by Louis Johnson
What were you doing when you were 17? You’d reached the tail end of puberty, and maybe just started making rational decisions. You were probably starting to get along with your parents, finishing up high school, looking for a college or maybe even getting a job. But how many can say they‘d been dubbed the savior of hip hop? Well, Jo-Vaughn Scott can, better known by his stage name Joey Badass.
A rapper from Brooklyn, Scott gained international recognition in 2012, at the age of 17, when he released his debut mix tape “1999.” The project was a huge critical success, landing the young rapper on multiple best of hip hop lists. Critics and fans proclaimed Joey was revitalizing hip hop as a young rapper with an affinity for older, golden age hip hop, as opposed to much of the trap and club music younger rappers tend to make.
However others criticized him as riding a wave of nostalgia and being derivative of ‘90s hip hop, bringing nothing new to the table.
Now in 2015, Joey releases his commercial debut “B4.Da.$$” (pronounced Before the Money) on the label Cinematic Music Group. The album debuted at number five on the Billboard 200s, an impressive feat for a young rapper on an independent label.
The production is the strongest aspect of this album. The songs have rich, layered beats that draw heavy influence from jazz, providing the entire album with a moody and laid-back atmosphere.
The production, although great on its own, is completely mismatched with Joey’s MC abilities. He’s established himself in the past as a strong spitter, but with the exception of maybe two tracks, Scott’s delivery is incredibly mellow and understated, completely out of character with his older work.
While I understand an artist’s need to evolve musically, “B4.Da.$$” doesn’t see Scott moving forward as an artist. He drops his previous style and tries his hand at something that’s just different, rather than something that’s a natural progression of his talents.
The style shift simply does not work for him and ruins the album for me.
His hooks, bars and choruses are all delivered in a monotone inflection that melt into the hazy production, but rather than adding to the atmosphere, Scotts delivery is dwarfed and boring. As good as the production is, it simply does not complement Badass’ talent. The album has no highs or lows and becomes a challenging listen when all 15 tracks sound relatively the same. I got bored halfway through most of the tracks and had to fight the urge to skip to the next one.
Joey’s new sound is reminiscent of fellow alternative rappers Vic Mensa or Chance the Rapper, who have been paving the way for young rappers of the past few years who are breaking the mold of what hip hop is with unconventional beats and flows. But where Mensa and Chance excel in this sub genre, Joey falls flat.
Badass’ lyrical talent is still present, but when it sounds like you’re falling asleep for 53 minutes the lyrics become forgettable. In “1999” Joey dropped an impressive amount of memorable lines, but with this new monotonous rapping style, I really can’t remember any of the lyrics in this album.
But Scott’s delivery doesn’t make the album unlistenable. It’s simply a mismatch of bad ideas on his behalf (as I stated earlier, the production is really great). Statik Selektah, Kirk Knight and Chuck Strangers, all who have previously worked with Scott, deliver some really fantastic beats. If this album was just instrumental, I’d be all for it.
Still, in the lamentable world of mainstream hip hop, Scott manages to be a glimmer of hope. The album’s commercial success gives underground hip hop proof there still are serious fans out there. Unlike rappers in the vein of Rae Sremmurd, Chief Keef and 2Chainz, Joey Badass’ “B4.Da.$$” isn’t a celebration of mediocrity and cheap thrills. Scott is a serious artist. Unfortunately, his new work just isn’t up to par with the work he has done in the past.