It has been an interesting couple of weeks for Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$, highlighted by a selfie from President Barack Obama’s daughter Malia wearing a Pro Era t-shirt. Shrouded in controversy by news media outlets who have probably heard of him for the first time, it was a blessing in disguise for the 20-year-old as it was the strongest publicity needed going into the release of his studio debut album. Released through Cinematic Music Group and Relentless Records, Before Da Money (stylized B4.Da.$$) is an ode to the nostalgic road of Golden Era Hip-Hop from a kid born two decades too late.
From the opening “Save the Children,” Joey sets the tone for the primary theme of a black youth living in New York City: “I see vividly, hysteria/Cause misery on the interior/Sh*t gets more scarier, I’m never in fear/Just a little inferior in some areas.” In the light of current events of youth his age getting slain by police, it makes sense for Joey to watch his back. Caught up in the paranoia of phone taps and how any day can be his last, he laments on “Like Me”: “Cause every time I make a move they be sweatin’ me/They want another black man in penitentiary/It’s even hard for that man standing next to me/Cause he could catch a bullet that was really meant for me.” Learning from the best of Mobb Deep‘s Infamous tapes and Nas’ Queensbridge stories, Joey’s intricate lyricism shows a strength in what he can paint vividly.
Whether it be on reminiscing on his late friend and Pro Era comrade Capital Steez (“Hazeus View,” “On & On”) or looking forward to paying back those that supported him from the beginning (“Curry Chicken”), Joey makes sure the sounds complement his every emotion. The production is kept tight with Statik Selektah and Chuck Strangers carrying the bulk of the beats, accompanied by 90s heavyweights DJ Premier and J Dilla on the respective stand outs “Paper Trail$” and “Like Me.” A majority of the beats emphasizes Joey’s penchant to the crate-digging days, with the elegant boom-bap and dusty soul samples that MF DOOM would be proud of.
Though his grab for the throwback becomes a little too comical at times, he shines most due to it being almost a one-man show. Sans a few appearances from his Pro Era compatriots and a deluxe only appearance from Action Bronson, Joey mainly controls the navigation of his debut without a big name vouching for him. However, BJ The Chicago Kid nearly steals the show with his guest spot on “Like Me,” and Raury does his best with another Andre 3000-esque impression on “Escape 120.” The latter happens to be one of the most interesting tracks on the album, straying from the usual with a lucid instrumental that switches up Joey’s flow to near modern levels.
If you are looking for that classic hip-hop sound and grimy lyrics, then B4.Da.$$ is for you; yet it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, Joey’s debut effort is an impressive showing that leaves a lot of room for improvement in the future. Eventually, he’s going to have to branch out from his comfort zone.