Joey Bada$$ – ‘Summer Knights’

The mixtape sensation doesn’t hit the heights of ‘1999’

It begins with the bloodlust jeers of a ringside boxing crowd. A stadium announcer’s voice orders them to “make some noise for the champion”, before disappearing into the kush-cloud chill and brassy J Dilla loops of opener ‘Alowha’. The word “champion” overstates Bada$$’s current rap game footing, but he certainly came out fighting on his breakout tape, last year’s ‘1999’. An energetic ode to the golden-era boom-bap of fellow East Coasters Nas and Wu-Tang, with cameos from his own clan, Pro Era, it caught fire online, turning him from a Brooklyn high-school kid into an underground sensation sought after by Jay-Z.

This follow-up, however, doesn’t pack the same punch. Between the summer block-party slink of ‘Unorthodox’ and the hot-boxed R&B of ‘Sorry Bonita’, ‘Summer Knights’ only really gets going when the New Yorker steps out of his ’90s rap obsession. “I don’t drink much, I know the bud wiser”, he rasps on the dub cut ‘My Yout’. ‘#LongLiveSteelo’, a glitching tribute to Pro Era’s Capital Steez, who was found dead of an apparent suicide last December, pairs melancholic beats with airy, screwed synths.

For the most part, though, ‘Summer Knights’ holds Bada$$’s stand against the mainstream’s glossy trappings. “When did rap turn into a fashion show?” he snipes at hip-hop’s designer-garbed A-listers amid a thick smoke of stretched key samples on the MF Doom-assisted ‘Amethyst Rockstars’. But at least Kanye and A$AP Rocky are pulling rap in new directions, whereas this, for all the fighting talk, has the feel of a lightweight flailing around for another KO.

Al Horner