Upon entrance to the archaic Manchester Albert Hall, the collective murmur of excitement coupled well with the thudding background-music — hitting like a wall of sound.
From the paisley printed US-Flag draped down the front wall, it was clear the Joey Bada$$ was to bring the turmoil of his homeland to the industrial North-West of England, to the swarms of Manchester’s hip-hop subculture — donned in bucket hats, expensive brands and rapper’s-merch.
US support artist Sampa the Great blared out her ‘Boom-Bap’ anthems but lacked the stage presence to captivate the audience the same way the warmup DJ was able to. ‘Bodak Yellow’ and ‘Bad and Boujee’ fuelled the growing fire for the headline act to play with.
The militant Joey emerged from backstage to perform with the DJ, his deep voice effortlessly carrying over the backing track: “Rockabye, rockabye, rockabye baby/shotta boy, shotta boy, shotta go crazy!” he shouted, erupting the crowd into a frenzy.
There’s something intrinsically hip-hop about a rapper wearing a bright orange ‘NYC SANITATION’ sweatshirt, cargo pants and military boots, holding a glass of white wine whilst rapping a nursery rhyme.
It showed exactly what Joey Bada$$ is — hip-hop. From the political message, the high energy music to the ‘don’t give a s***’ attitude.
The opening few tracks were high octane and the volatility rose, Joey gave no signs of slowing. From above, he looked messianic; the audience chanting “Joey, Joey, Joey” in between songs. It was a testament to the sincerity in his music and delivery — something lacking in modern rap. After a few scripted interactions followed a brief intermission, after which the performance hit new heights.
On return, the show mellowed as he played older cuts, unfamiliar to the hypebeasts. Tracks such as ’95 to Infinity’, ‘Paper Trail$’, and ‘No. 99’ got some of the older fans excited — it’s noteworthy that ‘old’ in this environment was 20 plus.
Joey then led a brief emotional tribute to his old mentor and founder of his rap collective, Capital Steez, who took his life back in 2012. Much to my own disappointment, the setlist didn’t include ‘#LongLiveSteelo’, perhaps his most personal track — but then it wouldn’t have fit with the night’s theme. “F*** DONALD TRUMP!” Joey exclaimed before he took the show into the stratosphere.
For ‘What’s My Name’, ‘Jozif Badmon’ carefully brought women forward out of concern for their safety. He called for the “biggest moshpits” you’ve ever seen. Mid-song: “Can someone do a backflip?”. Someone did. Joey took his top off in heat, sipped some wine and continued.
Being in the midst of this ruckus was like being in the eye of a hurricane that Joey had total control over. The heat, the sweat, the aches — nothing mattered as he was able to urge you to fight through these pains for his music and all it stands for.
Continuing the ascension, he commanded that the crowd memorise a new hook “When I pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up.”. Out came the videographer. He let down his braids and lost himself whilst steam cannons blitzed the frenzy on the floor.
The final track approached, ‘Devastated’, the bonafide hit from this year’s ALL AMERIKKAN BADA$$. It opened, his entourage came onstage, his earplugs came out, and his wine was thrown everywhere. “I used to feel so devastated/But now we on our way to greatness!”, he yelled. One step, and into the crowd he jumped.
As the lights came on, it was evident that no encore was needed from the energy of the last hour or so. Despite my disposition, Joey may have revived the dying cringe of a moshpit as he put on the greatest performance I’ve witnessed in a long time.
Joey Bada$$ had asserted that his name is uttered in the same hushed tones as fellow rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and J. Cole. From ambience to crowd command, he had it all. The only critique to be made would be the growing social media attitude surrounding live gigs — but that’s another story.