What can you get done in an hour?
Joey Bada$$ can pull off the performance of his career, it seems. After ten or so minutes of his hired hype-man shouting over an auto-mixed playlist on his laptop, Joey greets a crowd ready and waiting to get rowdy.
Though since admitting he regrets including the lyric, “Fuck Donald Trump”, in his Schoolboy Q collaboration Rockabye Baby, he delivers it with the same malice he does on the record, much to the delight of a young, angst-y crowd. It’s just one instance over the course of the night where his lyrics seem more palpable; more believable when you hear them in real life.
“Define ‘political’,” he recently responded when questioned by Evening Standard about the album’s theme. “I’m not a politician. I’m not trying to be … I’m not talking about passing laws and signing treaties. I’m just talking about real shit that I see on the ground, on the surface. This is what’s going on around me.”
And that’s exactly it – it’s the issues that surround us all that Joey has a penchant for writing about, and it’s why his songs have successfully lodged themselves into the brains of so many, especially young people.
The early appearances of Ring The Alarm and Temptation should have been a sign as to how the set was going to play out, but regardless, they’re received rapturously (though sound issues result in the bass overwhelming Temptation in the closing bars).
‘All Amerikkan Badass’, the album his tour is supporting, was criticised, albeit by a minority, for its overly strong political narrative. The response to For My People would see why this is an isolated train of thought. Nobody believes in what he’s rapping more so than Joey – except, perhaps, his own fans. The song wasn’t wedged in for the sake of breaking up an otherwise heavy-toned LP. Every track has its place – on record and on tour.
At no point are you left checking your watch – even during his momentary disappearance in which he loses his shirt transitions immediately into the next onslaught of lyrics. Legends gives him an opportunity to show just how well he’s mastered his flow, despite only being 22.
He’s sharp – at times venomous, other times just plain angry, but his energy never becomes a distraction from the performance. Impressive, given he’s up there spitting lyrics like: “It’s no contest, can’t fuck with the congress/Me and my niggas goin’ off like bomb threats.” Here’s a man frustrated by systematic oppression and a political system that excludes him, rapping for people who want to shove their friends into one another.
Devastated sets itself out as the highlight of the night – billowing smoke cannons and jumping galore. Pull-Up, a new track, is met with similar enthusiasm (though in fairness, Joey does ask for it specifically). To close, he freestyles over the crowd chanting his own name – good, but would have been better had videos of him doing so at previous concerts not already been circulating the web.
Joey Bada$$ set shows that he’s learned a lot in what has been a surprisingly short space of time. People can complain about shorter sets, but often with hip-hop performers, quality will trump quantity time and time again. He never presents himself as a caricature, maintaining immense composure within himself without it ever getting boring. Joey has set himself up as a true star in what is now a very crowded genre, so it’s not impossible to forgive him for not gifting us with a tune or two more.