What Went Right With… B4.Da.$$ by Joey Bada$$?

Album cover for B4.Da.$$ by Joey Bada$$ made by featuring a New York skyline and the 47 LogoWith the sound of a crowd cheering for Joey Bada$$, the opening of “B4.Da.$$” is an apt way to start an album that fans have been looking forward to for several months. With numerous release dates followed by numerous delays, the LP has finally been released; and for the most part “B4.Da.$$” is an enjoyable listen.

Joey along with the other members of Pro Era have made their careers by creating a neo-nineties rap style which has brought us a renaissance of the Golden Era. For his debut album, Joey seems to have opted for an early nineties Jazzy Hip-Hop sound for the majority of this album. With the first track “Save The Children” incorporating a jazz horn sample, this mellow sound is indicative of what’s to follow, so if you were expecting wall-to-wall block-thumping tracks like “My Yout” or angry raspy vocals like “95 Til Infinity”, you might be disappointed.

“B4.Da.$$” is a lot more unassuming than you would expect for a début album, and although “Save The Children” is a pretty decent song, when this is the first track from the first official release from your entire clique, you want to open hard like Black Moon‘s “Powaful Impak”, not with something modest like this. And you definitely don’t want to follow your opening track with an unneeded interlude-cum-skit like “Greenbax” (introlude). Unfortunately this is the start of “B4.Da.$$”, but thankfully the mood picks up with the next song.

“Paper Trail$” is produced by DJ Premier, and although this isn’t Primo’s best work (especially with the long wail in the back) Joey makes up for it with his lyricism which speaks about people’s hunger for money and the construct of our capitalist society. “Paper Trail$” probably includes the most meaningful of Joey’s lyrics on the album with lines like “before the money there was love, but before the money it was tough”. Being a fan of the Golden Age, Joey also interpolates Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” with the line “Cash Ruins Everything Around Me”.

Then comes “Piece Of Mind” which at first sounds pleasant enough, but when you get the second half of the chorus with the “…we only see what we knoooow” line, you find yourself reaching for the “Next Track” button. With the background vocals sounding annoyingly Hipsterish, and with an unneeded outro; “Piece Of Mind” was probably better left off the album, but at least it leads to a better track.

“Big Dusty” produced by Kirk Knight sounds grimy and underground with the eerie piano sample and the “check my style, check, check, check it out” mid-nineties sounding chorus. We’ve already heard this song but it does have a new vocal overlay which leads to the new song “Hazeus View” (also produced by Kirk Knight) which in my opinion is the stand-out track of the album. With its piano sample and throwback drumbeat, the song keeps your head nodding. The sound of “Hazeus View” is faithful not only to the nineties but to the Capital Steez era of the Pro’s, and with the catchy choruses, these are two of the best songs on the album thanks to Kirk and Joey’s complimentary beats and rhymes.

The hopeful vibe then dips for a while with the song “Like Me” which goes for a mellow feel once more. Even though it has a hint of singing, it isn’t as bad as “Piece Of Mind”. That being said, it is still a bit dull, but thanks to the next track things begin to look up once more.

“Belly Of The Beast” is more like it; a nice mixture of contemporary and nineties sounds thanks to Hit Boy’s bass heavy, yet almost drum-free synth track and echoing reggae elements. Chronixx adds a complimentary Caribbean ingredient with his verse, a bit like Twanie Ranks did with Boot Camp Clik back in the day.

This buoyant mood leads nicely to “No. 99” which sports an overtly Golden Era sound. The song feels like Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” with its constant cymbals, and even though we’ve heard this track recently, there’s no denying that it’s a great song. “No. 99” goes to show that Statik Selektah really knows how to conjure up memories of great Hip-Hop from the early-to-mid nineties.

Next up is “Christ Conscious” which is another song that’s previously been released. Even though it’s quite short, it still bumps like the classic Das Efx track it references. My only criticism is that Joey could have maybe added another verse and extended the track for the album; given that most people have already heard it and the fact that it follows an equally short song. A wasted opportunity since this was one of the most animated tracks on the album.

