After dabbling in various acting projects like Mr. Robot and the Oscar-winning short film Two Distant Strangers for a while, New York rapper Joey Bada$$ returns to the studio after five years. The sequel to his widely celebrated debut mixtape 1999, Bada$$ takes things into a new millennium on its 10-year anniversary, bringing back his East Coast boom-bap style and dizzying abilities with the pen while revisiting a couple topics that were affecting him back at the beginning – most notably the deaths of a cousin and fellow Pro Era collective member Capital STEEZ. While the project sometimes falters when Bada$$ tries out anything other than lengthy, relentless rap verses, some of those verses put him on the same level as some of the best writers in the game. You’d have to be, to get shoutouts from both Nas and Diddy on the same project.
Joey makes sure that some of his strongest verses are at the very front of the album, as it opens with a great run of three tracks. “The Baddest” finds Diddy introducing listeners to the album over a classy and opulent piano beat anchored by a single finger-snap, as Bada$$ drops a bold opening line that proves to be true: “I can take five years off, because my s**t is timeless.” With a shoutout to his hometown on a smooth and soulful chorus, Bada$$ begins the career retrospective and acknowledges his influence on the game today with some internal rhyme schemes that only got even more complex on the following track, “Make Me Feel.” Kicking up the energy as Bada$$ steps off of his throne into battle, a Stephanie Mills sample and some shuffling boom-bap percussion from Statik Selektah provide a perfect backdrop for what is easily one of the verses of the year. As he continues to rack up a truly impressive list of multisyllabic rhymes over the course of an extended verse, the best part is that it sounds like he’s only getting hungrier and more energetic after landing each one as if he were responding to an increasingly fired-up crowd while battle rapping, building his confidence. “Where I Belong” has an instrumental that sounds like a menacing, minor-key ice cream truck jingle – in the best way, of course – and a slower flow that makes him sound a lot like fellow New Yorker A$AP Rocky. Of all the tracks where Bada$$ tries to get melodic, this one works out the best on the hook. He takes time to talk about his origins, discovering rap at age six and his first forays into the genre over one of the best mixes on the project.
The album’s first feature in Griselda’s Westside Gunn makes his appearance on the track “Brand New 911,” cementing a partnership with Bada$$ that makes a lot of sense on paper. The two both feel a bit like a relic of the past in a constantly moving hip-hop landscape, but this track shows that they’re slightly different – the slightly off-rhythm saxophone and the nonstop “boom boom boom” ad-libs really make this one feel like Gunn’s track. It’s a specific vibe that Gunn’s high-pitched sneer fits a little better, for some reason, and Bada$$ feels a bit like an afterthought here. Thankfully, he brings it right back with “Cruise Control” and “Eulogy.” Feeling like the authentic version of what the many artists trying to chase this borderline G-funk sound are aiming for, “Cruise Control” finds Bada$$ dropping a lot of references to some NYC hip-hop anthems over a lush and dynamic instrumental from a Mike Will Made-It in rare form. Nas himself appears to pay respects at the end. The dusty crackle and boom-bap kicks of “Eulogy” hit the hardest of any track here. While any song with a reference to a “hip-hop-potamus” is immediately great, Bada$$’s wordplay-fuelled shout-out to Nipsey Hussle is the greatest moment here. You’d think hearing Bada$$ simply unleash flows over repetitive loops would get annoying after a while, but he’s truly impressive at what he does. If anything, the longer next track “Zipcodes” drags slightly before a string of features livens things up.
The legendary Statik Selektah continues to provide some of the album’s best beats – either that, or Bada$$ just works best when he has a vocal sample to play off of. “One Of Us” flips a 90s R&B track as Bada$$ rhymes over some pitched-up vocal runs in the back with one of the catchier hooks here. Larry June appears as a nice counterpart, a deeper-voiced and calmer anchor. It’s music to confidently walk down the street on a sunny day to. “Show Me” is even better, as Bada$$ plays off of a breathy and dreamlike chorus sampled from indie band Men I Trust while lamenting how his fame muddles with what should have been an everyday, natural love story. Emotional guitar notes colour the boom-bap textures, and Bada$$’s storytelling abilities become even more evident here. You can tell he’s still quite influenced by the past when that storytelling is applied in the way it is on “Welcome Back,” as he directly replies to a skit walking through a night with a stranger’s girlfriend. Paradoxically, it has the most futuristic beat of the bunch, as what sounds like chopped-up guitar licks begin to resemble UFO sounds. Capella Grey sounds like Ty Dolla $ign on the hook, but the presence of Chris Brown certainly detracts – what was meant to be a fun moment where Bada$$ embodies a bad guy character is tainted by a real bad guy using similar techniques.
The final feature should have been the greatest one, as JID appears on “Wanna Be Loved.” Two of the most impressive technical rappers out right now on the same track should have been an easy win, but an unlistenable hook sends it crashing and burning. With some off-key harmonies and an awkward tempo shift, it feels like it comes from a different song as JID does what he does best in between with a dizzying verse. The themes come to a close with “Head High,” as Bada$$ comments on hip-hop culture leaving a trail of violence with a captivating story of meeting XXXTentacion, and “Survivors Guilt,” which borrows the drums from Kendrick Lamar’s similar tribute “Sing About Me” to devote one lengthy verse each to tell the full story of his departed peers – a powerful moment finds him commenting on how Capital STEEZ, who lost his life to suicide, was laughed out of the room only 10 years ago when speaking about his mental health. “Written in the Stars” is a final orchestral stamp on the album, celebrating his success with an extended speech from Diddy closing it out.
Anyone who has been following Joey Bada$$ since the beginning will likely find 2000 to be a more than worthy successor to his original mixtape, both seeing his growth as an artist and hearing insightful tales about the times when he was just beginning. With the NYC rap scene at its peak right now, hopefully the gap between projects isn’t as long this time.
Favourite Tracks: Make Me Feel, Survivors Guilt, Show Me, One Of Us, Where I Belong
Least Favourite Track: Wanna Be Loved