Joey Bada$$

“I think Joey [Bada$$] gets a lot of hate online,” Joey’s tour manager tells me as he hits the stage. And truer words haven’t been spoken about his career. As an artist, he’s amassed a huge underground following that doesn’t rely on co-signs from New York’s past or even the blog scene. The statement resonated with me throughout the night. I thought about what people hate about Joey’s music.

Everybody who listens knows that Joey is a vicious spitter. That’s undeniable. However, the main criticism has been that he sounds like a throwback to the ‘90s NY sound, which isn’t seen as progressive. On the contrary, it is one of those aspects that made him successful. A whole new generation never got to watch Big L or the Bad Boy era as it unraveled. Joey fills that void with a unique movement that stands for something.

To say that Joey Bada$$ is a carbon copy of NY’s past glory is selling him short. When he came into the industry, you could say that and get a room full of people to nod in agreement. He was also just 17. He had room to improve. B4.DA.$$ is a strong representation of his growth. Some of the production still plays to that gritty, hell’s kitchen style, but the messages are becoming universal. A song like “Paper Trail$” can be felt by anybody who’s ever held a dollar bill in their hands, and “Teach Me” shows us that he’s moving toward being able to craft a radio single even if the potential isn’t all the way there yet.

Many have already shared their first impressions on Joey’s music. Once that happens, it’s hard to get this internet era to continue to give chances. Those individuals described above who boxed Joey into one category are now missing out on the evolution and refinement.

When you witness him perform live, you’ll realize how much of a big deal he is. The music is the main course, and the performance adds all the extra seasonings and sides. There’s a newfound level of respect for the extraordinary set. He feeds off his crowd, and said crowd is well aware of this.

From 1999 to his debut album, Joey shuffles through a collection of his music like any performer would. What sets this experience apart from, say, Action Bronson’s show is that nobody gets body slammed. All jokes aside, Joey’s crew takes second place to nobody when it comes to the lighting. It’s easily some of the best I’ve seen.

There’s a fine art to performing that Joey seems to get. A lot of artists tend to try too hard, but there’s a gradual build up throughout his show that is reminiscent of an escalator. Every song tends to move the crowd forward higher and higher toward the pinnacle of being turnt up.

Things peaked when Denzel Curry and his boys were brought out. Between the lighting, the stage diving and wild and crazy kids, this was one moment I wish I could relive over and over.

After a facetime conversation with producer Kirk Knight and a very heart-felt tribute to Capital Steez, Joey’s finale was “Survival Tactics.” The song that kicked it all off was now the one to end the night. Initially, the crowd was put into a huge circle to moshpit, then scattered back into regular crowd formation as Joey wielded himself on the hands of his loyal fans for most of the duration. A clear metaphor for his career that shows they’ve been holding him up high since that video dropped in 2012.

My only complaint? I didn’t get to hear “Unorthodox” live.