By 2021, it seemed like Joey Bada$$ the rapper was replaced by Joey Bada$$ the actor. In the five years following his last release ALL-AMERICAN BADA$$, Bada$$ filled various film roles, including the leading role in the short film Two Distant Strangers, which won an Oscar for its poignant commentary on police brutality. He also shined as a memorable side character on Mr. Robot, the critically acclaimed TV series about a vigilante hacker. However, the Brooklyn native never lost the itch to rap and continued to write and record music behind the scenes. So prolific was the work that he had enough material backlogged to step away from the studio for an entire month. Now, putting the PR focus back on rapping, Bada$$ reveals 2000, the long-awaited sequel to his sensational 2012 mixtape 1999. A lot of time has elapsed since then, and yet, Joey Bada$$ proves he’s just as sharp as he was when he first stepped into the rap game.
Like on 1999, Bada$$ links up with longtime collaborators Statik Selektah, Kirk Knight, and DJ Premier. Cardo joint and Mike WiLL Made-It fill out the producer’s bullpen and together, Bada$$ and crew recreate the classic hip-hop vibe. They pull samples from jazz, soul, and R&B records, overlay a Boom Bap style drumbeat, and place the listener’s attention on the rapper’s lyrical dexterity. With smart social commentary and laidback instruments, his style harkens back to the golden age of hip hop, following in a venerable lineage of New York City rappers like Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, and Nas. Bada$$ carries the torch of the NYC sound that defines east coast rap.
Much has changed for Joey Bada$$ since he released his debut mixtape in addition to his acting credits. On 1999, a young Bada$$ was angry, channeling his frustration into criticisms aimed at the government and other national systems. Even more recently, Escape From New York with collective Beast Coast, felt more emotionally uninhibited. He’s mellowed out and that little bit of raw energy that made these releases feel urgent and feels missing in 2000. Perhaps he is getting comfortable as his lifestyle shifts alongside his popularity.
AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ fanned the flames of the Black Lives Matter movement with its socially-charged lyricism, going so far as to imitate Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” BLM anthem on one track. 2000 doesn’t possess the same social power. At least he thought about ways to address gun violence on the aforementioned album, but 2000 doesn’t carry the same focus, as 1999’s “Survival Tactics”. The anger was aimed at the system white America has created. In the sequel, he turns inward for a deep reflection of where is and where he came from. Instead of keeping his head on a swivel, his hands are buried in his hands on “Survivor’s Guilt”. The track is dedicated to his friend and co-founder of the Pre Era collective Capital Steelz, who took his own life in 2011.
On the opening track threateningly called “The Baddest”, Bada$$ is joined by Bad Boy rap veteran Diddy. Together they build Joey’s confidence and claim that he’s still on top of his game and still the “baddest motherfucker in town”. The following 13 tracks aim to prove that with sentimentality instead of anger. “Head High”, one of his favorite songs he’s ever recorded, illuminates his relationship with the late XXXTentacion who was shot and killed in 2013: “He offered me his place to stay / Someone I could call a friend of mine.” The song honors those, like his friend, who have become victims of gun violence, summing up the irony: “huggin’ the block but the block ain’t hug us back.
The theme of gun violence continues to surface elsewhere. In “Where I Belong”, he raps about packing heat and keeping an extra clip close with him everywhere he goes. Bada$$ feels the pressure around him trying to take away his hard work and accomplishments. He remedies this feeling with “Brand New 911”, which, although seems like it suggests police reform, refers to a model of Porsche. In the song, he rolls up to his old neighborhood in his new whip only to hear the news that someone else in the neighborhood got shot. He counts his blessings.
Despite the album’s detractors who deem his comeback underwhelming, singles “Head High”, “Where I Belong”, “Survivor’s Guilt”, and “Zipcodes” are all solid efforts. “Survivor’s Guilt” is an open diary on the loss of his friend Capital Steez, co-founder of the Brooklyn collective Pro Era. Although showing equal promise, Steez’s debut mixtape, released around the same time as 1999, didn’t blow up as much as Joey’s, and in some ways, it may have got to him. Steez took his own life in 2012. On the track, Bada$$ reconciles their differences.
Elsewhere, “Where I Belong”, is a deep reflection of where Joey Bada$$ came from and where he is now. Fearful of the dangers that lurk around every corner of his past, he carries an “extra clip” just in case. This reality is played out time and time again and has become a consistent narrative for rappers, often ending in tragedy. No matter how hard they try, the culture and street life that they were brought up in, find them wherever they go. Bada$$ pleads for his soul.
Joey Bada$$ is one of the few rappers that truly upholds the integrity of early hip-hop, preserving its tradition with such grace and intellect. Bada$$ honors the virtues laid out by the genre’s architects: manipulating samples, smart social commentary, and self-pride. His music speaks the truth about his experience and likely the experiences of many young black men in our country. Although 2000 can’t compete with Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp a Butterfly, or even Joey’s own AMERICAN BADA$$, it does highlight a major issue in contemporary American societies: gun violence. Unfortunately, the album doesn’t provide any immediate solutions to these problems, but it does comment with frustration and optimism on the issue, bringing awareness and hope for a safe and thriving community. If the album falls short, if anything, the album proves his chops were never rusty.