Joey Bada$$ emerged from Brooklyn in 2012 as part of a wave of New York teenagers—a.k.a. the Pro Era collective—who were reviving traditional hip-hop values. On his debut mixtape, 1999, he constructs songs with dense lyrical arrangements and beats from sampled loops and drum patterns. He raps about rocking stage shows and battling kids in other ciphers, two themes that haven’t been in vogue in mainstream rap since the mid-‘90s. A few of Joey’s song titles even pay subtle homage to old-school fare like Souls Of Mischief’s “93 ‘Til Infinity” (“95 Till Infinity”) and the illuminati fad (“Killuminati”).
The narrative around Joey Bada$$ began to shift when his 2015 retail debut B4.DA.$$ (Before Da Money) debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard top 200 album chart, forcing rap fans who dismissed him as a niche backpacker to pay attention. (A widely circulated Instagram photo of Malia Obama rocking a Pro Era T-shirt also helped.) Then, last year, he released “Devastated,” an empowerment anthem filled with chorus and echo that foregrounds his singing while relegating ‘90s homage to the background. (There’s a brief flicker of the melody from OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.”)
Bada$$ will never be confused with Wiz Khalifa, who forever reduces his bars in favor of a catchy hook. Joey’s new album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, shows how he’s managed to transform into something more contemporary—sharply assessing the political landscape on “Land of the Free” and trading bars with Schoolboy Q on “Rockabye Baby”—without losing the qualities that made him a star. The songs collected here chart his evolution.