When it comes to this beautiful thing we call hip-hop, making your presence felt is one thing. Once you’ve landed on the world’s collective radar, staying there, amid a constant maelstrom of competition and a seemingly endless turnover of new artists, amounts to a fine art. Thus, when making your journey through the genre, it behooves you to keep yourself visible and to feed your fanbase’s insatiable appetite for fresh output while it’s there. Not least of all, when you’re an artist with the sort of lofty ambitions that Joey Bada$$ has.
Eager to dually wield the roles of mogul and artist in one fell swoop, BK’s own ‘Badmon’ has pulled off the considerable feat of retaining his relevancy despite not releasing an album for half of a decade. Having dabbled in the world of acting, Joey appeared to take some time out from his primary occupation to stretch his legs and recalibrate. But now, ten years on from the release of his landmark debut mixtape, 1999, the former leader of the PRO ERA crew is back and in magnificent form with its sequel, 2000.
A project that came into being after a process of recording over 2000 songs, Joey wastes little time in reminding the world of not only his lyrical prowess, but how his stature within the industry has grown since his earlier years on “The Baddest”.
For an artist that remains as fiercely independent as ever, opening with an interlude from Diddy is no small feat. But when you consider that it’s occurring on a record from a man that once rebuffed the advances of Hov because he wants to “become Jay Z” rather than work under him, it appears that he is now finally embracing the contacts book that his skills and resolve have afforded him.
Over a jazzy, piano-punctuated beat from Flatbush Zombies’ Erick Arc Elliott and McClenney, “The Baddest” quickly proves that Joey is back like he’s never left. He immediately reasserts himself as he proclaims, “I can take five years off ’cause my shit is timeless/My core got my back so I’m standing on my promise/These n****s only backed by they labels, they all spineless/I’m back by popular demand and on that timing.” It’s a wise choice for an opener in the sense that it proves that his flow and pen game has by no means blunted, and from there, any long-term fan of Joey was sure to be hooked.
Firmly keeping attention spans ensnared with “Make Me Feel”, the track sees Joey fuse the ambiance of the R&B-inflected jiggy era with a masterclass in high-caliber rhyming. Floating over an exquisite Stephanie Mills sample from frequent collaborator Statik Selektah — whose fingerprints are all over this project — his razor-sharp delivery suggests that he’s earned every bit of the braggadocio that he exhibits on it as he spits “Automatic classic when Joey get on a Statik beat/All my bars appreciate with time like a Patek Philippe.”
Although there is room for worthwhile experimentation on the project, his strengths remain as evident as ever, and his return to a fresh and vibrant take on the boom-bap sound that first elevated him to greatness proves to be not only worthwhile, but often yields gold.
On the Westside Gunn-aided “Brand New 911,” we see a watertight intermingling of the sounds of Griselda and Pro Era. So much so that when you consider how long they’ve been occupying the same space, it almost feels like a missed opportunity that there have not been more dalliances between the two crews.
In a track that houses the second spoken word outing from an iconic artist, “Cruise Control” fuels the neo-soul-inspired production of All Amerikkkan Bada$$ with the sort of lyrical barrage that he’d employed in his earlier years. Endorsed by Nas at the track’s conclusion as the icon declares, “This man has age on him, like he’s been here before,” Joey leans into this perception of being wise beyond his 27 years on “Eulogy,” on which he declares “Never did college and I still raised dollars for tuition/You could buy my album for like eight dollars/Best money that you’ll ever spend, I promise.”
Although he revealed in a Reddit AMA that “with 2000, I wanted to have fun and not think too much, flex up and talk my shit a bit,” he often stumbles upon something far more profound than that open-ended brief that he set for himself.
Given that it is the sequel to a monumental project, it’s unsurprising that the album is reflective in nature. Most notably, Joey ruminates on what’s been lost. On the driven “Head High,” Joey recounts the tale of his first encounter with XXXTentacion over a breezy, Statik Selektah instrumental. Rather than it taking on a solemn tone, Joey uses the story as an allegory for embracing life and all of its blessings while they remain abundant.
Elsewhere, on “Where I Belong,” Joey writes his own origin story with the finesse of a seasoned screenplay writer as he discusses often “taking the long way home just to get thoughts off my dome.”
Yet when it comes to the emotional centerpiece of the album, that honor undoubtedly falls to “Survivor’s Guilt.” An ode to both his fallen comrade Capital Steez and his older cousin Joseph B, the track sees Joey raise the important topic of how the perception of mental health issues has changed in recent years and the manner in which the stigma over it has decreased in previously unimaginable ways, spitting, “You see, the truth about Steelo, he lacked the mental health/But try to tell that to people way back in 2012/But now that it’s a mainstream topic/I’m guessin’ I can finally open up and talk about it.”
Later, he brings it all home as he discusses his ongoing quest to bring his friend’s music to the masses and deliver Steez’s unreleased output, proclaiming that he hopes to “give the fans the thing that they demand the most/King Capital, the fucking G.O.A.T., word/I’m just tryna get my n***a heard/Give him what he deserves.”
Although Statik Selektah is certainly prominent throughout, that doesn’t mean no other beatmakers get a look in. Among contributions from Mike Will Made-It among others, the Golden era of Pre Era is dutifully saluted courtesy of the contributions from Kirk Knight and Chuck Strangers. With the former providing the dynamic backdrop of “Zip Codes,” his fellow Beast Coast member gives Badmon space to bask in his own accomplishments. Meanwhile, Chuck– who exploded onto the scene with his contributions to 1999, namely the LA Noire-indebted production on “FromDaTomb$” — drops in to bring the trunk-knocking “Wanna Be Loved” with JID to life. Embellished by a touching hook that delves into the need for affection that we all feel as humans, this collision between Joey and Dreamville’s top prospect not only provides the record’s most notable guest verse — with JID telling an insightful tale of his friend readjusting to life on the outside as he tries to outrun the allure of returning to a life of crime — but reminds us that Joey is more than keeping up with the MC’s that sprung up in his absence.
As previously discussed, the attributes which really make Joey tick as an artist remain as plain to see as ever. While on the flipside, this means that the likes of “Welcome Back” with Chris Brown feel more inauthentic and inessential. While Joey may have been “honored” to have Breezy on his project, a joint ode to “sneaky links” feels incredibly incongruous amid some of the other tracks on the project. On the other side of the coin, “Show Me” — featuring an ingenious flip of indie band Men I Trust from Statik & Heavy Mellow — does a vastly better joy of saluting the fairer sex.
Featuring resplendent live instrumentation, the project’s closer, “Written In The Stars”, feels like both a celebration of how far he’s come and an exercise in setting up his next act as he declares himself to be “Leader of my generation, down to die for the cause, we all fighting the wars, hiding invisible scars.”
No longer the young prospect that he was on 1999, the spiritual successor to Joey’s breakout project sees him firmly cement himself among the elite. And while he may have to deliver something even more seminal than that lauded debut mixtape if he’s ever to be seen as part of the “holy trinity” with Kendrick and Cole that he alludes to on “The Baddest,” there’s every chance that he has both the talent and cultural gravitas to do just that in the years to come.