Published May 10, 2015It's been three years since the release of 1999, the widely praised debut mixtape from Joey Bada$$, and the 21-year-old rapper still has a legion of young fans. They turned out in droves Saturday night (May 9), wearing t-shirts depicting Biggie albums that came out while they were in nursery school and bucket hats, enthusiastically cheering and jostling for a better view and shaking the fence outside the Danforth Music Hall afterwards.
Backed by producer and DJ Statik Selektah — who provided scratches and general hype man duties — the rapper was in Toronto for the first time since the release of his debut studio album B4.Da.$$ (pronounced "Before Da Money") this past January. Overshadowed by delays, it received mixed reviews, with detractors pointing out the record's lazy '90s references and absence of the sharp lines of early projects that made Bada$$ one to watch.
What's frustrating is that he's a technically gifted rapper who's capable of stealing others' songs with a handful of precise bars. He demonstrated this by going a cappella at several points during the night and performing his guest verse from A$AP Rocky's "1 Train" (which also featured Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar and, uh, Yelawolf).
It's worth mentioning Rocky and Bronson, who like Bada$$, are New Yorkers who released highly regarded mixtapes before making their major label debuts. While Live.Long.A$AP and the latter's recent Mr. Wonderful were overstuffed, frequently messy records, both rappers showed a willingness to explore new genres and ideas, which we've yet to see from Bada$$. Eventually, the kids are going to get bored of his boom-bap revivalism and want something new.
Despite these lingering concerns, 1999 fan favourites "Ho'$," "World Domination" and "Waves" received thunderous applause, and Bada$$ was energetic and congenial (at one point singling out a lone fan to give permission to smoke a joint, much to security's chagrin). The show's most poignant moment was dedicated to the memory of late Pro Era member Capital Steez. Asking for a two-finger salute and a minute of silence, lighters went up, and he let Steez's verse on uplifting posse cut "Like Water" ring out. He then asked for a mosh pit down the middle for "us vs. them" anthem "Survival Tactics," a fitting tribute to his friend and an emotional climax to the night.