The day before I heard the debut Joey Bada$$ mixtape 1999 I was in Wal-mart talking about how staggeringly important Illmatic is. Not just that it’s a classic album but that a teenage street kid can go from unknown to burning lyrical imprints upon generations of listeners. For those that think of rap as something that happens on Winterfresh gum commercials or as something Pitbull does before the chorus hits…Illmatic is proof of the opposite; it’s proof that this music can take people who are on the financial bottom and give them the ears of the whole world.
The next day 1999 began the same way Illmatic did. The first track called Summer Knights opens in the clatter of jovial voices loudly trying to be heard over one another. It’s that same Brooklyn world of loud impressive characters who all want to be heard…that fades when our narrator begins “It’s been a minute since they seen a style with no gimmicks…” New York has been trying to revolutionize itself recently with amusing novelty rap full of funny references and hip insincerity, Joey doesn’t register any of this.
The beat produced by Freddie Joachim on Waves is a good representative for the production overall. It’s warm, simple, and melodically expansive the way 90’s era beats were. At times it feels like a De La Soul beat. Joey has a level of craft that is more impressive than anything about the production, just to give you a brief example from Waves. “since 95 mama been working 9-5 and I know the landlord fed up with our lives so we pray to the gods, the jahs and the allahs to keep us safe and watch our lives.” At times he touches important subjects but most of the time he’s just maintaining a conversation while exercising startling control over his flow like a great NBA point guard has on the basketball.
Survival Skills highlights pure East Coast ferocity beginning “N*** don’t want war I’m a Martian with an army of Spartans sparring with a knife in a missile fight.” He’s only 17 and devastating, at one point during the song yelling “F#CK LISTENING TO SH#T.”
When Nas made his debut he had already laid an amazing verseon the Main Source track Live at The Barbeque. All the major NY producers rallied around his debut. In a way 1999 is more baffling, producers are largely unknown (Bruce Leekix, Chuck Strangers) with Statik Selektah as an exception.The features are numerous and just as unknown (CJ Fly, Kirk Knight, CapitolSTEEZ) but none of them are at all off the mark. The mixtape concludes with an eleven minute posse track featuring his whole Pro Era crew and not a bad verse can be found. Joey Bada$$ brought his own world of fantastic rappers and producers that somehow in this world of infinite blog reviewers digging for new music,nobody knew about it.
Thematically speaking Joey’s relationship with women is important. He doesn’t outwardly degrade them even on a song like Funky Ho but he does a lot of slick chiding. On HardKnock the chorus is dedicated to his need to change his lifestyle because he wants marriage and kids, but elsewhere the message is distinctly different. In Don’t Front he asks what love is,calling it a stupid analogy in a line thats knowingly clever but he leaves the thought personally incomplete. He’s never misogynistic just distrustful and defensive in a completely charming way. My favorite track has to be Righteous Minds where he discusses everything from Color Me Badd, Michael Jordon wannabe’s, Jim Crow laws, the dead, to the addictive problems with smoking weed. He feels like a world worn thirty year old teacher pulling you aside for a discussion you’ll always remember. He’s only 17. The production pops and bounces behind him never overwhelming the orator. 1999 is a gift you have to keep playing with to fully understand. The first listening is jaw dropping but living with it is the real reward. If I could will 50 cent level success to any new mixtape artist this year…this would be the guy. We need him as much as he needs us.
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