“On & On” (another track that’s already been released) then goes back to the mellow sound, and after two or three thumping songs, at this juncture in the album it feels too early to bring in a relaxed track with Maverick Sabre’s smooth, Eagle-Eye Cherry-ish vocals. “On & On” feels like the kind of song that used to ease the listener into the last few joints of a Hip-Hop album had it been the nineties, but having said that, this is another pleasant listen and stays true to Joey’s aural aesthetic.

Unfortunately “On & On” is followed by “Escape 120” which is a weird-sounding offering with a double-time beat and a mostly slow delivery. With some more faux singing courtesy of Joey Bada$$, it’s the kind of thing which we all hope Joey and Producer Chuck Strangers would stop making. This kind of track is neither radio-friendly nor is it something which appeals to his original fans, and with Atlanta’s Raury bringing his sped-up, spoken word-esque verse to the mix, it firmly places this track into a gentrified Brooklyn; something only a coffee drinking, vintage clothe wearing Hipster would play.

Thankfully the next track is better, but again “Black Beatles” produced by Chuck Strangers with a distorted yelp is another slow song. The melody makes for a strangely depressing feel, and although a pretty decent joint, with Joey’s underwhelming chorus it feels like yet another lethargic effort.

“O.C.B.” then confirms Joey’s propensity for the mellow rather than the hard. It’s a good enough song, but with four back-to-back sleep-inducing tracks at this point, the tone begins to drag the album down. The final song is “Curry Chicken”; another track already out there to stream, but despite this being another meek song it is definitely a more satiating listen thanks again to Statik Selektah’s production. Having said this, with Joey’s new preference for an uncomplicated delivery and flow, this song sounds too relaxed for a album closer; “Curry Chicken” is not a great way to end the regular edition of “B4.Da.$$”, especially since most of us have heard this song before.

The bonus tracks on “B4.Da.$$” include the easy-going “Run Up On Ya” and Elle Varner’s Faith Evans-style vocals make this song sound like a radio-friendly release from the tacky side of the nineties making this penultimate song more Bad Boy than Duck Down. With Action Bronson’s standard Ghostface-esque rap, “Run Up On Ya” sounds more like the kind of Player/Mafioso Hip-Pop we’d all rather forget from that period. This track however, is not as bad as the downright nasty and horrid bonus track “Teach Me How” featuring Kiesza. We’ve already heard this song thanks to Zane Lowe’s radio show, but once you’ve heard it you wished you hadn’t. Kiesza’s other collaborative track with Joey Bada$$ (“Bad Thing”) was better, but unfortunately for Joey, he’s been left with the worst of the two collabos. “Teach Me How” is the most disappointing closing to what was already a less than impressive first album. Switching up styles from jazzy to an almost offensive Outkast-esque Pop-friendly sound is not how you stay on the right side of credible, especially if you’re allegedly representing “Real Hip-Hop”.

Because many of these songs have already been heard, “B4.Da.$$” is an example of what happens when an album has too many prior releases and performances; it’s hard to objectively hear the complete work once the finished product is officially out. The fact that we’ve already heard at least a third of the songs, this has had a detrimental effect to the album. Had some of the tracks been extended or remixed, had the tracklist been jigged around, had it not closed with the weakest and most embarrassing song of all, “B4.Da.$$” would be much more appealing. Maybe the album should have closed with something like “Black Beatles” rather than some lame Hipster-Hop.

With Barack Obama’s daughter seen wearing a Pro Era shirt, like it or not this once underground clique is now drifting toward popular culture. Hopefully it can travel there without selling out. Thankfully, despite two tacky tracks, “B4.Da.$$” sticks to a credible Hip-Hop soundscape. With a slew of horrid album releases lately, “B4.Da.$$” is one of the better albums out there, but by incorporating so many placid songs and then ending abruptly with a schizophrenically fast track, once the album finishes, the listener may forget all the good that comes before the final song.

