Listening to this remarkably assured and versatile debut, it’s hard to believe that Brooklyn, N.Y., native Joey Bada$$ is a mere 19. Possessing skills far beyond his years, the rapper makes a leap from his mixtapes with verses evoking many of the New York MCs who preceded him, while establishing a compelling, unique voice. Despite his gimmicky moniker, this is real-deal hip-hop, antithetical to the numbskull bottle-and-booty clap rap clogging the mainstream. Bada$$ (born Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott) speaks with a clear-eyed vision about growing up young and black in America. He’s often as playful as he is combative, asserting his place in hip-hop; the best songs, including “The Big Dusty” (overflowing with dizzying internal and external rhymes), “Like Me,” and “No. 99,” justify the swagger. Sometimes his influences, especially Nas (“On and On”), are transparent, but nothing here feels derivative. The production, filled with scratches, sonic invention, and live instrumentation by DJ Premier and Lawrence’s Statik Selektah, among others, often matches the MC’s audacity. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “No. 99”
Ken Capobianco can be reached at email@example.com.