His latest finds him tempering his boom-bap revivalism with surprisingly mainstream elements in this sequel to 2012’s 1999
Sequels can often paint an interesting picture of artistic development: Eminem’s transition from musical shock-jock to a radio-friendly Rihanna collaborator, Aphex Twin drifting further out towards the avant-garde, and now Joey Bada$$ tempering his boom-bap revivalism with surprisingly mainstream elements in this sequel to 2012’s 1999.
The meta-narrative is present right from the start with some otherwise perfunctory Diddy ad-libs, and continues with appearances from Mike Will Made It and Chris Brown. The former’s production on Cruise Control is full of lush bassy goodness, while the less said about Brown’s syrupy melisma on Welcome Back the better. Bada$$’ delivery is easygoing, lyrical without being too dense, and through the record he touches on fame, adultery, a struggling relationship and loss (“Another day, another deal, made another mill / but what do that mean when these kids still getting killed over no reason? / R.I.P. my cousin Rell’, yo, I’m still grieving”).
If some of this seems quite similar to Kendrick Lamar’s work then the song Survivor’s Guilt ups the ante as a dead ringer for Sing About Me, but the tune still works in its own right as a thoughtful tribute to his late friend Capital Steez. Meanwhile the crunchy electric piano chords and triumphant flexing on Zipcodes are simply irresistible – is this the type of braggadocio Pro Era stood in opposition to 10 years ago? Perhaps, but it’s easy to let that slide when the music’s this enjoyable.
The general tone is low-stakes, suggesting that Bada$$ felt obliged to link the record to 1999 regardless of the content, and it lacks the impact he might want from his first release in five years. That being said, good taste in production makes it very listenable and his sound has evolved in an interesting way, meaning that ironically he’s not stuck in the past.