That debut mixtape, 1999, is what propelled him, and the Pro Era group, to worldwide attention. The title encapsulates the intention of the album so perfectly – it signifies a turning point, the end of a golden age for rap music, where groups like A Tribe Called Quest and a younger De La Soul spat rhymes on the state of the world, on capitalism, but kept it fun by bragging and joking around with whose raps were best. At some point it stopped being a joke and started being self-indulgent and narcisistic. Joey aims to remedy this. Second track Waves makes this abundantly apparent, featuring a spoken sample from Tupac, claming rap wasn’s ready for a “real person.” Joey goes on to reflect on the turning point he’s currently experiencing in his own life. At 16 the world is just getting started with making you fret over your future home, your wife, your children, and Joey’s rhymes of anxiety for the future seem to compromise the tough man image so many rappers strive for. It makes him that real person Tupac talks about, and for the first time in way too long you feel like you’re hearing a truly reflective lyricist.
All of these altogether more human themes are given colour by the number of lush and beautifully produced backing tracks Joey raps to. Some are samples from MF Doom songs, but the original beats are the ones that truly make this album shine. Frequent collaborator Chuck Strangers produces beautifully lush and textured beats which create a vivid setting for the whole record, as if it’s an album produced before many of the collaborators were even born. His collaborators add even more flavour to the mix, Strangers being a particular highlight on tracks like FromdaTomb$ and the late Capital Steez spits some of the angriest and most passionate rhymes to be heard this year on Survival Tactics.
All of this creates such a beautiful selection of layers to delve into on 1999. It’s not often a rap album comes so fully formed, so strong on all fronts. But the thing that really sets this aside the surprising amount of reflective and thought-provoking lyrics. Joey might be 16, but thanks to his rhymes and style he exudes wisdom beyond his years.