I missed half of Joey Badass’ set last night.
LA traffic can be accounted for, but it can never be defeated. Then there’s the parking situation, getting tickets at will-call, and the rest of the rigamarole involved in getting into a show in one of the biggest entertainment cities in America. I’d driven from Compton to Hollywood, spent $25 on parking just to park on dirt — two days after I’d washed my car — and needless to say, I was one cranky old man by the time I made it to my seat.
So, even though I was disappointed I missed half of Joey Badass’ set last night, what I did see made it all worth it. I wrote earlier this year how Joey wasn’t just “bringing real hip-hop back,” but blazing the trail for where hip-hop should go in the near future with his new album, All-Amerikkkan Badass. Joey’s music holds a cross-generational appeal that transcends age with sincerity, depth, and range. This became even more evident watching his energetic set, which included hits like “Devastated,” that closed the show, and “Legendary,” which he told the crowd he was performing for the first time live that night.
Joey prowled the stage solo, backed only by his DJ while clad in a black graphic tee and baggy orange pants, with a strapback hat flipped backwards hanging onto the back of his head, letting his braids swing free. He exhibited not just excellent technique (something I neurotically notice about pretty much every rapper thanks to my own old performance days), but also superb crowd control and rapport with his fans.
Those fans were who made the whole show. While Joey was opening for Logic, the area in front of the stage was packed like a sardine can with surging, swinging bodies. The entire crowd knew all the words to all the songs. The irony of an artist who slyly advocated open rebellion against a police state on his latest album sharing fans with one who complains about not being perceived as black enough on his was not lost on me, but the level of excitement swept away my old head’s cynicism for the 20 minutes I watched Joey display a maturity on stage that would have done Kool G Rap or Rakim proud.
That same old head tendency brought me to chuckle when Joey started a chant for deceased crew member Capital Steez. As he encouraged the crowd to chant “Stee-loooo,” a younger woman behind me questioned “Is he saying Cee-Lo? You mean the guy who made the song about being taller?” I cracked up in my seat, not just at the obvious case of mistaken identity, but also out of amazement at Joey’s ability to connect to fans of two different generations: One who was around to sing along with Skee-lo and related to wanting to be a baller, and another which was young enough to get him mixed up with the former host of a popular televised singing competition.
Of course the highlight of the night was when Joey flashed that signature rebelliousness that every generation of hip-hop is known for. “If you’re a Joey Badass fan, come down to the front!” he commanded before the opening strains of “Christ Conscious.” That was all it took to start a mini-stampede, as kids rushed the barricades, instantly overwhelming the exasperated security to push as close to the stage as they could. He launched straight into the monstrous “Rockabye Baby” after telling the crowd at the front to start a mosh pit. The old man in me was terrified a fight would break out, that someone would get crushed, that the show would get shut down, but the rest of me didn’t care. The kid I used to be just wanted to rush right down there and get to moshing.
Joey had taken me back to the time when driving thirty miles and paying $25 for parking was still an adventure and not a chore. For those twenty minutes, hip-hop was more important than bills, money, time, or the job that had gotten me in the show in the first place. For those twenty minutes, I got to be a kid again.