Joey Bada$$ established himself as a respected name in this industry long before he released B.4.Da.$$, his debut album, released this week. Although some have criticized the young emcee for borrowing much of his style from yesteryear rappers, fans have been clamoring for this release for quite some time. So when it was finally dropped, many wondered if the long-anticipated effort would deliver on the promise that supporters saw in the 20-year-old who first hit the scene while still enrolled in high school.

While the project isn’t a fully cooked concept, some of the subject matter lives up to its title. “Before the money, there was love, but before the money, it was tough,” Joey rhymes on “Paper Trail$,” a DJ Premier-produced cut that stands out on the project. When Joey gets that personal, the album bleeds with depth.

On that note, the Statik Selektah-produced “Curry Chicken” takes things further with rhymes about longing to be home during turbulent times. The song is a dedication to Joey’s parents, and it’s one that’s sure to make them smile. Elsewhere on the personal tip, “Piece of Mind,” produced by Freddie Joachim, is a call-back to Nas’ classic “One Love.” “Piece” works as an ode to an incarcerated friend. Later, “On & On” allows Joey to ponder life and death and with that, the memory of his late friend Capital Steez. The Freddie Joachim-produced selection is another standout due to the introspection and pensive rhymes that help Joey standout far beyond the comparisons to ’90s emcees. Songs like these (and “Like Me”) only add to the layers of life lessons for Bada$$ with his joy, pain and life embodied in the bars.

When Bada$$ isn’t getting personal, he’s still delivering gems. “Save the Children,” “Big Dusty” and “O.C.B.” showcase the young emcee’s skills with clever wordplay throughout, but the effort isn’t perfect. While much of the 17-track project is excellent, it’s possible the album could have benefitted from being a more concise effort. That’s because even some of the good songs in the middle of the album seem to not fit the overall theme of the project.

Still, off a first listen, B4.Da.$$ could very well be Joey’s best project to date. Sure, some have complained that Joey takes too many pages from yesteryear, and this album might only give those critics more ammo with some throwback lines and homages here and there. Still, the vintage flare is loved for a reason. This is still his story and it’s one that’s told in a charismatic, clever and interesting manner over smooth production.

That unique manner also helps B4.Da.$$ stand out as an excellent release. It shows that the young emcee is out to make a name by creating music in 2015 that stands on its own, even if its foundation is rooted in his greatest influences of the past. How can we blame him for that when we’re all heavily inspired by the greats that came before us? As they say, though, critics will criticize and despite all of that, Joey has released an excellent project that’s sure to be on many year-end best-of lists in 11 months and it may even inspire a new generation to dig in the crates for gems they missed.

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