1999 dropped on the 12th of June in 2012. The debut mixtape of young up and coming rapper Joey Bada$$. This mixtape single-handedly changed the way I viewed and listened to music. To call it monumental is an understatement.
This shit one of the greatest mixtapes of all time.
I’m probably in a small minority but I wholeheartedly believe that 1999 is the greatest rap mixtape of all time. This dropping at the time it did was something out of the ordinary.
Around 2012 rappers such as Drake, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, and Rick Ross were dominating the mainstream. While rappers like Chief Keef, Tyler the Creator, J Cole, and Kendrick Lamar were breaking into the mainstream. It was clear that hip hop was past the heavy boom-bap and jazz-inspired songs. It was a new era. It made sense. Chief Keef’s emergence was about to birth a whole new wave of rap (a legend in his own right) which was starting to take over. So the odds of a project with heavy boom-bap and jazz influence making any impact at that time was low. 1999 did just that.
It served as a blast from the past; a past I was way too young to have any recollection of. This tape did that. With the nod to early hip-hop being prevalent throughout the tape it was weird to see a 17-year-old rapping over those instrumentals the way he was. It was a mix of the old and the new all blended together perfectly. Joey Bada$$ as a 17-year-old was rapping like he was a veteran in the rap game. The lyricism, the world play, and the pockets he displayed were that of an experienced rapper releasing his third project or something. The references and themes throughout the tape were things a young kid from New York City would get, while others would prove to be relevant as time went on.
From the first track all the way to the last there isn’t a miss. If it’s lyricism and witty wordplay you want, songs such as “FromdaTomb$”, “Survival Tactics”, “Killuminati”, “World Domination”, and “Suspect” go crazy for just that. If it’s storytelling you want, songs such as “Summer Knights”, “Waves”, “Hardknock”, “Pennyroyal”, “Daily Routine”, and “Snakes” give you just that.
The tape did more than just launch Joey’s career, it introduced the rap group he was a part of; Pro Era. All of the features in 1999 are from Pro Era members. The most notable features coming from Pro Era founder Captial STEEZ (Long Live Steelo) and CJ Fly on the tracks “Survival Tactics” and “Hardknock” respectively. Other featured Pro Era artists include Chuck Strangers, T’nah Apex, Kirk Knight, Dyemond Lewis, NYCk Caution, Rokamouth, and Dessy Hinds.
Do you guys have that one project that you will never forget listening to? Every detail, every thought, every feeling? It’s when you can answer these questions with a yes, that you know that project, was it.
I was in middle school when 1999 dropped, all the music I was listening to was coming from the radio or youtube. I had no idea how to get music on to my phone at the time so I was working with what I had. My close friend Nas told me I should listen to a tape called 1999 by some artist named Joey Bada$$. Nas was always in tune with the underground rappers and he never steered me wrong. So that day I did what he said and gave it a listen, the artist’s name was hard to forget. The intro “Summer Knights” came on. The song was only a minute and 56 seconds long but within that time frame, I was already convinced that this Joey Bada$$ kid was a prodigy. A 17-year-old speaking over the beat so nonchalantly. Off rip, he begins talking his shit saying, “It’s been a minute, since they seen a style with no gimmicks, clouds is they limit ’cause we in them.” The first bar of the intro showed confidence, confidence only a vet would have.
“It’s been a minute since they seen a style with no gimmicks, Clouds is they limits ’cause we in ’em, Eyes low, Squintin’, more L’s, but we winnin’, Acting like it’s hard to find women when I’m in these hard to find linens”- Summer Knights
After “Summer Knights” was through, “Waves” came on and it was like “shit 2 for 2.” The slow beat and jazz instrumental behind the sound of Joey speaking about how he had the “fuckin’ 360s” and how “nobody in the hood was fuckin with my shit.” All of middle school was me trying to get waves so I felt that. Once I did get them I thought I had the “fuckin 360s” too. From there he started to rap. He started to talk about his circumstances dreams of making it out. With lyrics such as, “Cause all we tryna do is do good, put on my hood when I walk through hoods ’cause these n****s these days is loco, you get it in your vocals if you ain’t a local, yeah, that’s why I’m tryna go global, yeah that’s why I’m tryna be a mogul.” I felt every word of those bars a young kid and I still feel them to this day.
