When Joey Bada$$ released his generally well-received debut album, ‘B4.DA.$$’, in 2015, the word “young” was constantly used as a prefix to describe the rapper. In fairness, the album was released on the artist’s 20th birthday. But if ‘B4.DA.$$’ was the fledgling Brooklynite’s initial long-play introduction to the world; ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’ is, unquestionably, the rapper’s coming of age opus.
Since the election in November, few rappers have been quite so vocal in their disinclination of Donald Trump. Joey Bada$$ has criticised the President during a recent CNN interview, pushed Trump impersonator Phillip Wilburn off-stage during an MTV event (landing him a $1.5 million lawsuit) and released his single ‘Land of the Free’ on 20th January — Trump’s inauguration day. Almost three months on, he is about to release an album so politically charged that it can be filed alongside a number of the 20th century’s most stirring protest albums.
As well as referencing Ice Cube’s classic ‘Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’, the album title also pays homage to ‘AmeriKKKan Korruption’ — a mixtape from Capital STEEZ, the rapper’s late friend and Pro Era contemporary and is released on the project’s fifth anniversary. What’s perhaps most prominent is the intentional misspelling of ‘America’, alluding to the KKK and touching on a theme of white supremacy that heavily attributed throughout ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’. ‘Land of the Free’, for instance, is a tribute to Martin Luther King and has a lyrical theme that’s directly influenced by speeches from Dr Umar Johnson, Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. Reflecting on devastating historical events for Afro-Americans, the track’s lyrics are deep and touching, delivered with an explosive flow that adds such raw aptitude. The video also depicts the Klu Klux Klan, as well as a group of exploited Afro-American men.
Opening track ‘Good Morning AmeriKKKa’ is equally rousing. Instantly setting the album’s politically-charged tone, the short track has a raw aggression and intensity that’s seldom found within music today. It is a rallying wake-up call that introduces the album in a similar vein to Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ and Prince’s ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’. Quickly following, ‘For My People’ is one of the album’s sure-fire highlights. Initiating with a slightly auto-tuned vocal interplay, the song’s hook has unforgettable earworm deftness aided by an ensemble of horns, a mainstream radio-friendly hook and eviscerating lyrical delivery. As well as dispensing flagrant lyrical prowess that’s transformed dramatically over the past two years, Joey Bada$$ has honed his vocal delivery to an astounding heights. “Music is a form of expression /Im’a teach you a lesson / Rule one, this microphone’s a weapon”, he patters before lambasting into a ferocious onomatopoeic machine gun flow not dissimilar to Biggie classics ‘Everyday Struggle’ and ‘Gimme the Loot’.
Elsewhere, ‘Devastated’ caused uproar amongst bloggers upon surfacing online last year, accusing the rapper of selling out. Conveying a classic ‘rags-to-riches’ narrative, the track has sung vocals from Bada$$, as does ‘Temptation’, interpolated with verses that further showcase the rapper’s perfected boom-bap, Wu-Tang flow. Similarly, his delivery on ‘Ring The Alarm’ (featuring Kirk Knight, Nyck Caution and Meechy Drako) is outstanding, yet completely outshines the featured verses, which are in turn disjointed, weakening the track.
Far stronger is the album’s collaboration with Schoolboy Q — ‘Rockabye Baby’ — although Joey Bada$$’s flow is, once again, superior, the overall aggressive tone ties the verses together, favouring a broody, sinister electric guitar riff reminiscent of early Black Sabbath.
Rounding the album off, ‘AmeriKKKan Idol’ is a sombre number that ties the whole effort together, again conveying topical themes of political grief. As a complete body of work, ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’ is irrefutably accomplished, boasting moments that present a rapper at the absolute top of his game. This should not, however, be mistaken for a complete easy listen. Although refreshing, visceral and completely understandable — when listening to the whole LP, the political themes are occasionally overwhelming. What’s more, the big name guest appearance numbers are, mostly, less exhilarating than Joey Bada$$’s solo tracks, which allow him to take centre stage and impress with his honed songwriting and delivery.
Words: Jonathan Hatchman
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