Review Summary: Is Joey Bada$$ restrained by his influences? I don't think he is.
Having read some reviews of ‘1999’, there’s an overwhelming consensus: Joey Bada$$ isn’t anything new. Does a great album need an edge – concise, genre-defying creativity? Probably. But a good album? Well, I’m not sure it does.
‘1999’ doesn’t change hip hop, but does it need to? Joey Bada$$ was 17 when he released ‘1999’, and it’s a mixtape – a mixtape! This kid’s awesome; he revives boom-bap: confident punch lines over stripped-down production. We’ve seen most of it before – it’s not a 5/5 record – but it’s a prodigious debut, smooth and smart in all the ways it should be.
Joey’s lyrical, and I don’t mean Drake style, first-word-last, “it’s boring – paint drying” type of lyrical. I mean he packs rhymes on top of one another, multi-layering his verses. Sometimes, the startling way he pieces it together actually makes me laugh out loud.
“So my voice over the snares is the only way they hear what I got behind my membrane,
But I’ve been smoking chem.-strains,
So lately I’ve been having hard times with remembering.”
(MF DOOM produced ‘World Domination’.)
‘1999’ is an album meant for chilling. It’s hazy, foggy and jazzy which makes for an alright relax-record. Actually, it compliments his adolescent sluggishness and his peculiar lazy intelligence gives it a bit of buoyancy. It’s not unmanageable, but becomes quite indistinct in places. Not enough of ‘1999’ is striking; it’s missing oomph. The Production is exceptional – Joey recruits some huge names. His rapping’s old-skool (1999, to be exact!) and strikes an oddly casual balance between Big L punch and Lord Finesse precision. He’s rooted in his influences, and Lord Finesse actually produces ‘Funky Ho’$’, but in his strive for culture it all gets a bit foggy and disordered. Take ‘Killuminati’ as an example of a particularly knotty track. It’s meant to be stoner, skater hip hop, I know, but the backing on this one drones on, and on, and on.
Is Joey Bada$$ restrained by these influences, though? I don’t think he is. There’s a promising hint of modernity, the strict lyricism over chilled-out beats that Kendrick Lamar popularizes. There’s not much fresh on ‘1999’, but Joey shows he just might fix the skill of old-school to the sound of new-school. That he’s a bit retro isn’t a bad thing.