“Since ’95, mama been workin’ 9–5, And I know the landlord fed up with our lies, So we pray to the Gods, the Jahs, and the Allahs, To keep us safe and watch our lives”- Waves
The following track that caught everyone’s attention was “Survival Tactics” featuring Capital STEEZ. That was the song that introduced me to Capital STEEZ and made me a fan of his music. The song in itself is very rugged and boom-bap. Joey and STEEZ took a lot of inspiration from the Wu-Tang-Clan with the raw beat they chose and the way their aggressive approach on the track. This is the song that blew up and introduced Joey Bada$$ to the world; rightfully so. The wordplay and lyricism mixed o make a new age nostalgic anthem. It’s better for me to show you than tell you. Watch the video for yourself.
“Riding on hoverboards, wipin’ out motherboards, stopped spitting fire ’cause my motherfuckin’ lungs is scorched, King Arthur when he swung his sword, A king author I ain’t even use a pen in like a month or four”- Survival Tactics
My personal favorite track came six songs in. Hardknocks featuring CJ Fly. A masterpiece. Lyrically, it’s one of Joey’s best. The storytelling and rhymes throughout the song painted the picture of a wise old head, but the bars were coming from a 16-year-old. Hardknocks is the perfect example of how kids from the inner cities of America are forced to grow up fast. A glimpse of the struggle, a glimpse of what had to be done to survive; good or bad.
That side of life in the hood is directly contrasted by Joey and CJ Fly rapping the hook, “One day I’m tryna have a wife and kids, So I just can’t live my life this, and I ain’t tryna learn what lifeless is so I just can’t live my life like this; I want the gold chains and diamond rings but I just can’t live my life like this.” These lyrics were coming from teenagers. Teenagers that were wise beyond their years both musically and mentally.
“No lyin’, n**** just won’t let go they iron, they wanna burn your molecules until you let go ions, Treat beef like they let go lions, So don’t eye’em, they get the wrong message wrong methods put you on that long stretcher. Too much pressure, God bless ya when the semi wet ya”- Hardknock
After the first listen, I probably bumped the tape for like 3 weeks straights (not even exaggerating). This was different, and this introduced me to old school hip hop. It’s crazy how a mixtape dropped in 2012 can lead me to listen to music from the 90s and early 2000s. These 15 songs are responsible for a part of the way I think and matured. This is not dragging it either, it single-handedly shifted the type of music I listen to completely.
The true testament of a piece of art’s value comes from how it ages. We see that with the paintings at the Louvre in Paris. and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings today. Similar to paintings, music’s true test of excellence comes from longevity. Albums such as Illmatic, The Blueprint, My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy, have all stood the test of time and are all considered classics.
1999 has stood the test time. Eight years later and I’m still listening to it. Eight years later and I still have people on Instagram telling me about how they still listen to at least one song from the tape daily. A majority of the tape’s concepts and themes resonate with me even more now as a 21-year-old. The themes of dream chasing, relationships, having fun, and just being young are what life has been about as of late. Maintaining a balance between reaching my goals, while also enjoying the ride and not conforming, mirroring the message I got from Joey on the project.
What was once the new age nostalgia project is now a throwback. A throwback that pays homage to the throwbacks. A throwback that is one of the greatest mixtapes of all time, if not the greatest. I recommend a listen if you haven’t heard it already, it’s on all music streaming platforms
Shout out to Andy the creator of Andy’s Buckets for giving me the idea to branch out into music (check out his blog https://andybuckets.wordpress.com/ for great content covering sports, culture, music, and more). Shoutout to my close friend Nas for putting me on to 1999 in the first place. Last but not least shout out to all the people who continue to read and show support for Hoops Views, it is all greatly appreciated.