Where were you the first time you heard 1999? Not the Prince joint, the Joey Bada$$ “debut” that hit the streets like a ton of bricks last summer. It was an auspicious introduction from a 17-year-old Brooklyn prodigy. He spit with the wit and sharpness of most dope emcees 10 years his senior and featured yesteryear production that harkened back to the hip-hop’s golden-age ’90s. New York City – thirsty for the next artist of substance to lead the new-new school – anointed him The One. Or at least, hoped that to be the case.

About a year later, he’s returned with Summer Knights, a follow-up to 1999 that was initially slated as a prelude-ish type EP in advance of B4.Da.$$ (what’s being termed his proper label debut), but morphed into a full-length mixtape.

In the year between 1999 and Summer Knights, Joey dropped a glut of music. Between his helming his crew Pro Era’s mixtape ( P.E.E.P: The aPROcalypse) and showing up for dozens of guest spots, dropping freestyles and remixes and what not, he was a ubiquitous presence for hop-heads. And the progression between 1999 and Summer Knights can be traced via his interim offerings.

Taken apart from all his other material and viewed as merely two successive albums (mixtapes), there’s a conspicuous progress that has taken place. The production (with guest work from brand names like DOOM and DJ Premier and heavy lifting from Lee Bannon) is still steadfastly retro, but young Joey has stepped his spitting up considerably. This is an “All-Star to All-NBA/Pro Bowl to All-Pro” kind of leap. No telling what to expect from his “proper debut.”

Joey recently had this to say in a Rolling Stone interview:

Well, just the simple idea of me not wanting to go straight from my [first] mixtape into my album ­- I wanted to allow myself to grow more as an artist, and also as a person. Because, you know, I am very young. So I just wanted to give it more time. I don't want to rush it, and I don't want to force anything out: I want it to be perfect.

While we wait, the kid gave us a gem.