Although not without promise and potential, the album fades to boring monotony.
The expectations for B4.DA.$$ (articulated Before Da Money) never got past the perennial Joey Bada$$ debate. A debate which argues whether the Brooklyn rapper is a reincarnated member of ‘Boot Camp Clik’, a natural modern day boombap artist whose lyrical style harks back to the mid-1990s and pleases the demands of hip hop purists. Or is he an imitation, performing an obsolete form of music in a way that lacks sufficient imagination and creativity to make it relevant? These have been the two opposing opinions that have been voiced by the hip hop community since his ‘1999’ mixtape was released in 2012, unfortunately, anyone hoping for the release of his commercial debut album to put this dispute to bed will be disappointed.
The production on this album is pretty exciting, a smooth reworked J Dilla joint, a busy yet clean DJ Premier piece, and then the accepted mix of in house Pro Era stuff, Statik Selektah and the likes of Hit Boy. Lyrically, there was never any doubt, the album is full of intricate multi-syllablic rhymes and incessant wordplay, invariably the purist will be satisfied. However as a project and an album it quickly runs out of ideas, becomes one dimensional and lacks a high point. In the most frustrating manner the album builds beautifully to a pinnacle and then falls completely flat, the first half of the album lives up to all the positivity and buzz that surrounds Joey Bada$$. But in some sort of horrible cliché the second half falls away into a repetitive procession that just feels like going through the motions.
Tracks one through seven are broody, mellow and melodic, the 20 year old addresses what would usually be considered repeated themes in an interesting and creative way. There is often nothing less insightful or fulfilling as listening to rappers, clad in designer clothes and objectifying the female form, complaining about fame. The beginning of this album though offers a touching and intimate view into the pressures and responsibilities of a young man living within the peculiar confines of the music industry and the effect that money has in shaping his existence. Tracks like ’Paper Trail$’ epitomize this, a song in which he talks about trying to get his mum off of the street, and, in a twisted allusion to Wu-Tangs’ C.R.E.A.M., how “money is the root of all evil”. ‘Hazeus View’ and ‘Like Me (feat BJ The Chicago Kid)’ are other highlights, they aid in creating the sensation of progression through a calculated and controlled album. On a side note, much love to BJ The Chicago Kid’s feature. Nothing seems to be forced or rushed, the beats are spacious plus the tracks enhance each other, the whole project oozes confidence.
However it is at this point that everything goes wayward, the references and samples begin to feel like filler and the natural progression disappears. ‘Belly Of The Beast (feat Chronixx)’ and ‘No. 99’ mitigate the aura and the class which had been the dominating emotions of the first 7 tracks. The second half of the album craves fluidity and soul, the percussion is often too crashy and the vocal distortions lack sincerity. It honestly seems like Joey Bada$$ ran out of ideas but battled on regardless, ‘Black Beetles’ sounds as if he is uncomfortable with his flow and by the time you get to ‘Curry Chicken’ the whole thing starts to feel like an apology, even the ever reliable Action Bronson falls short on a feature verse.
The album will serve to fuel the Joey Bada$$ debate rather than answer it. My frustration comes from the promise and the potential that was established in the early sections of B4.DA.$$ which quickly turned into boring monotony, despite the low points, if the album had been ordered the other way around I believe it would be viewed in a far more positive light.
B4.DA.$$ is out now via Relentless Records.