New York has recently been on an uprise with A$AP Rocky, French Montana and more bringing back the patented, gritty aura which had been lost for some years. But one rapper who has captured the carefree, Central Park skater feel of 90s New York is Brooklyn young gun Joey Bada$$. At only 17 years old, the rapper has already been touted as something of a phenomenon with performances displaying a surprising maturity, hunger and a passion for the culture rarely seen in newcomers. With a fondness for rhyming over the boom bap, Bada$$ and his team of relatively unknown compatriots have started to create the buzz which many legendary acts first gained on their rise. Naming his new mixtape after the final year of the 90’s, 1999 gives many the opportunity to finally get familiar with one of the names slowly becoming prominent in varied musical discussions.
Opening up similar to many albums of the 90s, hollas and smack talk from Joey and his Pro Era crew are the first things you hear on “Summer Knights,” with the chilled, summer night vibe of the the Lonnie Liston Smith song that it samples aiding Joey’s tales of rolling up, checking for girls and more. Joey’s verses on 1999 are a mix of youthful enthusiasm, pondering and frustration, all expressed with an impressive lyrical maturity. The aspirational “Waves” provides street corner confessions about the impatient wait for a better life away from the projects. A latin influence is prominent in the militant “Survival Tactics,” as Joey and Capital STEEZ wage lyrical warfare against phony MCs and America’s powers-that-be.
Without question, the most distinguishable feature of 1999 is its 90s Hip-Hop influence. Boom-baps, raucous choruses and head-nodding beats are excellently recreated, with the Brooklyn rapper’s mix of dope wordplay and youthful charisma meshing nicely with the backing score. Production credits go to unfamiliar names like Chuck Strangers (who also drops a verse on the hardcore “FromdaTomb$”) and Knxwledge, who brings some distorted jazz horns to “Killuminati”; while 90s underground vet Lord Finesse brings a cold cut for Joey to distance himself from all “Funky Hoes.” The rapper even jumps onto classic productions from the late J Dilla and ominous underground supremo MF Doom to showcase the lyrical damage he can do when spitting esteemed beats. When given a glorious Statik Selektah beat for “Don’t Front,” the BK kid gets busy with the classic samples and scratches on hand.
Joey Bada$$’s product is remarkable — at times channelling the spirit of Mobb Deep, Black Moon, Nas and Big L. A student of the 20th century’s final decade of rap, Joey ends 1999 with the mandatory posse cut, “Suspect,” which features an entourage of spitters from his P.E. camp (Chuck Strangers, NYCk Caution and Rokamouth to name a few) to deliver a fitting end to an album which brings what is arguably Hip-Hop’s golden era back to life.
While many before him have tried to recreate various periods of Hip-Hop, 1999 supersedes many of those efforts, mostly due to the lyrical superiority of Joey Bada$$. Indeed there is still room for improvement, but the 17-year-old’s composed performances and ability to refrain from nonsensical rambling provides the real highlight of the mixtape.
From the expected middle-finger-to-my-superiors anthems to the lazy, slacker tracks designed for chilling, Joey Bada$$ and his team of producers capture the mood required, resulting in one of the standout releases of the year. Those who were trained on the sounds of The Artifacts, Das EFX and more will ultimately warm to 1999, whilst the younger generation may finally become familiar with the so called “golden generation” of Hip-Hop from the 90s. Either way, Joey Bada$$’s introduction to the Hip-Hop world is exceptional and exciting, bridging the gap between the past and the present whilst giving the genre another name to regard as “the future.”