahead of him, but don’t sleep on the greatness of this early chapter in his career.