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[Review] Joey Bada$$ @ Forum Theatre, Melbourne 08/01/2023

Sunday night was a buzz on Flinders Street as hundreds of fans lined up around the block into Hozier lane for New York’s Joey Bada$$ and his epic show at Melbourne’s classic Forum Theatre. Making his grand return to Australia for the first time in a few years, the Brooklyn native is known for his infamous rise to fame in 2012 with his self-released, no major label mixtape 1999, and a string of fantastic albums to follow, as well as being a co-founder of hip-hop group Pro Era. Releasing 1999 at just 17 years old, he made waves with his lyricism well beyond his age and skill behind the microphone. This tour, the 1999-2000 tour, represents a celebration of 10 years of the debut record, along with promoting the brand-new sequel record, 2000, released in 2022. The hype was real.

Opening the show was South Sydney rapper, Gomeroi man and master storyteller Kobie Dee. At only 25 years old, Dee covers a lifetime of narrative. Focusing in on his home and community of Maroubra, Kobie Dee highlighted the issues of mental illness, drug abuse and youth suicide, discussing the importance of conversation and removing stigma from the subjects. He took time to pay tribute to lost loved ones, and to celebrate what they stood for. But as well, Kobie Dee brought the party, and brought it hard. Fan favourites such as This Life and Basics were anthems, with the whole crowd bouncing and singing along for the full 30-minute tight set. Kobie Dee represents the future of Aussie conscious hip hop and predicts high hopes for storytelling through music.

Next up was Powers Pleasant. Producer, DJ and Pro Era alumni, Powers brought the bangers. Over the years I have seen a lot of hip hop warmup DJs, but man, this was the hottest 25 minutes of heat I’ve ever seen before a rap set. Powers Pleasant toured us through quick edits of Denzel Curry, Freddie Gibbs, Kid Cudi, Lil Uzi Vert, Kendrick Lamar and even Nirvana with crazy fun transitions to match. The crowd was pretty much on fire by the time the set ended and the main act began.

Joining Powers on stage, Joey Bada$$ hit the stage just before 10pm, opening with the fan favourite and classic track of his debut, Survival Tactics. The classic chant of “Fuck The Police” was cleverly contrasted with the red and blue stage lights, setting the scene for a night of rebellious rap.

Not missing a word except to wave the mic at the audience for their support, Joey blew through classic after classic before addressing the crowd for the first time. Taking his time to bask in the love of the crowd Joey Bada$$ thanked us for our ongoing love and support, told us he was here for the day ones all the way to the new fans, instilling the further duality of the tour title, a reflection on the decade of music and the ongoing relationship with his fans. The connection of conscious rap, politically charged lyricism and a romantic edge penetrated the consciousness of all in the room.

Joey also took his time to pay tribute to hip hop legends we’ve lost in recent years, including King Von, Nipsey Hussle and the ever-controversial XXXTENTACION. Many hip hop shows have a moment such as this, where they look back on those fallen, but Joey’s was more than just a grab at tragedy, but instead a thought provoking moment of pain for friends gone. The ongoing issue of gun violence in the US is not a taboo topic to Joey Bada$$, and often enters his music as he is more than familiar with its sting.

The crowd was bouncing the whole night. It was clear that these fans knew their material, with every song a sing-along, every chorus a chant. The mosh was heavy and hard, but the energy was positive, with those falling being picked up to re-join the party. A perfect blend of love and anger, triumph and pain, joy and rage.

Highlights of the night’s set included Head High, Make Me Feel, Paper Trail$ and the chart-topper TEMPTATION which for me was the best of the show. Joey wasn’t satisfied to end on that track though, and despite the Forum’s strict curfew, he chose to “risk the fine” and play one more song because he’s Joey Fucking Bada$$, the crowd chanted. Ending the show with the banger DEVESTATED, the fans were left sweaty, messy but satisfied from a night of dope hip-hop and awesome music.

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