Joey Bada$$ has been compared to Nas…Illmatic era Nas. I can’t think of a more impactful introduction a young New York rapper could have. It’s justified, too. His recorded output displays the skill, the lyrical richness, depth of theme and emotional honesty that deserve such audacious comparisons.
I’ve never been to a Nas show, certainly not an Illmatic era Nas show (I was a baby). But it’s hard to think there would have been more energy and anticipation in the air than when his DJ started warming up an already excitable crowd. Through a parade of hip hop hits the crowd leapt and danced, between each calling for Joey to come out, and when he finally did the room exploded.
Joey Bada$$ responded immediately, belting out the first few songs with frenetic energy and even joy. “This energy level we at right here,” he challenged the crowd, “let’s keep it there all night!” And that’s what happened. It was one of those special shows where you can see the audience and artist feeding on each other’s exuberance. The crowd leapt and danced and belted out lyrics, and each song was greeted and sent off with roars of approval. For Joey’s part, he responded by going an extra mile beyond the usual calls for hand waves singalongs. “I love every single person in this room tonight” he bellowed several times, with sincerity that came off as entirely genuine. In a truly special, and apparently spontaneous moment, the crowd’s cries of “JOEY! JOEY! JOEY FUCKIN BADASS!” had a beat built around them and were flowed on effortlessly by a small set of freestyle bars from Joey.
The show was much more than just a hype train, though. The familiar beats from his albums
B4.D.$$ and All Amerikkkan Bada$$ sounded monstrous live, and Joey Bada$$ proved every bit of his skill. Complex rhymes were spit with clarity and power all throughout a very physically draining performance, with Joey even going acapella for several long sections, holding the flow masterfully even without a beat.
Joey Bada$$’s reputation is to a large degree built on his lyrical skill, which saw him dubbed the new king of boom bap on the strength of his debut album. It was a rush to see the dexterity and emotion of those lyrics performed perfectly live.
It would get especially poignant in the many moments when Joey’s anger and pain directed at his home country, and his place in it as a black man, shone through. Despite his album title’s homage to Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Joey came off less like an aggressive revolutionary and more like a wounded poet. The sensitivity and intimacy with which he engaged these topics only deepened the connection with the audience.
Closing out Y Don’t You Love Me (Miss Amerikkka), Joey proclaimed “but I know New Zealand loves me!” And this, too, was fully justified.
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