This album is far from being a crossover release, but with around half of the tracks sounding strangely mild, and the other half already released in some form, B4.Da.$$ is not the flawless “classic” that many hoped it would be. Joey’s début album isn’t too dissimilar to his mixtapes, and unfortunately it doesn’t feel as though it’s surpassed something like “Summer Knights” in terms of content, structure, lyricism, and even album cover. That’s not to say that “B4.Da.$$” is a complete disappointment, there are at least twelve good tracks on there. It’s just unfortunate that this will be the first time a large section of the mainstream will hear Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era, and with tracks like “Escape 120” and “Teach Me How” included on the tracklist, it isn’t a perfect showcase of Pro Era’s skills as musicians, or a perfect example of underground Hip-Hop.


Beats: 7/10

Rhymes: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

10 replies »

  1. I enjoyed listening to this album. It had great production and Joey really comes through with a good flow and delivery on this album. He is really becoming one of this decade’s standouts. The fact B4DA$$ sold 120k copies (which is in today’s age is great) proves Hip Hop is starting to recover. Let’s hope the radio and music channels promote his music the same way they promote the music of shit rappers like Future. And let’s hope people start to listen to acts like Jory Bada$$ and King Los rather than Migos and Young Thug.

  2. A very good point you made with the unnecessary pop-friendly songs included with the album. If this had more “Paper Trails” then “Tech me how” then I would actually be inclined to but this album off of itunes.

    Unfortunately, it seems that Pro Era as a whole has grown more obsessed over pop singles. Besides the hit “Devastated” orchestrated by Joey Bada$$, he also had the audacity to jump on a track on NYCK Caution which was produced by METRO BOOMIN of all people! The same dude who made the atrocious Savage Mode! Kirk Knight’s “Take that” tbh I really liked as he was lyrical and had a psychedelic beat to accompany it, but this new CJ fly single I have no idea what to think of. It has a fairly decent beat of the trap sort but the singing hook questions whether his integrity is still in the rap game.

    Should I buy CJ Fly’s new song? Or should I not to prevent what seems to be a plow to sell more units?

    • To be honest I prefer the CJ Fly song to the Kirk Knight track…

      Devastated was absolute garbage though…

      I hope this type of corny Hip-Pop (Devastated) isn’t indicative what Pro Era will be making in the future, I get that they want to do “other” stuff than 90’s Boom Bap, but they can do it credibly. New music by Dirty Sanchez and Rokamouth suggest they’re also trying a late-nineties sound (still with a singing hook though)

      Sanchez is making some typical Pro Era stuff too…

      Also I would say that Trap music is on its way out, if Joey, Kirk, and CJ move to that sub-genre this late in the game, they’ll slowly lose their original fans and be stuck with an outdated sound.

    • I ended up buying Cj Fly’s new single. It may not be perfect, but it is catchy, and I want to support his work leading to his upcoming album “FlyTrap”. On the subject of trap music dying, which you mentioned at the end of your reply, what makes you think that?

      This year is one of the most successful years for “trappers”. Never before has the media promoted such awful rappers like Desiigner, Kodak Black, 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott, Young Thug, Lil Yachty, and Herbo. Every project they have released reeks of cheap quality production. Autotune is being used extensively to make their voices seem more appealing to fans, when in reality it showcases the lack of talent each and every one of them has. And don’t even get me started on their lyrical capabilities;they have no sense of rhyming, just moaning and singing like they have bronchitis. If they do go under, and the trap scene becomes worn-out towards the main consumer of “hip-pop”, what do you think will replace it?

      Will it be the ever growing sub-genre of cloud rap made popular by Travis Scott, Lil B, and Yung Lean? Or do you think it will morph into total pop music? Like imagine the radio blasting A$AP Ferg’s “Strive” on the radio 24/7(Pretty dystopian, huh).

      All in all I believe mainstream hip hop as an art and an image will be run down at the end of the decade by supposed “real hip-hop fans” flocking to K. Dot, Schoolboy Q, etc. Then the fanbase will become confused. But I am very intrigued to hearing your response.

