Joey Bada$$ has had quite the interesting journey up to the release of his debut studio album. B4.DA.$$ is the culmination of a perceived identity crisis as he battled being pigeon holed as a 90s purist, the lost of his Pro Era compatriot Capital Steez, and the typically turbulent travels of an entertainer. Ultimately, is the album worth a listen?
“Before the money there was love. But before the money it was tough. Then came the money through a plug. It’s a shame it ain’t enough.”
B4.DA.$$ starts off STRONG. “Save The Children” is a fairly mellow opening over a Statik Selektah instrumental but he follows up with the aggression that he’s become known for on “Paper Trail$”, which is produced by DJ Premier. Bada$$ has a cadence that rarely ever lets up and that was daunting on tracks in the past, but on this project he has gained more control of his weapon-like rhyming and points it in the right direction. He sounds comfortable fairly consistently and the production is thankfully complimentary.
The casual listener of Joey may only know of the more in-your-face rhyme sessions, but tracks such as “Like Me” offer up some versatility. Rarely does the usual formula switch up on the album, but the J Dilla/Roots produced cut is refreshing and he flows easily around the mellow joint with BJ The Chicago Kid soulfully complimenting. With this track and the direct follow up “Belly of the Beast” over sick Hit-Boy production, B4.DA.$$ climaxes fittingly with a couple songs guaranteed to snatch up some news fans while old fans bob their heads right along.
“So gullible just like my first love. Stayed humble but I knew that I was first up. Picked up the pen and that’s when I drew my first blood. Spill my heart again cause the pain ain’t never end.”
Late in the album, “Escape 120” is the most risky track with its huge diversion from the album’s sound. Joey Bada$$ also switches his own performance a good bit, actually sounding a lot like Alex Wiley on this particular song. The track isn’t terrible, but feels out of place to a degree. Thankfully, listeners will be drawn right back in with “Black Beetles.” The Chuck Strangers production sets the tone for the final act of the album, which can be crucial.
“First things first is I’ve been rehearsing these verses in hopes that I hit the surface and keep myself afloat”
The curtain closes much like it opened, with Joey flowing effortlessly over Statik Selektah production. “Curry Chicken” is a solid close for the album. As Bada$$ rhymes about his increasing fame and the parallel existence with his close friends and family, the narrative that’s been subtly weaved in throughout B4.DA.$$ comes full circle.
With an authentic New York sound that many would be pressed to replicate, B4.DA.$$ is a great debut by Joey Bada$$. The Brooklyn artist has embraced his sound, built on the strengths of 1999 (2012) and Summer Knights (2013), and the sky is the limit. Snatch this album up and enjoy the ride through Bed Stuy.