Joey Bada$$ loves the ‘90s, that much has been evident since he dropped his first mixtape – appropriately titled 1999 – three years ago. A lot has been made of the young MC’s supposed debt to the greats of hip-hop’s second golden age and it’s true that if you listen closely it isn’t difficult to discern his influences. The sample heavy, boom-bap production sounds like he stumbled upon a lost Pete Rock beat-tape, his streetwise lyrics are reminiscent of Nas circa ’93, and even his aggressive stage manner befits someone who has just stepped out of the 36 Chambers. Some of his critics might argue that he is derivative, but none of that matters to anyone in the attendance at the Academy on Tuesday night.
It’s a sold out show and throughout the warm-up sets from Pro Era members NYC Caution and CJ Fly, a palatable energy can be felt pulsing through the crowd. As show time nears, the chants of “Joey” echo throughout the venue, drowning out DJ for the night Statik Selektah’s smorgasbord of radio and underground hip-hop. To any doubters, the message is clear: if the music is this good – who gives a f**k about so-called originality?
It’s after 9:30 before the Brooklyn MC finally makes his way on stage. He opens with the DJ Premier-produced ‘Paper Trails’, sending the crowd into hysterics as the scratches kick in and Joey intones on the perils of superficial wealth. The rapper is just as cocksure on stage as he is on record and barely pauses before launching into B4DA$$ single ‘Big Dusty’, setting a pace early on that will hardly let up for the entirety of the performance.
‘95 to Infinity’ sees a mosh pit erupt in crowd and Joey has a few strong words for the venue’s security tasked with putting a stop to any crowd surfers. The 20-year-old is remarkably at ease on the mic and forgoes the safety net of a hype man with only the occasional adlib from his DJ punctuating his gritty rhymes.
The Brooklyn rapper keep his live show tight with his song selection geared towards cuts that’ll keep the crowd moving. His set has been pruned of many of the hazy, marijuana-fugue head-nodders that populated his early tapes 1999 and Summer Knights, but a mid-set trio of ‘FromdaTomb$’, ‘Waves’ and ‘Hardknock’ are more than enough to keep the early admirers satisfied.
Later in the set, Joey asks the crowd to put their lighters in the air and the Pro Era crew take to the stage to pay tribute to their late friend and founder Capital Steez with a rendition of his ‘Like Water’ verse from P.E.E.P: The aPROcalypse. Somewhat predictably, it is ‘Survival Tactics’ that gets the biggest cheers of the night with the crowd matching Bada$$ and Steez’s verses word-for-word.
The NY native makes sure not to spread himself too thin and the show finishes up just under the hour and a half mark, leaving the crowd still hungry for more. This might be Joey’s first time playing solo in the city away from the sanctuary of the festival stage, but after a reaction like this, it surely won’t be long before he makes his way back again.