If the name Joey Batts seems familiar and you’re scratching your head why, don’t stress your follicles over it –¬†Adam Bernard interviewed him back in January. For that reason I have to apologize to Joey Batts. Not for the interview mind you – he and Adam killed it – but because I avoided reviewing “Fandalize” for a month to avoid any appearance of impropriety. You can’t get a high score on RR just for being a personable and friendly emcee but the reverse is also true as well – we can’t knock points off a score just to avoid appearing favorably biased toward a featured artist.

“Personable and friendly” are two words that I think describe Joey Batts & Them (“they” are his accompanying band) to a tee on “Fandalize.” It’s possible some people would take what I’m about to say as a diss, but I really do mean this as a compliment – he’s the rap version of Will Smith in the 1980’s meeting Zack de la Rocha of the 2000’s. Let me break that down a little in case you misunderstand my meaning. Batts has skills and he has a message to put across, as evidenced by songs on “Fandalize” like “Red Lights,” where he’s “trying to speak the truth with this mic in my hands.” At the same time he’s not an exceptionally¬†ANGRY¬†political rapper – or even solely focused on writing wrongs and fighting injustice. Sometimes all he wants is to be your “#Bestie.”

“We doin everything and we gettin down
Grabbin up my bestie and hittin the town
Clubs, bars, beaches, road trips
Memories we makin ’em and lovin the shhhh
Take a picture of yo’ meal, picture of the sky
Hashtag selfie, hashtag lye
I’m talkin Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Takin pictures of my {ish}, sendin it to fans!”

If you want to try really hard to insert a deeper meaning into Batts’ song, you could consider it to be a critique of the social media phenomenon. His flow doesn’t come across as snarky though, and there are no hidden wordplay references to suggest his love of social media is anything but sincere. Songs like “Party at My Place” seem to be totally on the level – Joey is a fan of having a good time to excess and probably throws some pretty good (and booze soaked) bashes.

I did say he was “Will Smith meets Zack de la Rocha” though, so just when you start thinking Joey Batts is a lighthearted, upbeat, fun-loving emcee is when he drops a song like “Punch-Out!!” on you. It’s not an ode to the 1980’s Nintendo game, and there’s no chiptune sounds in the background, but it does accurately describe the one-two combo of poverty and lack of opportunity.

“It’s – after dawn, sun peakin through the blinds
Black coffee there’s no breakfast no time
Expressionless face so feelin uniform
Stress everywhere all types, all forms
Twenty degrees, out cold, straight frozen
Ownin, nothin in yo’ life, straight rollin
If life dealt you this hand then you straight foldin
Livin check to check, redefine this moment
Stuck in the lower middle class type swag
Tappin your pockets, no money like ‘Dag!’
The new lower class, we never gonna rise
Cry, lie, keep yo’ eye on the prize…”

The chorus crashes down hard with a reminder you “can slave away 9 to 5 but not win that war,” and the war is your fight with life to eke out more than a subsistence existence. He’s unapologetically East coast, as the places he shouts out “On the Road” seem to travel up and down the seaboard from Rhode Island to Maine to New York, but the desire to “keep it crunk” in the South is there lyrically even if it’s not where he’s currently rolling (the only dates I can find upcoming are in Connecticut).

Joey Batts doesn’t sound trapped by the East, but he does (this too may unintentionally seem like a slam) sound like a product of it. His music and lyrics are not haphazardly thrown together or have the lazy quality so many mixtapes masquerading as albums do these days, but the slickness is also endemic of self-funded DIY rap artists who live as hand to mouth as the protagonist of “Punch-Out!!” does – except his version of punching a clock is selling t-shirts, stickers and albums at live events. You’ve got to be really passionate to even break even that way, and Batts certainly sounds passionate, so if he was the opening act for a cross country rap tour he’d undoubtedly win new converts at every venue along the way. My last compliment that will hopefully be taken as meant is that he seems like the quintessential college rap artist – just old enough to see that life’s not the “American dream” but young enough to make the most of the little that’s out there. In between the soul crushing realities of death and taxes, Batts can offer you a beer and a mosh pit to take out your frustrations as he cranks out the hip-hop rap/rock.

Joey Batts & Them :: Fandalize
7Overall Score