Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$ is a hot topic in hip hop conversations. Usually his name is followed by something like: “He’s bringing the 90’s back.” That’s probably true, but at Mercury Ballroom, I realized he was bringing much more back to the genre.
Rap music is something I love a lot. The production can be layered and interesting, and the right artist can add flare to a song in several ways. Some, like Isaiah Rashad, can grab your attention with unique delivery. If that doesn’t suit you, then maybe you would be into the unforgettable lyricism of someone like Kendrick Lamar. There’s a lot to love about rap music when it’s being produced in the studio.
But once that genre is asked to take the stage, plenty is lost in translation. Almost every rap concert you’ll go to in 2015 will have a DJ set up on a platform behind the artist playing the same cycle of rap songs (“m.A.A.d City”, “Jump Around”, almost any Drake song) to get the crowd feeling it. Next, the rapper will run out, ask “What the fuck is up?,” guarantee some fun tonight. There is a 99.9% chance they will ask if the crowd loves smoking weed. And there’s a 99.999999% chance you’ll be asked to raise your middle finger to the sky several times. Las Vegas has the over/under odds at 4.5.
And you know what? Joey Bada$$ wasn’t that different. Every one of those things happened last night (I hope you took the Over on those odds). But somehow, Joey’s show didn’t feel like an average show. He came out with such passion and skilled delivery that the typical rap show suddenly felt innovative. You could have talked me into believing it was the first time it had been done.
The crowd was electric from beginning to end. Joey really had everyone in the palm of his hands. Anything he said was gospel. During “No. 99”, from his debut album B.4.DA.$$, Joey exclaimed the beginning of the hook: “What’s my motherfuckin’ naaame?!”
“WHAT’S MY MOTHERFUCKIN’ NAME?!”
I was impressed. Joey’s grip on the crowd was as tight as any rapper’s I’ve ever seen, approaching the King of that trait: Action Bronson. He performed a brand new collaboration with Glass Animals for the first time ever, and asked the crowd to check it out. The lights dimmed all the way down. Suddenly there are whispers from the stage: “Nobody move … nobody get hurt.” You can feel the crowd’s anticipation. “Nobody move … nobody get hurt.” The lights are fading back up. “NOBODY MOVE, NOBODY GET HURT.” Everyone has erupted at this point. “NOBODY MOVE, NOBODY GET HURT!” The beat drops, the crowd lost its mind and Joey cut through his complex verse with one-of-a-kind precision.
Asking the crowd what they thought of that was only a formality.
So is Joey Bada$$ breaking new ground? Not at all. The things I figured would happen all did. But the expert delivery made it truly special. This was easily the best rap concert I’ve been to since Chance The Rapper, over a year ago. Chance’s show was so fantastic because of the wonderful music played by The Social Experiment – a live music tactic I’ve always encouraged rap music to embrace. But Joey Bada$$ is proving there’s still a place for turntables in music halls. He’s not just bringing the 90’s back to hip hop, he’s bringing a pulse back to the concerts.
Check out more photos from the show here.