Joey Bada$$ is one of the most exciting hip hop artists of his generation. After dropping a string of strong mixtapes, including the classic throw back 1999, his debut album B4.DA.$$ was the perfect encapsulation of what he had been working towards.
Mixing jazzy beats with silky smooth flow and multigenerational wordplay, B4.DA.$$ announced the presence of an artist who at his best could go toe to toe with any one of his peers, save maybe Kendrick Lamar.
One thing a lot of people like to mention when talking about Joey, is his devotion to preserving the 90’s hip hop aesthetic in his bars and the beats he chooses to lay them over. And while it’s fair to say that if Joey had been around in the golden age of hip hop, and his albums and mixtapes were spread out among the middle years of that decade, he would fit right in. It’s also unfair to pigeonhole him like that.
Yes, the jazzy sparkle and easy flow of ‘Good Morning Amerikkka’, the kick off track from his new record, sounds decidedly nostalgic. But it, and the rest of his new LP, also sounds decidedly current. He may not be trying to rewrite the script the way Kendrick was on To Pimp A Butterfly, the way Danny Brown did on Atrocity Exhibition, or the way Kanye West does with every project he releases, but sometimes honesty and talent is enough.
And honesty, brutal honesty, is at the very core of All-Amerikkkan Bada$$. Joey does not mince words on this album. He is reporting from the street level view of a black man in an America that has reacted against the progress it was making, in an attempt to turn the progression back a few decades, to the detriment of every minority group who has fought so hard for the little bit of equality they have been accorded.
Take ‘For My People’, for example. An uplifting, but sad song about oppression, especially as it related to people of colour. Take the lyric in the chorus:
“This for my people, tryna stay alive and just stay peaceful
So hard to survive a world so lethal
Who will take a stand and be our hero, of my people?”
That is a call for help, and a call for action. Or in ‘Temptation’ when he says “I just want to see my people empowered”. Or in ‘Land of the Free’ when he raps “They disorganized my people, made us all loners. Still got the last name of our slave owners”.
That’s powerful stuff. And while Joey has always been a socially conscious lyricist, there is an air of desperation in these lyrics. Hopeful (‘Amerikkkan Idol’, ‘Devastated’), at times angry (‘Rockabye Baby’, ‘Ring The Alarm’), at others confused (‘Y U Don’t Love Me?’), but desperate. He’s working through how he sees the world in 2017 and laying his heart bare.
And he’s doing it to some of the smoothest production of his career. Working again with frequent collaborators in Kirk Knight, Statik Selektah and Chuck Strangers, as well as new hands on the one’s and two’s like DJ Khalil, 1-900 and Powers Pleasant. But then, Joey has always attracted top shelf production talent, in the past working with DJ Premiere, J Dilla and the legendary Roots crew.
This album hasn’t been out long enough for me to compare it against Joey’s previous release. Not that everything needs to be compared to everything else, it’s just the way our minds work I guess. I will say that All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is a far more mature and cohesive work than B4.DA.$$ was. I’m excited for this kid’s future prospects. He could turn out to be one of the greats. Keep your eyes on him.
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