Last Friday, April 7th, 22-year old Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ released his second studio album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$. He explained that the album is “like hella vegetables. It’s hella good for you, and it’s almost my hesitance with it: the fact that it’s so good for you, because these kids these days want candy.” It’s good for you, I think, because of its personal and thorough analysis of racial injustice in America today. The realities and feelings are important to share and be heard. Joey also connects this album with the larger body of rap, such as Amerikkkan Korruption, late Brooklyn rapper Capital STEEZ‘s first mixtape, and Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Ice Cube‘s debut album.
The album seems to go through three phases: the first is peaceful and gentle, the second is energetic and powerful, and the third is reflective and despondent. By including each emotion Joey presents them all as valid, and he illustrates the complexity of resistance. All the tracks are intentional and carefully crafted, and I have to rate this album close to five stars.
“Good Morning Amerikkka” – gentle
I really like this opening track; it begins with a soft, gentle opening, with a slow and clear flow. Joey tells us to “wake up” (or ‘get woke’ to the social state of America), and then the energy grows into a quicker flow. Joey introduces “freedom” as one of the themes he will address in his album. The outro is someone speaking to us, getting us ready for the album.
“For My People” – peaceful
This track is pure kindness. The motif of the lyrics is peace and Joey sings to us gently, with a beautiful instrumental that grows with his words as he raps of heroes and hope. As the song goes on, he radiates more and more confidence, intending to support the people around him rather than to place himself above anyone.
“Temptation” – emotional
This track begins with a young child speaking to us about the pain he feels from racism. You can hear the hurt in his voice as he tries to articulate himself; then, the music cuts on and the lyrics continue with the same authenticity the child had. Joey sings “It’s just the way I feel,” describing how he’s succumbed to temptation because he can’t take the hurt from reality any longer. (This made me think of Huey P. Newton, cofounder of the Black Panther Party, who was killed when trying to score drugs. Newton fought hard and long for justice, and eventually turned to drugs. His position in the liberation movement required a great deal of energy from him and drugs may have been his way to continue fighting). This track is also expressive and passionate – Joey is unapologetic in his emotions as he acknowledges that everyone has problems, but this track is a space for his feelings and struggles to be heard. The instrumental is soothing, inspiring acceptance and love in listeners. The track ends with the same child again, who this time talks about the unfairness black people face, while clearly on the verge of tears.
“Land of the Free” – wise
This song takes you on a trip through the sky; the song is light and airy, dripping with honest experience. Joey uses this experience as justification for the social change he seeks, and he provides a big-picture analysis of the current state of America, based on its history. The instrumental provides an emotional and personal lens, while the lyrics aim to give an explanation for racial injustice. Joey sings for togetherness and community. He allows his anger to be heard without aggression, and is generous with his energy while channeling only the positive. The outro sounds like waves on a beach: a slow back and forth that creates the space for peace and mediation. I think this is a beautiful track that connects even better with the audience after several listens, and I think the music video is really striking.
“Devastated” – energetic
This is the first song on the album that is really full. It starts with strength in the instrumental and in the cadence, and it only grows. With this track, Joey fulfills our need for excitement and positivity, taking us with him on his journey from “nothing to something,” as Migos might describe it. He points out that this progression, from being a kid to becoming a well-known, respected rapper, required patience, and he acknowledges that it had its ups and downs.
“Y U Don’t Love Me? (Miss Amerikkka)” – uncomfortable
This song is different; Joey takes us out of the peaceful, gentle, emotional world, to one that calls for revolution. The instrumental and the lyrics leave us uncomfortable – this track draws attention and confronts us with the unfairness in America’s so called “meritocracy.” You can hear the pain in his voice and the disjunction and spookiness of the music. The outro of song is a piano – one you might hear at a grand American gathering, but you can hear voices of dissatisfaction and anger.
“Rockabye Baby” – powerful
This is a powerful track, again very full (like “Devastated”). This song radiates an energy that you can almost hold in your hands. Joey calls for the guts and strength necessary for action and even revolution. The energy in the track and the realistic lyrics describe a need for retaliation for the wrongs committed against Black Americans.
“Ring the Alarm” – potent
This track continues in the spirit of revolution: “ring the alarm” is a call for urgency. The track starts with a quick tempo and malicious laughter. The flow and cadence gain traction as his conviction becomes clearer and you hear thunder in the background.
“Super Predator” – threatening
This song transitions into a slower, lyrically-focused rap. The rhythm is steady, like falling through a long loop; the lyrics are political, with countless mentions of the media, police shootings, government, and the injustice that money can’t fix.
“Babylon” – despondent
This track is really smooth right off the bat; its trumpets are attractive, but do not distract from his lyrics. Joey is calling for action, but there is a loss of energy behind his voice that reveals hopelessness. This album, and rap in general, is a source of power and a means for liberation from racist America, however it is naive to forget about the long lasting pain that is felt. The mood this song projects is unavoidable sadness – it’s a feeling you don’t enjoy but that can’t be denied.
“Legendary” – unique
The intro of the track is groovy and attention grabbing; the singing voices, the rhythms, and the instruments create a space for honesty and feeling . The listener hears Joey’s questions, thoughts, demands, disappointments, and withdrawn wonderings. The title and lyrics suggest that he’s pondering a future that he won’t get to see. Similar to “Super Predator” and “Babylon,” this song is very expressive … plus, the hook is fire.
“Amerikkkan Idol” – absolute authenticity
No words can do justice to this track; it is full of honesty, of the problems in America, of ideas and conclusions and fear and reality. His rap is raw and somber, the instrumental quiet, only there to be background to the words. Some of the lyrics really stand out; he says, “As black men, I think our gangs need to do a better job at protectin’ us… Justice won’t be served by a hashtag, and that’s the very reason I ask that / What are we to do?” Gangs became important after the Black Panther Party lost power and effectiveness, and were initially intended to replace the Party to protect the Black community from police violence. Today, gangs generally do not serve that purpose, but it sounds like Joey is calling people to reflect on their actions and rethink their goals. Furthermore, the comment about justice not coming with a hashtag reminds us that we need to think more energetically, practically, and concretely about how to affect change. This track is almost like a summary of this album, of Joey’s experience in this Amerikkka.
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