Joey Badass Empowers the People on ‘All-Amerikkkan Badass’
As much as it fits perfectly within the parameters that hip-hop was built on, rapping about the current political climate is something fewer and fewer rappers are doing these days. It isn’t necessarily a foregone requirement for artists who operate within the genre to be full-on social justice warriors but the essence of rap music is and has always been a direct byproduct of sociopolitical revolution and ultimately a catalyst for positive change. Joey Bada$$ has quietly developed into one of those self-aware artists who will gladly sacrifice boasting and bragging for politically protesting the bleak environment that has recently been cast across the United States and beyond. This revolutionary fire is injected all throughout his second studio album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, which is perhaps the most explicit display of civil commentary since Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet.
Joey has always been labeled as a conscious rapper with a heavy reliance on third eye perspectives on beats, rhymes and life. This liberated logic of music making is coupled with strong technical rap skills—a deadly combo for any artist. However, it’s taken Joey over five years of releases to get this complete arsenal. In a way, his past projects, like B4.Da.$$, have collectively groomed his expressive prowess to make an album of this importance. All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ encompasses everything we’ve come to love about Joey over the past few years with an added sense of social responsibility that is needed in times like these.
One of the most noticeable features on All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is Joey’s wildly evolved sound. The lead single “Devastated” is a dead giveaway to the fact that Joey displays growth in his sound, as the grandiose production pumps a heavy rhythmic bass and a rattling chant-a-long chorus. As his biggest song to date plays through, it’s almost hard to believe that the boom bap-obsessed skater kid from Brooklyn made this type of anthem-laden track a mere five years after his debut. However, the sentiments of struggle turning into strength promoted on “Devastated” have very much been a part of Joey’s music since 2011, and are taken to the next level on this album.
Joey noticeably takes himself out of the spotlight on this project and creates a more sonic snapshot of the times. As well as detailing his own explicit interactions with contemporary “Amerikkka,” he speaks primarily on behalf of the people he feels he vividly represents. At every turn, he doesn’t hold back his contempt for President Donald Trump and the waves of injustices that repeatedly hit the Black community.
He uses “For My People” as a mission statement, declaring the aim for both this album and his career at large: “Music is a form of expression/I'ma use mine just to teach you a lesson/Rule one: this microphone's a weapon/I'm shootin' out the actions manifested and my passion.” The only time he deeply references himself is when he's using it as a catapult for the greater good, as heard on “Temptation”: “I just wanna see my people empowered/Tell me how we gon’ shape this vision/Complainin' all day, but in the same condition/If you wanna make change, it's gon' take commitment.”
Even though the album only has a dozen songs, it really checks off all the boxes that make up a great rap album. He’s got a token personification track in “Miss Amerikkka,” a treacherously dark deep cut with “Rockabye Baby,” boom bap bliss on “Super Predator” and a big name feature in J. Cole. He also includes a formidable posse cut with fellow Pro Era members Kirk Knight, Nyck Caution and Flatbush Zombies member Meechy Darko on "Ring the Alarm," which is the only song on the album that puts the overarching theme of inequality on ice. The four minute rap-a-thon features tight rhymes about wrecking rival rappers and the Beast Coast movement representatives in their prime.
Diehard fans of Joey Bada$$' older, more minimalist will applaud the latter half of the album. Whereas the top half dozen songs flex Joey’s evolved songwriting and beat selection, the bottom has Statik Selektah handling a few more beats and thus opening up Joey’s perfect in-pocket rhyming. The rapper of course still keeps the anti-establishment vibe alive on these cuts, even saving his most harsh criticisms for the final track, “Amerikkkan Idol.” During the chorus, he raps, “I'm out for dead presidents to represent me/Because I've never known a live one that represent me.” It’s obviously a somber statement, one that eventually ends with Joey saying “Ameri-K-K-K-a is force feedin' you lies down your throats with a silver spoon/And eventually, we'll all be doomed/Real, real, real soon.”
Although the album ends on a rather pessimistic note, Joey Bada$$' intentions are optimistic. The MC uses All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ as a loud wake up call to the masses—namely millennial America; for things in this country and around the world to get better, there needs to be cooperation without restraints. The extremely uplifting and socially exciting moments on this album should be used as a positive call to action for everyone who gives it a spin.