Max Bell is the Morris Day of the blogosphere.
First impressions can make or break you. That’s always been the case, but lately, they’ve become the foundation of hype for still-developing rappers who aren’t yet worthy of the adulation. When I think about the too-much too-soon trend, the first name that comes to mind is young and impressionable Joey Bada$$, who was first picked up by Jonny Shipes (K.R.I.T., Curren$y) after a solid, but unremarkable freestyle video.
Bada$$ isn’t bad. His solo-debut mixtape 1999 is fine in a formalist way, but the hype it received was insufferable. I’m not saying the tape didn’t merit conversation or a listen, but it should’ve been treated as the introduction to a rapper with promise — one still heavily emulating his influences. It was a record from a rapper who should’ve been told that he was on his way, not that he’d arrived.
Unless you’re one of the rare exceptions (see Earl Sweatshirt), it takes time to become a solid and entertaining rapper, one who is unique and not merely an amalgamation of all his influences. If you don’t believe me, go listen to early Kendrick tapes.
So, what should’ve happened? How about this: 1. 1999 drops 2. People think it’s a solid first project from a young guy with potential 3. They wait to see how he stands up next to other solid artists outside of the Pro Era crew before they book him at SXSW 4. Nardwuar waits before bestowing a plethora of Doom gifts on the posturing and stone faced Bada$$ in the above video.
With respect to number 3, how about a feature, a chance to shine on someone else’s track while proving you’re actually worthy of tracks with DJ Premier? For a past analogue, I’m thinking specifically of “Live At the Barbeque,” where a young Nas proved that he was more than capable of shining amongst his peers, standing on his own, and worthy of the hype—Illmatic (and all the DJ Premier collabos) really was inevitable.
For Bada$$, the feature I’m talking about came in the form of A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train.” And, what happened? Bada$$ paled in comparison to Kendrick, Yela, Danny, K.R.I.T., and Bronson —all of whom spent several years honing their craft and finding their voice (you can argue about influences for every one of them if you want). Here Bada$$ sounds like he’s straining, struggling to find his voice among a group of rappers who have already grown out of their youthful imitative tendencies.
This rant was partially triggered to contrast something I’ve been bumping recently: “Time to Build” off of Mic Geronmio’s gem of a debut The Natural. It brought all of the above because it’s a relatively early cut for both DMX and Jay-Z, as well as the first officially released track Ja Rule ever appeared on.
And guess what? Like Bada$$, Jay, X, and Ja are all outdone by Geronimo, who would unfortunately not make it through the Jiggy era (Puffy made him try). He is the most polished, both lyrically and delivery wise. Ja Rule, who wouldn’t come out with a proper solo debut until four years later, tries his hand at legitimate brass knuckle bars and comes up swinging soft. Jay-Z, still not in the pocket he’d perfect on Reasonable Doubt, is annoying as he is on that infuriating Kendrick remix. And while DMX’s grit and growl is there, it hasn’t been fully unleashed, as it would be on It’s Dark, and Hell is Hot. In other words, all of the featured rappers (I’ve never really listened to Ja extensively, so spare me)here, like Bada$$, really needed a little more time. After all, Ja Rule is still waiting for his Nardwuar interview.