1999 was a turbulent time in hip-hop. A few years removed from the spectacle of Big and Pac, debates raged about authenticity, commercialism, and regionalism, along with a handful of other button issues. While major label juggernauts like Jay, Diddy and the Cash Money crew ruled the airwaves, a burgeoning underground scene, militant in their emphasis on quality lyricism and hip-hop mythology, was beginning to take hold on a larger scale than ever before. The next few years would see some of the most fascinating, boundary-stretching developments in the genre’s history: Cash Money’s rise and fall, Dilla and the Soulquarians’ heyday, Pharrell’s chart domination, and Outkast’s transformation into the most mind-fuckingly awesome pop act on the planet– not to mention a litany of underground heroes– Rawkus, Def Jux, Doom…the list goes on. But ’99 stands out as this strange, isolated moment in time, where the seeds had been sown, but the tipping point wasn’t quite visible.
All this, assuming I’m doing the math right, was going on sometime around Joey Bada$$’s fourth or fifth birthday– a fact that makes his razor sharp debut feel all the more impressive. The Brooklyn native’s 1999, at least in its best moments, manages to channel the grittiest New York rap had to offer circa the mid-to-late ’90s. Gutbucket breakbeats, crackly samples, a crew full of goons, and verbal spar sessions full of bars that feel roughly akin to getting rocked in the jaw. “Survival Tactics”, for good reason, has been getting some love lately, but the whole tape is worth the listen. If 1999 feels like territory that’s been covered before, it’s worth noting that Joey’s talented enough to make it feel fresh all over again.
Download: Joey Bada$$ – 1999