At just 22 years of age, Joey Bada$$ is one of the very few emcees of this generation that could easily go toe-to-toe with the legends of yesteryear. If you weren’t convinced with his earlier, rougher material, you were surely a believer by the end of 2017, where Joey’s second studio album All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ was rightfully heralded as one of the year’s finest hip hop releases, praised for not only for its sound, but how clear and distinctive the New York native’s artistic growth was. The sociopolitical thread throughout the project was punctuated by a sharp, expressive and passionate performance on tracks like “Land of the Free” and “Legendary”, and it spoke to a talent that is clearly just getting started.
All that was left was for him to translate the material to a live setting with as much power as on record, and Bada$$ would cement himself as one of the prestige emcees of the new school. Check. Though he may only have two LPs under his belt, his current live show is more than enough evidence for Joey’s unimpeachable skill as an emcee and a performer, elevating him to the upper echelon of hip hop, demanding that he be recognised as such. That’s no hyperbole, as you’d have clearly seen and heard at his recent Sydney performance, taking a sold-out Enmore Theatre and feeding off the crowd’s energy to give us a hip hop show no one in attendance will soon forget.
And as with all good shows, it started with the perfect choice for support; that being fellow Pro Era artist Nyck Caution who is obviously just as adored as Joey judging from the crowd reaction. Nyck felt like the main act, and he damn well could have been with a flawless performance that gave us much energy as it demanded from the fans. Tracks like “Show No Love” and “What’s Understood” were huge showcases for Nyck’s raw and unstoppable lyricism, which reiterated the widely touted status of Pro Era as one of the most essential collectives in hip hop for those who shun the generic autotune excesses of millennial pop-rap for the no-frills traditional combo of dope rhymes over dope beats.
Not having Nyck return during Joey’s set felt like a missed opportunity (perhaps they could have saved “What’s Understood” for then) but there were very few complaints given the expansive, well-rounded set list we were given on the night. Sandwiched between “Rockabye Baby” and a spectacular finale of “Devastated” was a what’s what of Joey’s most quintessential cuts across the young emcee’s still growing career. Tracks like certified head-nodder “Ring the Alarm” and playful “Joey Fuckin’ Bada$$” (a short burst over a skeletal beat and a huge crowd chant of “Joey, Joey, Joey Fuckin’ Badass”) got over just as well as older cuts like the anthemic “No. 99” and “Waves”, all delivered with ease and perfect timing, arranged to lift each track even in the absence of a live band (which would be a great addition for his next tour down under).
Though it’s the more cerebral, political tracks that really zone in on Joey’s talent. Cuts like the soulful and honest “Temptation”, the heartfelt “For My People”, and the critical “Land of the Free” pulsated with just as much sincerity and depth as they do on record, fiery and biting takedowns of societal ills and personal demons that were clear enough to in some way resonate with and inspire the all-ages crowd, even if the majority of them – and I’m making a reasonable assumption here – couldn’t relate in a more direct way to the complex issues Joey was rapping about.
Hollow but energetic tracks like “Front & Centre” and “Pull Up” did feel a bit inconsistent when wedged in the middle of gems like “Amerikkkan Idol” and “Devastated”, but this was a show that was just as much about the “turn up” as it was about highlighting Joey’s exemplary skill, which amidst all the fireworks, pillars of smoke, stars and stripes, came across clearly and confidently as if to maliciously knock some sense into anyone who dare not mention his name with the Kendrick Lamars, J Coles and Big K.R.I.Ts of today.
Ring the Alarm
Joey Fuckin’ Bada$$ Freestyle
95 Till Infinity
For My People
Land of the Free
Y U Don’t Love Me?
Front & Centre
Photo by Belinda Dipalo for the AU review. Check the full gallery HERE.