When I first heard Joey Bada$$’s “1999” debut mixtape, it was obvious what type of potential the young Brooklynn rapper had.
He was just 17 years old after all and he was already proving to be one of the genre’s best lyricists. Now, just one year older, he’s released his second major mixtape “Summer Knights” and it’s impressive how much he’s grown.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, though. He lost his close friend and collaborator Capital STEEZ, who committed suicide, and his music has always been mature, reminiscing on the 1990s hip hop era.
Bada$$’s “Summer Knights” is his typical lyrical genius with some highlights coming from the second track “Hilary $wank” when he cleverly rhymes, “How they gonna treat Brooklyn’s finest not as fine as diamonds? And fine nice, surrounded by hard flow like Icelands.”
“Death of YOLO” is a more sober track that sees Bada$$ already reflecting on his young career. The beat is a little forgettable but the hook is smooth. He raps about a scenario where he is driving and sees his life flash before his eyes. “In that split second, my foot stepping, breaking, I thought to myself, I always knew that I would make it. All it took was patience, and now I’m on the stations. Luckily, I made it right before my life was taken.”
My favorite track on the mixtape is “95 Til Infinity,” a track that lacks the lyrical excellence of the much of his work, but Bada$$’s delivery is outstanding. He adjusts it to a DMX-like raspy flow that makes the track stand out.
Fittingly, he gives a tribute to his friend Capital STEEZ on “#LongLiveSteelo,” one of his most personal tracks to date. “If only we could vibe like, one more time. Hear one more line or share one more rhyme. Even show me one more sign of destiny itself would be fine. But there’s no turning back the hands of time,” he raps toward the end of the song.
But there is still something that is holding him back, just enough to make this mixtape not the breakout its predecessor was. And it’s in his sound that hasn’t progressed much since “1999” that hurts it. Too often, “Summer Knights” sounds like a 1999 2.0. A series of different boom-bap beats selected to highlight his lyrical skills, rarely to actually let the music stand out.
I suspect that much of his best stuff is being saved for his debut album, which is likely releasing by the end of the year. Besides, it’s not that “Summer Knights” is in any way bad. It’s just when you have a lyricist as talented as Bada$$ is, expectations soar through the roof.
Bada$$ is undoubtedly one of the best rappers in the game, but it’s important to remember he’s still just 18 years old.