By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
This is one of many entries in a series where I will be doing a weekly blurbs on New York’s music scene. From old to new records, we’ll be going over some of the most classic records from The Big Apple and its surrounding region!
“Click clack boom, resurrecting boom back from the tombs”Joey Badass, “Fromdatomb$”
Music is very much an art form that is made up of its trends. From emo, to hair metal, new wave, every genre has had its own history and evolution over the years. With recorded music lasting so long as an art form and with easy access to older music via streaming, it’s easy to see why so many artists succeed when they revive old sounds. Dua Lipa thrives on the slick disco sound she’s embraced, The Weeknd has seen his biggest critical acclaim riding 80s synths, Olivia Rodrigo’s appeal lies in her early 2000s pop punk style. Resurrecting genres isn’t anything new, but few genres have paid homage to their roots quite like hip-hop. As the genre has gained age and had its own stylistic journey since its cultural inception in the early 70s, paying respect to influences has always been a big thing, especially in the blog era (late 2000s to early 2010s). Rappers in this age truly thrived on their influences, twisting them into new styles and concepts that crafted some of the greatest projects last decade, with some of the most notable being J. Cole, Big KRIT, Mac Miller…and Joey Badass.
Known for being a true student of East Coast hip-hop, Joey’s catalogue and skills speak for themselves throughout his catalogue of albums and mixtapes. His most definitive effort, however, might just be his first: 1999. Even in its title, you can tell exactly what you’re getting: a homage to the music of Joey’s past, mixing in his own life experiences and Pro Era affiliation to craft an mixtape that is both mature and bright-eyed. It’s an essential New York rap project that shows the influence that the 90s have on today, yet shows that we shouldn’t just rest on our influences, but make an identity of our own.
One of the most immediately noticeable aspects of 1999 is its atmosphere. This isn’t a party record, but it isn’t exactly hyper conscious either: it feels like a fun night with your friends that throw on Biggie records in the background and discuss Friday night drops. “Summer Knights” is an effective opener, not because it’s super serious or anything, but because it oozes charisma: “He a child but they treat him like a bigger man/’Cause when the pen in his hand, he pick ’em up like he Jigga man” he says over a soulful jazz rap beat. The beats here are mature, but the wordplay and performances are young and hungry. “Waves” is a similarly quiet joint, but this song features a 17-year old Joey being more mature than some of his 40+ year old competitors, talking about his rap aspirations and plan to dominate. The concept of “taking over” is all over 1999, with Joey being a bubble ready to blow. He channels this hunger even today, but it’s fascinating to see the beginning of his rise from a young rapper to a seasoned veteran on this record, lending to it unique place in Joey’s discography.
But don’t let Joey’s young age when recording this record deceive you: the man can rap his ass off. Joey’s performances are incredible: “World Domination” sees him changing his flow on a dime over a slippery, sample heavy MF DOOM production, flexing his skills and his ability to make even oldheads get behind his tunes. “FromdaTomb$” is one of the most hyped moments on the record, with Joey and Chuck Strangers exchanging memorable one liners over some sick turntables and heavy drums, proving Joey can bring a party vibe to a track. “Survival Tactics” might be one of the best written rap songs of last decade, with Joey and the late Capital Steez dropping bars as aggressive as a bare-knuckle brawl, pushing each other to the brink of their ability. Capital Steez was a star of his own caliber on this project, with his and Joey’s contributions to “Killuminati” making the sinister strings serve as a great backdrop to a stellar duo.
Speaking on those strings, let’s talk about one of the most universally liked aspects of this tape: its production. The mixtape, as I mentioned, finds a perfect balance between heavy and light tones laced on top of 90s-type drums. Many of these beats are either samples of famed 90s production: “Snakes” and “Where It’s At” have equally minimal, slick beats that are attributed to the late J. Dilla, known for his infectious loops. “Funky Ho’s” is a Lord Finesse production, with the clattering drumwork and muted shouts being one of the tape’s best musical moments (especially as Joey raps about “sticky situations” with women on the cut). The production does very much lie in the past, but to me it works well because of how Joey plays off of it, rapping and storytelling like someone freestyling over his favorite beat CDs.
One of the most clear strengths of 1999 is how it turns an old style, 1990s hip-hop, into something new. Joey’s influences are clear throughout: Wu-Tang, Nas, Biggie, Black Moon, and more have traces of their DNA etched into the writing and production: the attitude, the boom bap drums, the references all sound like stuff Joey listened to in his youth. This record could’ve dropped in the 90s and I would believe it…but the album never seeks to drown in its influences. There are numerous examples of personal storytelling here: “Hardknock” is a slow-burning contemplation on struggle the very thing that haunts Joey as he seeks a greater purpose. “Don’t Front” sees Joey and CJ Fly talk about failed relationships over a shimmering, Statik Selektah beat. This album takes the attitude and sound of the 90s and transforms it into the sound of Joey, meaning that cleaner production and an emphasis on relationships thrive here. “Pennyroyal” is a vulnerable song that probably would’ve been ignored in the past, but it’s a great heartbreak anthem for today. “Where It’s At” sounds like an A Tribe Called Quest track, complete with quirky drum beats and a focus on “getting down” at a party, accentuated by Joey’s trademark humor and off kilter flow.
To be very honest, I can rave and rave about 1999 until the end of time. It’s always been a personal favorite mixtape of mine, both in terms of its songwriting and its overall sound. To this day, many laud it as Joey Badass’s best project; I can see why. It’s a great project to throw on in a car, in headphones, even a few tracks at the gym…it’s too damn versatile and quality to not enjoy. As Joey preps to drop the sequel album 2000 sometime in the near future, I’m excited to see where he continues the thread that this record leaves dangling…
But what do you think about 1999? Is it a classic to you? What’re your favorite Joey Badass songs? Sound off in the comments below. Thank you for checking this out, and I hope you listen to some great tunes today.
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