For some, April 20 is an unconventional celebration. In the popular imagination, 4/20 signifies a cause for like-minded stoners to convene over a shared love of reefer, and as such, thousands of glassy-eyed youngsters gathered at Terminal 5 last night to watch Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ and a slew of opening acts tear up the stage.
The night was billed as the Smokers’ Club 2nd Annual 4/20 show, but headliner Bada$$ didn’t necessarily extol the virtues of weed or ask the massive crowd if they were high enough to enjoy themselves. The twenty-year-old MC brought the concert hall to life, and bounced around the stage at Terminal 5 like it was his own playground, commanding it without even really trying.
The stage shrank when Joey (real name Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott) calmly walked out to “Save the Children,” the opening track off his debut full-length LP, B4.DA.$$. The title of his set’s opener is an indication of where Bada$$ pits himself as an artist: at the center of issues often ignored and under-scrutinized by many who have reached a similar level of fame. But Bada$$’s tendency to comment on social ills didn’t affect his set at all last night, probably because the bass was too loud and most attendees were too entranced by the venue’s neon purple lights to care.
His throaty flow was indecipherable through T5’s titanic sound system, but that didn’t matter, because the rapper’s presence was everything. He wore nondescript clothing with zero logos or commercial branding involved. Joey Bada$$ could very well be the kid sitting next to you late night on a Church Ave.–bound G train, because there’s nothing about him, appearance-wise, that screams “rapper.” But last night, his energy trumped the inconspicuous nature of his clothing. He bellowed rhymes over deep, rumbling basslines that got the audience bobbing their heads in unison like robots. He only got hotter and sweatier onstage and threw off his hat and jacket, eventually walking back and forth at the helm bare-chested, with his plaid-green underwear hitched up around his waist.
Bada$$’s set touched on the songs, hooks, and rhymes that got him to the deep crowds and raised ceilings of Terminal 5 in the first place, with “Paper Trail$” getting the crowd especially hyped. In one honest moment where he felt the need to shout out his oldest fans, Bada$$ cocked his head back and screamed, “Who’s been with me since ’99?” — a reference to the mixtape 1999, his very first release, one that saw nearly 2 million digital downloads and catapulted him to viral stardom in 2012.
If playing a packed hometown show to three stories of strangers wasn’t enough for Bada$$ as an individual, it’s OK, because he made sure to give his buddies in Pro Era, his Bed-Stuy hip-hop collective, a chance to close out the show beside him. At the end of the set, the Pro-Era mob devoured the stage and Bada$$ quickly faded to the back. He became just another body rhythmically nodding his head as nearly twenty of his fellow Brooklyn MCs took over Terminal 5. It was a gesture that suggests Bada$$ cares less about fame than he does about his roots and his native Bed-Stuy. It was also an indication that he’s a rare talent who will likely sell out huge venues and put his friends on the map for years and years to come.
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