Joey Bada$$ :: 1999 :: Pro.Era
as reviewed by Matt Jost

[1999] In 1999 Sean Combs threatened to be here "Forever" while seeing to it that Christopher Wallace was "Born Again." Meanwhile Afeni Shakur resurrected her son not for the first and not for the last time, in keeping with his motto "Still I Rise." Missy Elliott landed from whatever planet she and Da Brat had been strutting around on in that "Sock it 2 Me" video back in "Da Real World," Marshall Mathers took said world by storm as "Slim Shady," Dr. Dre played musical puppet master with "The Chronic 2001," 50 Cent experienced the music industry's pulling of strings first-hand when his debut "Power of the Dollar" was scrapped, the Beastie Boys, Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest were commemorated with anthologies and anticon made "Music For the Advancement of Hip Hop."

It wasn't what you would call a classic year in terms of album releases. In fact the output of Wu-Tang clansmen alone lended credence to every single apocalyptic prophecy making the rounds (exempting Method Man, who found a congenial companion in Redman). Legends cemented their utter irrelevance in the contemporary scene (EPMD, Ice-T, Rakim, Public Enemy, Naughty By Nature), while the ruling class of mainstream artists turned into millennium jitterbugs (Jay-Z, Nas, DMX, Foxy Brown, Mase, Noreaga, Juvenile). Saving the day artistically was the thriving indie scene as critics' choice awards went to Mos Def's "Black on Both Sides," Pharoahe Monch's "Internal Affairs," The Roots' "Things Fall Apart," Prince Paul's "A Prince Among Thieves" and MF DOOM's "Operation Doomsday."

What makes 1999 emblematic in retrospect is the fact that it concluded the '90s, to a considerable number of fans today a decade of pure hip-hop bliss. Brooklyn's Joey Bada$$ is too young to remember, blowing out four candles on his birthday cake in 1999. But for some reason he's able to take us there. The memory is jogged by the music as well as the lyrics. He culls some beats from the vaults, impartially, considering L.A. crew Styles of Beyond ("Survival Tactics") as well as British rapper/producer Lewis Parker ("Hardknock"). There are also (later) DOOM and Dilla beats and one credited to Lord Finesse. In order for a project like this to go beyond a mere musical history lesson it is important to have beats of your own, and Chuck Strangers, Freddie Joachim, Knxwledge and Bruce LeeKix all deliver smooth jazz ensembles that in a previous life could well have existed on some underground 12". Fans of those days will instantly relate to tracks like "FromdaTomb$" or "Righteous Minds," the latter recalling The Beatnuts' "Hit Me With That" by way of sample.

Joey Bad has already been compared to some of New York's greatest. It's the type of esteem he certainly won't reject, boasting in the mixtape's very first track: "A child but they treat him like a bigger man / cause when the pen in his hand they big him up like he Jiggaman." The frequent Nas comparisons are premature, but the poetical expression and philosopical approach combined with pure rap skill clearly put him in the prodigy category. Witness him dream big in "Waves":

"It's far from over
Won't stop till I meet Hova and my mama's in a Rover
till I'm an owner of the world's finest motors
I blow like supernovas, in your daughter room on a poster
known as history's biggest musical composer
No disrespect to Bob Mar' - yeah, another stoner
Marihuana my odor; and when I get older
hope my spermatozoa from my scrotum intercepts an ovum
like three times, have three kids
I hope me and wife can show 'em not to make the same mistakes you know that we did
I hope they acknowledge the knowledge cause yeah, they gon' need it
Cause what my parents tried to tell me, I just wouldn't receive it
Couldn't believe it till I saw with my own pupils
Felt bad when I learned that their advice was truly useful
But fuck it, only made us as human beings more mutual
Even though over time, my punishments, they grew more crucial
To use the word brutal, cause my parents mad strict
Hope one day I'll attract the likes of even Madlib
Go gold over Mad shit and hear my songs mastered
Until then all I can do is imagine..."

While the delivery sometimes descends into a loose mumble, the flow itself is mostly on point, fitting with the relaxed vibe of "1999." But despite the occasional spliff being lit, Joey's vision isn't clouded. He talks about the difficulty of staying on the right track ("Hardknock," "Righteous Minds"), throws up a middle finger or two ("Killuminati," "World Domination") and even takes a little bit of political frustration to the streets ("Survival Tactics," "Snakes"). Only the opposite sex seems to confound him - "Pennyroyal," "Funky Ho'$," "Don't Front" and "Where It'$ At" catch him at various stages of coming to grips with the subject.

While hip-hop is full of wanna-be's, that's not the vibe you get from Joey Bada$$ and his Pro.Era crew. Yes there is too much Slum Village in "Where It'$ At," too much AZ in "Daily Routine," and the final posse cut "Suspect" bears an uncanny resemblance to a Boot Camp cypher. Yet they're unburdened by nostalgia and driven by the desire to express their concerns and get somewhere. The next time they might come up with something slightly different, which is actually to be expected given the evolvement and improvement to be witnessed on "1999" itself. Either way we'll hear from Joey Bada$$ and The Progressive Era.

Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10

Originally posted: September 25th, 2012