Leave it to a precocious teenager to earnestly immerse himself in a style of hip-hop whose heyday predated him. Brooklyn's Joey Bada$$, 18, is helping bring back boom bap.
Stylistically distinct from current radio bangers, the highly popular early 90s rap sound was named after its relatively stripped-down bass-drum/snare-heavy beats.
Boom bap is most often associated with New York City acts A Tribe Called Quest, KRS One and Nas - one of Joey's first and most influential inspirations.
Curiously, Joey, part of the Pro Era hip-hop collective (which released two mixtapes last year) named his breakout solo effort 1999 - the year he was only four and boom-bap's heyday was long over. But the title isn't completely random: that record contains myriad references to the era, including a reinvention of Déjà Vu by Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz.
The throwback style is also garnering its share of criticism, and over the phone with Joey and producer/collaborator/Pro Era teammate Chuck Strangers, I get a sense of just how acute it can be (and how much they don't seem to mind).
"Some people hate so hard! They just like, ‘Oh, I'm not trying to hear no 90s-sounding shit,'" says Strangers. "I have a thick skin, though."
Besides, the refreshing look back to rap's golden age has made Mr. Bada$$ (né Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott) an increasingly sought-after emcee. He's got an intense schedule for someone who isn't of legal drinking age on either side of the border.
His new mixtape, Summer Knights, drops June 12. (Lead single Word Is Bond is already all over the internet.)
He's performing in Europe this month, playing the highest-profile NXNE venue before headliner Ludacris on June 16, and touring with Wiz Khalifa across North America over the summer.
His debut album, B4.Da.$$, drops in September. We don't know the record label yet, but he's already logged studio time with long-time Nas collaborator DJ Premier. I guess we can expect more of Joey's signature sound. The last thing he tells me is the first rapper he remembers hearing. "Biggie!" he says emphatically.