In 2012, Joey Bada$$, alongside his collective Pro Era, represented a breath of fresh air, reintroducing the classic, gritty sounds of 90s New York. Starting with the Capital Steez-assisted track ‘Survival Tactics’, and sizzling with the standout mixtape 1999, Joey’s artistry served as a stark contrast from the glossy sounds of the mainstream, the Memphis-inspired phonk taking over the internet, and the straight-up pandemonium of counterparts such as Odd Future. Pro Era inspired hope for the future in those who longed for hip-hop’s past. History wasn’t repeating itself but experiencing a revival in the form of forward-thinking adolescents. The music painted a picture of a creative generation, swerving by skyscrapers on their skateboards, looking for a stoop sit, and thriving in their ability to spit rhymes.
Looking back a decade later, it may seem puzzling that Joey Bada$$ isn’t as big as it once seemed he would be. A lack of output seems to be a major reason, with it being 5 years since his sophomore album All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ dropped, and his presence only felt through his burgeoning acting career or the collaborative royal rumble that was Beast Coast; Pro Era’s polymerisation with Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers. But now, as you click play on Joey’s third studio album 2000, the wait seems intentional, and a renaissance seems inevitable.
1999 introduced us to a young, hungry Joey Bada$$. He was a teenager, eager to impress with his knack for the raps, spitting “Hope one day I’ll attract the likes of even Madlib, go gold on mad shit and hear my songs mastered” on the standout cut ‘Waves’. One would think 2000 would find Joey trying to rediscover this hunger, but instead, it’s a testament to his success, and the contentment he’s found in life. The Madlib collab has happened in the form of the acclaimed ‘Knicks (Remix)’ with Freddie Gibbs, Action Bronson, and Ransom. He’s amassed two gold certifications with ‘Temptation’ and ‘Love is Only a Feeling’, as well as going 2x platinum with his hit ‘Devastated’. The motivations of 1999 are things he’s already achieved, and now he’s using his art to celebrate.
The tone is instantly set with 2000’s opener ‘The Baddest’, as he proclaims “I can take five years off because my shit is timeless.” Diddy serves as his hype man on the track, making the point hard to argue. What follows throughout the album is Joey enjoying the fruits of his labour, reminiscing on the journey in ‘Where I Belong’, and swerving in a sports car on ‘Brand New 911’ with Westside Gunn in the passenger seat. In these moments of appreciation, Joey is effortless, punctuating every moment with seamless flow switches and his signature East Flatbush cadence. J.I.D, Larry June, and more also tag along for the reflection, sounding at home on the soulful production that ranges from glossy earworms to soulful jazz-rap. Joey steers 2000 with the precision and speed of his aforementioned new 911, hitting the gas for this well-deserved victory lap.
Amidst the luxury of Joey’s journey, there is also adversity. The rapper takes a moment here and there on the joyride of 2000 to process this strife. Songs like ‘Eulogy’ are dedicated to the struggling youth dealing with the chaos of the present-day scorched earth, rapping “Just lookin’ at my generation, overdosed on blue pills, caught up in the matrix”. ‘Head High’ finds himself penning a reminder to stay afloat, even when life tries to drown you. One of the album’s heaviest moments comes in the form of ‘Survivor’s Guilt’, a 6-minute open-book soliloquy that serves as a tribute to his late friend and collaborator Capital STEEZ, as well as his older cousin and tour manager Junior B. The song finds him delving into an eternal war, wondering if he could have done more to help, while fighting with culpability in his current spot, pondering if he deserves to be there or not. These pit stops find Joey at his most vulnerable, showcasing that even on this victory lap, he still hasn’t forgotten where he comes from.
So, is 2000 the album that propels Joey Bada$$ to the fame we once envisioned for him? Only time will tell, but do know that doesn’t seem to be the goal. While fans can wonder what if, Joey is celebrating what is, using this album to commemorate all his success. Maintaining his undeniable knack for high-level raps, Joey slides on a series of soulful beats, switching up his style here and there, while keeping the East Flatbush edge we grew to love on 1999. Throughout the celebration, he also takes some moments to reflect on the hard times, keeping the name of his lost loved ones alive, and providing a blueprint on the ability to be vulnerable. The album closes with ‘Written In The Stars’, where he states that he’s “A legend in the making, these bars were written in the stars,” establishing that hunger for greatness we’ve come to love him for. The reintroduction of 2000 also serves as a reminder that even as a 10-year veteran, Joey Bada$$ is still fire, and the frenzy of artistry is far from over.