April 21, 2017 by Sean McCole
Joey Bada$$ is an interesting artist in the context of his contemporaries.
He is a window into a generation past, that is widely considered a golden age that seems distant today. In this age of autotune, trap and extreme braggadocio, Joey is no doubt seen as an artist keeping the old-school alive.
Currently there has been a culture war going on within hip hop. Fights between the likes of Lil’ Yachty and Pete Rock are flaring up left and right about the current state of rap, especially when it comes to mumble rap. Joey has a large burden on his shoulders when it comes to this conversation. He is seen by many as part of the group of MCs who are keeping real hip hop alive.
And while he is entrenched in his ’90s east coast influences, he does blend in the current sounds and flows like many of his contemporaries have such as A$AP Rocky, Schoolboy Q and Chance the Rapper. Joey must skate the line between the new and the old carefully as to not disappoint his fans that adore either era.
In terms of production, Joey’s sophomore effort “All Amerikkkan Badass” (“AABA”) is similar to his prior projects. The production, which features work from Kirk Knight, 1-900, DJ Khalil and Statik Selektah, is classic ’90s hip-hop featuring heavy percussion, scratches and sampling.
And while the sound is familiar, “AABA” is a new turn for Joey.
If “AABA” had to be described as one thing it would be a passionate message to America. When Joey is talking about white supremacy, Eric Garner or Donald Trump he does so with finesse whether it be in anger or hope for himself and his people. And while Joey has cursively touched upon politics in the past but has never fully expounded upon it in such a profound cohesive way before.
Joey starts quickly with the short soulful intro, “Good Morning Amerikkka,” by posing a simple question: “Now, what’s freedom to you?”
The intro track fades effortlessly into the infectious “For My People,” which has an upbeat instrumental and very repetitive chorus. In “For My People,” Joey sets forth many of the major themes of the record and sets the tone for the project.
In the first verse, Joey starts by telling of the injustices people of color face every day and then in the second verse Joey wrestles with his position as an artist. Joey realizes he must use his powerful word for good, and he will do that no matter the case.
Next up is “Temptation,” in which the intro and outro consist of a cleverly implemented sample of nine-year-old Zianna Oliphant’s moving speech following the death of Keith Lamont Scott by police in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The track mainly deals with racial injustice and features a bevy of quotable lines from Joey. After “Temptation” comes the two singles from the album: “The Land of the Free” and “Devastated.” “The Land of the Free” fits the context of the record well. It continues the narrative of the record and the hook is still a standout, along with its reflective verses. “Devastated,” on the other hand, doesn’t mesh with the rest of the record as well. It feels like a detour, not really because of the sentiment of the record, but mostly because of the sound. The trap instrumentation and lack of classic percussion used here isn’t found much on the rest of the album at all.
And even though it is well executed for what it is trying to achieve, it would have been better if it just stayed a single. Joey likely intended for “Devastated” to breakup some of the monotony of the record, but it just comes off as a distraction although an enjoyable one.
“AABA” gets right back into the action with “Y Don’t You Love Me? Miss Amerikkka,” and the following track, “Rockabye Baby,” featuring Schoolboy Q.
“Rockabye Baby” has great production from 1-900 and Chuck Strangers. The creepy piano matches Joey and Q’s deliveries perfectly as they trade verses about how gangs should unite and protect their people instead of killing one another.
The posse cut “Ring the Alarm” with Pro Era members Nyck Caution, Kirk Knight and Flatbush Zombies’ own Meechy Darko is a highlight as well. The track channels the classic group cuts of the past from the likes of Mobb Deep to Wu Tang. The song shows off the fantastic chemistry between the artists, and the production is classic dreary hip-hop. Joey has a great alteration filled first verse, and Nyck and Kirk trade lines back and forth effortlessly, but the performance that stands out the most is Meechy’s. The beat matches his gravelly voice perfectly providing the track that classic moody east coast ominous feel.
“Babylon” is another major standout from the back half of the album and it features Joey at his most frustrated and fearful for those he loves. Through his anger he transfers some of the most heartbreaking verses on the album.
The penultimate track “Legendary,” featuring J Cole, is one of the few disappointments, as it just comes off as just an okay track, serving as filler before the finale. The problem is it feels more like a J Cole track, and not a Joey Bada$$ one. And while Cole does his thing, it would’ve been way more interesting if Cole delivered a more energetic verse like Joey delivers on so many spots on this album.
The album closer, “Amerikkkan Idol,” serves as a message to the people. The six-minute track address not only problems found in the black community, but the United States as a whole. Joey puts on his conspiracy hat a bit here as he claims the government wants people to rebel just “so they can kill us off,” but Joey’s performance is fantastic and it summates the themes of the album well and closes it out in the right way.
And while the picture he paints isn’t the brightest — the last line is “and eventually, we’ll all be doomed real, real, real soon” — he does have a glimmer of hope in his words as he lays out how people can fight the oppression.
Throughout this record Joey is constantly at a conflict with his role in society. Joey sees injustice after injustice being done to people of color in this country and expresses how he feels helpless. Joey wrestles with his role in this current climate and eventually comes to the conclusion that his voice is his power and he will die standing up for those that may not be able to stand up for themselves all the time. You can see the confidence grow in him over the course of the record, to where at the end his delivery is very authoritative, as opposed to the beginning of the record.
The album does a great job of conveying all of the multiple themes incorporated in the album in a smart and concise way. The album isn’t overly long, has great production and Joey is on point throughout the whole work for the most part.
“AABA” is part of the new forming modern day politically charged hip hop. Politics have always had a place in hip-hop, but this new movement has been bubbling for the past few years and only grown more based on the recent political developments. Major releases in this Trump era included work from YG (“FDT”), A Tribe Called Quest (“We Got It From Here … Thank You For Your Service”) and Run the Jewels (“RTJ 3”). A major starting point of this current era is Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and there are a lot of comparisons to be drawn between “To Pimp A Butterfly” and “All Amerikkkan Badass” in a few areas.
For one, songs like “Babylon” and “Devastated” are very similar to Kendrick’s “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright.”
And while this album doesn’t quite come close to the masterpiece of “To Pimp A Butterfly,” Joey executes these ideas in a way that makes sense for his style. Joey doesn’t tell a direct narrative like Lamar does, but he translates his feelings and discomfort about modern day society effortlessly.
“All Amerikkkan Badass is one of the best rap releases of the year so far, and may be Joey’s best work to date. While his other works like “1999” and “B4.DA.$$” are great, they don’t have the same gravity as this record. Hopefully we hear more from Joey in this ilk in the future.