It’s a new day in hip-hop, one best described as a rapper’s rappers’ renaissance. The undue attention surrounding A$AP Rocky hasn’t eclipsed a legion of true lyricists. Case in point: 18-year-old Brooklyn native Joey Bada$$, who—along with breakthrough stars Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul, and lesser-knowns such as Wiki, Chance the Rapper, Tsu Surf and Jarren Benton—boasts a devotion to crafty verses rivaling the rigorous study of classic jazz.
Bada$$ is a hustling strategist of expansive vision, whose sweltering blaze of notice is well earned. A series of mixtapes, including 1999, Rejex and two with his crew the Pro Era; a Roots-backed performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; and his inclusion among XXL’s 2013 Freshman Class form an apt prelude to a debut album scheduled for release in late summer.
Message boards filled with rap nerds disputing whether one of Bada$$’s verses has three meanings or four can vouch for his erudition, but that’s only a morsel of what makes his method exemplary. He pays homage to his musical forebears as a storyteller, guise-changing librettist and de facto Ph.D. of lyrical criticism, tracing their footsteps in creating a singular style by culling and skewing from the best. Hov’s triple entendres, Biggie’s antic boffs and Nas’s filmic narrative are choice starters, but Bada$$’s crowning distinction is the earnest, sage timbre of a high schooler who sounds like he’s lived through the Great Depression, matched with a nimble, rapturous flow as seamless as a tranquil backstroke.
The Bada$$-helmed, 24-city Beast Coastal Tour, which culminates at Gramercy Theatre on Saturday, will see DJ Statik Selektah conducting the Underachievers, Flatbush Zombies and the Pro Era. Expect bar-raising verse play, bobbing and weaving through revived-classic beats.—Ian Gibbs