Epiphany; Joey Bada$$ at The Novo

July 2022

I can’t get over my experience seeing Joey Bad’s last stop on the 99/2000 tour. I share this to honor it, holding it as a space for healing and growth.

I’ve only been to two live shows since the pandemic — both were this year. The first was the Halluci-Nation — formerly A Tribe Called R.E.D. — and damn was that healing. The Pow Wow drum syncing me to the world’s heartbeat while the jingle dress dancers, shawl dancers, hoop dancers, and B Girls peeled back layers of trauma left over since 2020.

I love live shows in intimate indoor venues. And I got to see my favorite rapper spit lyrics that took me to a higher plane. Here’s what I think about that show last night:

Pull up — late. Could be good or bad. We won’t know until we’ve parked, but my backseat driving is driving G crazy. It takes everything not to grab the steering wheel but I temper these impulses to not drive my friends away. The clock says 8:56 and Joey’s supposed to go on at 9.

Once we nestle into a spot next to LA Live the urge to rush fades away while we pass the Raw King XL back and forth. Looking through the smoke clouds I laugh, “so much for my New Moon fast.”

During a struggle session, here’s less money you’ll spend inside; plus, you’re already on a good one when you walk through the door.

Before we kill the roach, there’s a hydroflask in my lap half-filled with tequila. I’m told to make it into a cocktail so, invoking Tech N9ne, I mix in pineapple juice and coconut water. We trade pulls in the parking garage and I’m taken back two decades. I see my sister and tias trading pulls of aguardiente before a show. It’s ancestral knowledge to get litty like this. During a struggle session, here’s less money you’ll spend inside; plus, you’re already on a good one when you walk through the door. Something about living bougie stole this insight. I forget my worries and bask in the bounty of beautiful people and their laughter. I invite joy and clarity into my life, trading pulls in a parking lot.

After some controversy over whether Microsoft or The Novo replaced Nokia, we meet the Plug outside the box office. I’ve never seen K at work, but I almost cry watching him move about as a professional. We’ve been doing dumb shit together since middle school — and here he is, still in a band tank and cutoffs, moving about with the respect of everyone who stops by.

“Pit or VIP?” he asks us, without missing a beat.

“Pit — wait, VIP!” said I, the Libra. “Wait. Both?”

And that’s how we four ended up with eight wrist bands and tickets proving we paid $0.00 for them.

Taking inventory before security: the joints are rolled, the pen is packed. Everyone has a lighter. The bouncers don’t confiscate anything. Gotta thank girls with good cleavage for that. And since we’re already tippin’, we don’t need to stop at the bar.

Just start flashing these wrist bands and velvet ropes fall away — until I try walking into Joey’s green room (oop 🤭). The bouncer kindly points me toward the VIP — he can’t pull the same petty shit I’m used to! The next one leans to pat us down until a wave of the wristband instructs him to invite us in.

Here, my tacky ass expected a box overlooking the stage. I’ve never been to the VIP! But this section is just (with “just” doing some heavy lifting) a roped off area behind the Pit. We’re maybe 15ft from the stage in a sparsely populated pocket surrounded by a dense ocean of mop tops and fitted hats. Even though it’s 9:20pm, the VIP is kinda empty and the stage is too — not for long.

We’re up against the rail. My feminism informs me to let the 5’5”-ers move up while my 6 feet step back. But drunk strangers start pushing me from behind and I settle back into scarcity mindset: ‘we got here first! Hell no I won’t accommodate these randos.’ Plus, I haven’t been to a hip hop show since Residente in 2018. My calves, my lungs, and my vocal chords are itching to scream!

“Joey! Joey! Joey Fucking Badass!” the rowdy white boys get started.

On our way to the show, when we were still stuck on the 5, I asked that we play just one Pro Era song. You know the one,

“BROTHAS DON’T WANT WAR I’M A MARTIAN WITH AN ARMY OF SPARTANS . . .”

Joey is on the stage! JOEY IS ON THE STAGE!!! He’s sprinted out, bouncing and bobbing — leading a chorus of outstretched hands, waving to this anti-cop anthem and tribute to his fallen co-conspirator.

The strobe lights in the dark theater draw attention to his gold adornments. He shines from the inside, and my heart goes “Boom! Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, boom!”

As quickly as he started, he’s finished. He teased just the first “Survival Tactics” verse, so we shout our tributes: “STEEEE-LO — RIP Capital Steez!” I know we’ll get the rest before the end, even if the Angel of Pro Fucking Era needs to come down himself.

From here, the Bad-Mon explains, we’ll travel through his discography: 1999 to 2000–even though 1999 came out in 2012 and 2000 came out just last week. He’ll share all these with us — the bangers and the pop anthems — because we’re the last stop on his 99/2000 tour. He demands that we meet his energy.

Halfway thru 1999, I realize what this is —

I think of all the takes I’ve heard and accepted during the last 10 years: oh Joey fell off; he turned into a pop artist and started making music with white girls. All-Amerikkkan Badass didn’t hit with the hip hop heads. It’s a sharp turn from the 90s rhythms that made his Brooklyn bass seem effortless.

I observe with absolute clarity the unbroken line tracing 1999 to 2000–thematically, stylistically a sequel. Two Thousand is firmly rooted in tradition, reframed by personal and spiritual growth. The mid 2010s afforded the space for mistakes, novelty, and experimentation. Now, two years into a decade shaped by war and pestilence, we reflect on that growth and tie it to the impressionable confidence that drove his meteoric rise to fame. The gravity of this moment demands we wield these lessons toward a better future.

Joey Bada$$ — the artist — is back with lessons to impart.

On stage, he takes an interlude to provoke deep, sensual kisses from couples in the crowd. Then relates:

“A lot’s changed since the last album,” referencing 2017’s All-Amerikkkan Badass and its pop ballads with lofty signatures. Songs I only sing when I’m white-girl wasted.

Two Thousand isn’t that and 1999 wasn’t that either. “I won an Oscar,” he reminds his crazed audience, before demanding, “use me as an example! Anything is possible. Stick with it. Anything is possible.” Ending with the imperative, “don’t let anyone dim your light.”

The rest is history. I note changes in lighting and staging whenever he switches albums. When he skips “Devastated”, I know it’s for the encore, along with the rest of “Survival Tactics”.

The person I’m with prods me to look out for “Love Is Only a Feeling” and I let a few butterflies off my chest when she smiles.

A few songs demand we raise our phone lights or lighters. The real ones raise blunts. He shouts out not just Steez but other fallen comrades — Pop Smoke, xxxTentacion, King Nip Ermias. People I didn’t honor enough in life.

I recognize Joey for the light he holds and shares: a prophet and a survivor — one whose suffering might never be worth it; yet he endures to create his art and share the stories of those who didn’t.

I honor his craft. I bask in his presence. I let his light illuminate mine. Surrounded by hundreds of others in a densely crowded venue, we bounce to the same damn rhythm:

“But now we on our way to greatness/
And all it ever took was patience.”

Bless. 🔥

Joey Bad is Back.

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Marco Bello

Marco Bello

𝔏𝔞𝔰𝔠𝔦𝔞𝔱𝔢 𝔬𝔤𝔫𝔢 𝔰𝔭𝔢𝔯𝔞𝔫𝔷𝔞, 𝔳𝔬𝔦 𝔠𝔥𝔦'𝔦𝔫𝔱𝔯𝔞𝔱𝔢. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~* Culture Critic & Critical Race Theorist ~*~*~*~*~*~*