Like many of his contemporaries, Joey Badass made a name for himself through the internet. With the release of 1999 and Summer Nights, Badass’s nostalgic, ’90s-inspired mixtapes developed a strong following within the online hip-hop community. Badass, otherwise known as Jo-Vaughn Scott, even attracted the attention of one of his influences, Jay-Z, who looked to sign Badass to his Roc Nation label. While many would hop at this opportunity, Scott decided to stay independent, calling it the “best thing” for him as an artist. Three years after the release of his first mixtape, Joey Badass looks to bring his independent spirit to a wider audience with his debut album, B4.Da.$$, but the results are a tad uneven.
B4.Da.$$ treads the line of distinct, alternative hip hop, with more contemporary, accessible styles. There is a classic vibe here, filled with turntables, horns, and production-driven takes. Unlike others in his scene, Badass doesn’t fiddle around with idiosyncratic odd song structures or word delivery, rapping in a straightforward manner over beats that can shift from pulsating to downtrodden. These songs aren’t necessarily suited for pop radio, as they aren’t built around big, catchy hooks. Rather, Badass has crafted a cohesive set of songs that come together in tandem, complete with short interludes and skits scattered throughout.
“Save the Children” and “Curry Chicken”, the opening and closing songs respectively, are as big as the record aspires to be. Produced by Statlik Selektah, their grandiose feel wraps the record together, which has a much drier feel. Along with takes like “Big Dusty”, where Badass talks a big talk, calling to listeners to “check [his] style” as a rapper, many of these tracks focus on Scott’s own personal experiences. One of the more somber moments on the record, “Black Beetles”, Badass calls himself one of the “little black beetles” who “won’t attract the singles”. Despite the work of Martin Luther King, Martin Garvey, and Bob Marley, Badass still finds himself “low on self-esteem”, as he works his way to rap stardom. The song’s minimal beats allow his words, in addition to his wordplay, to truly ring through here.
Despite the number of triumphant moments found throughout the record, it’s tough to keep invested for the length of the album. At times, it is hard to keep up with Badass, as his beats can be easy to forget. The album moves from song to song without developing any sort of real connection with the listener, as the songs, however entertaining they may be, can all blend together. For every moment of real excitement or intrigue, there are others that are equally lacking in these qualities. There isn’t a lot of substance here, as the album is uneven throughout. The first half of the album is the more entertaining half of the record as far as production goes, though it is a little monotonous stylistically. On the less consistent second half, there is a greater level of experimentation, though it fails to sustain the same interest found on the first half.
An up-and-comer in the hip-hop scene, Joey Badass has attracted a great deal of hype from fans and genre forefathers alike. Each of these new rappers have something new to offer the growing genre, and Badass hearkens back to a straightforward, no frills flow on B4.Da.$$. While his aspirations are admirable, and can certainly be entertaining, this album is not consistent enough to make him a force to be reckon with. There are certainly hints of this ability throughout, as Badass is truly capable of writing a great record, but for all of the great moments on B4.Da.$$, there are a number of shaky ones as well. If Badass can find a way to separate the strong beats and wordplay, from the monotony that can overtake the record from time to time, he may be onto something great. However, for now though, he is still finding his way.