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This Or That? Joey Bada$$ vs. Bad Azz

The rumor’s out: Joey Bada$$ is reconsidering that offer from Roc Nation that he mentioned balking at on ‘1 Train.’ It’s kind of like when someone offers you something really dope but you think you’re above it so you pass, but then you realize that you’re actually not and you become desperate for it, and by now the person that offered knows better. Sucks.

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Is Joey Badass even a badass at all? Like The West Coast’s Bad Azz or like a Lil Boosie Bad Azz? What does Joey do, skateboard and get scolded? Smoke weed in the stairwell and get lectured by elderly neighbors? Get an early curfew when he plays DOOM to loud in his bedroom? No wonder he sweetens up the moniker with some $$.

Bad Azz, former member of the Dogg Pound Gangsta Crips, is far from an impressive rapper, let’s be real. He doesn’t exactly stick out. Ok, he’s boring as f—k. It’s hard to even tell if he’s got a distinct style because that’s like asking if wood has a unique expressive quality. It’s wood, it’s just there, you know? Sturdy though.

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Maybe it’d be better if we saw Bad Azz as a straight up awful rapper. Perhaps that’d give him an entertainment edge (unless you want to call that s—t “art”) and would thus vault him above the boring label of “middling rapper.” At least if a rapper is bad, he’s probably a bit different. If you’re mediocre, you’re vanilla wafer – been there, done that. Who cares?

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You see, Joey Bada$$ likes him some good ol’ fashion, knee-slappin’ boom bap. He named his first mixtape ‘1999’ but then read some more stuff on the internet and decided that wasn’t too cool, so he retracted that brand. He still sounds like if you got in a tiff with him, he’d hit you with a zebra-pattern fanny pack full of quarters that he didn’t use at the arcade. Bad Azz sounds like he’ll just hit you with the first blunt object he can grab. In fact, he threw hands with Ray J years ago at West Coast Fest, although it’s unclear whether that’s worth bragging about at this point.

Bad Azz was also part of the LBC Crew, who released the little-known album ‘Haven’t You Heard? (We Givin’ Somethin’ Bacc To The Street).’ Recorded in 1996, it was no Eastsidaz, but it does have that organic ’90s feel, especially as Snoop disses Bad Boy in the album’s first verse. You can hear a distinct G-funk flavor that was honed in the studio. Joey Badass and crew seem to be content rhyming over old Dilla beats. Life hack: don’t take cues from Jay Electronica.

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Bad Azz dropped an okay album in 1998 with ‘Word On The Streets,’ and returned in 2001 with ‘Personal Business,’ housing the single ‘Wrong Idea,’ featuring Snoop, Kokane and Lil ½ Dead and cracking the #75 spot on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. He has worked with Daz, Warren G, Nate Dogg, Yukmouth, and other California legends. He was even on 2Pac’s ‘Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory’ with a feature on ‘Krazy.’ Joey Bada$$ was eating Gerber’s while Bad Azz was working with one of the greatest rappers of all time. How can you compare the two?

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To be fair, the best comparison would be from afar. Hailing from two different generations, both MCs inhabited vastly different musical landscapes. Bad Azz put out “We Be Puttin’ It Down” in 1999 and reached #8 on the U.S. Rap charts. Joey Bada$$ is lucky if he gets three songs played on Peter Rosenberg’s two-hour “underground rap” slot Sunday nights on Hot 97. It’s not his fault – it’s radio’s.

It’s hard out here for young spitters. They have all these ’90s icons to compete with (“How I’m ‘posed to win? They got me fighting ghosts,” Hova quipped), and they’re burdened with the drastic downturn of the music industry. But the sharp ones have used the lack of attention to experiment. They’ve incubated their own styles and perfected them like mad scientists instead of sucking the blood of the talented dead. Bad Azz wasn’t the greatest rapper of all-time, but he was solidly himself. If Joey doesn’t eschew throwback swag and step into 2014 or he risks being forever lost to the ‘90’s. Grab me a copy of Rap Pages if you make it there, though.

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