    • There’s always going to be mainstream Hip-Hop like it or not, and more often than not it’s the tired, overused stuff that’s been recycled and watered-down by the major labels/mainstream producers/rappers etc. I don’t have any proof to back up the fact that I think Trap is on its way out, but other mainstream sub-genres of rap have only lasted for five to ten years max.

      That’s not to say that an individual artist disappears too, mainstream rappers’ styles adapt to the current mainstream trend, as an example Jay-Z did double-time with Jaz, did mafioso-rap with Jaz/Sauce Money/Tone Hooker etc. on Reasonable Doubt, he then did Eighties Pop-sampling stuff with P Diddy in In My Lifetime Vol. 1, he then did that noughties electronic hip-hop stuff with Swizz Beatz and Neptunes, double-time again (this time with southern rappers and Jaz-O again on In My Lifetime Vol. 2), he dabbled in r’n’b crossover stuff in the mid-to-late noughties, than he even had a trap flow in Magna Carta. Other less successful or less business savvy artists fall into one of these sub-genres as they teeter out, but whereas they disappear, someone like Jay-Z jumps on every bandwagon and it seems to work.

      Trap feels the same way Mafioso Rap felt in the late nineties, many people knock its simplicity, it’s easily copied and even parodied, when you can stand back and say this is exactly the specification and style of a sub-genre, its days (or years) are numbered. Yes many people buy Trap but how many people do you know that think its lame or predictable? We’re told its extremely popular but can you really trust Soundscan or other media sales tracking systems to tell us the truth?

      Cloud rap like Trap has also been going on for a while, it’s basically a Hip-Hop derivative of Dark Wave which has been going on for decades, Clams Casino has done a decent job with it but he hasn’t really moved it to the mainstream like Switch and Diplo have with their brand of electronic-pop. When you hear a beat or see an aesthetic from a sub-genre with someone like Beyonce/Justin Bieber on it, that’s when you know it’s got less than five years left before the fickle mainstream moves on. I think there’ll be many amalgamated genres first like Air Pop or Dark Bass that will then inadvertently split off and produce a totally new sound, but it will take someone with a little influence to pick up and run with a new Hip-Hop sub-genre and make it popular – first with the underground and then over.

  3. I actually liked Devastated. It was a banger for the summer. I played on rotation for months after it was released. It may have sounded “pop”, but if you get past it, then you will enjoy it.

    Black Beetles though was garbage and that verse he gave on that G Herbo song was terrible as well.

    • I find “Front and Center” to be far worse then “Devastated”. Devastated worked half-and-half with its unique echoing-sounds that showcased something different that could come from Joey but at the same time show he wasn’t afraid to dumb down his lyricism. But this new song is just boring. I see almost a certain reggae-South American vibe to it but his verse is just really low pased and kind of makes you nod off because there isn’t a whole lot of hard-hitting drums throughout the several minutes you force yourself to listen.

      Not to be the harbinger of doom but I see a shadow of doubt and betrayel in the distance. If Joey can’t help but collab with Metro Boomin, who is responsible for most of the decline of trap over the years, and hang with Logic, who is similarily taking the same commercialized path, then the resurrection of Hip Hop as it is is in big trouble!!!

    • To be honest I preferred “Front & Center” to “Devastated”, it’s not great but the sample from Narcos made for a decent, relaxed feel in my opinion. Although like I said before, Trap is sounding tired right now, I think Joey needs to move away from Hip-Pop altogether to keep his credibility.

      Nyck Caution’s “What’s Understood” was also too Hip-Pop for me, I think the whole Pro Era team needs to back off trying to appeal to the mainstream. Their core audience like their throwback 90s sound, so they shouldn’t be in a hurry to annoy them.

      Really, it depends on what Joey’s upcoming LP A.A.B.A. sounds like as a whole – I’ll reserve judgement on whether he’s selling out or not until I hear the complete album. Remember that B4.Da.$$ contained “Teach Me” and “Escape 120” which were Pop-pandering garbage.

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