Fionn McCausland reviews Joey Bada$$'s latest studio album.
Joey Bada$$ released his highly anticipated second studio album last weekend, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$. Impressive flows, wordplay and some features from his “Beast Coast” companions are a staple of any Bada$$ project and his newest endeavour is no different. Bright, jazzy instrumentals and remnants of the New York boom bap era permeate the LP with some harsher and more sombre tracks, strategically placed to prevent monotony.
The three K’s in the title are likely a throwback to both his deceased friend Capital Steez’s mixtape ‘Amerikkkan Koruption’ and Ice Cube’s ‘Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’. This is, of course, a rather on-the-nose jab at the American judicial and law enforcement systems, comparing them to the Ku Klux Klan. The American flag on the cover is also comprised of both Crip and Blood colours, peace between the gangs being a staple of Joey’s work. The fact that each track is spelt out in capital letters may indicate that the morals of the album are to be taken seriously . It could also be an homage to suicide victim and former label mate, Capital Steez.
The intro sets the tone for the remainder of the album. It has a breezy, almost ethereal instrumental under lyrics that touch on police brutality and the dangers of fame.
The second track “FOR MY PEOPLE”, draws parallels between Joey’s position as a Hip Hop figurehead and that of a hero for his community. Superhero related lyrics are dotted throughout the track to drive home the sense of responsibility that Joey feels to represent his people. “Look up in the sky it’s a bird it’s a plane, no it’s the young black God livin’ out his dreams”. Joey appears to take this responsibility incredibly seriously as he regularly gives pseudo-speeches in the subsequent tracks to the black youth of America.
The third track serves as a suitable transition from “FOR MY PEOPLE”, as Joey stays close to the theme of the modern black struggle but tackles the temptations that could potentially perpetuate that struggle. “I just take the pain and paint the picture, voices in my head I hear the whispers, when I feel this way inhale the swisher or I sip the liquor”. The bluesy guitar and saxophone blend seamlessly with one of the best choruses on the album. The beginning and end of this track are taken over by, ostensibly, a black child demanding his people receive the rights and respect they are due.
“LAND OF THE FREE” is one of the more skeletal tracks in terms of its instrumentation. Synths and a slick bassline take a backseat here to Joey’s well-articulated and politically-charged verses.
“DEVASTATED” has the best chorus on the album by far, with a return to the brass instruments in the second half of the song. It is one of the more upbeat tracks, boasting a very positive and buoyant vibe. It was one of the tracks released as a single along with “LAND OF THE FREE” and “ROCKABYE BABY”.
The following track easily has the melancholiest mood on the entire project. “Y U DON’T LOVE ME? (Miss Amerikkka)” boasts a somewhat chaotic jazz instrumental. This is suitably coupled with Joey’s brooding, moany delivery as he laments over his mistreatment by America, personified here as a woman. “Locked in the cycle, tryna break the chains. Handcuffs so tight, nearly slit my veins. This what tough love feels like, feel my pain, uh.”
So far Bada$$ has carried the entire project on his own and although the features are, for the most part, exceptional, he probably could have crafted this album alone.
Then comes a personal favourite in the track listing. “ROCKABYE BABY” features Schoolboy Q who produces a hard-hitting verse speckled with clever bars and double-entendres such as his basketball themed line, “you ball, might come with a charge”.
This track manifests the anger and frustration that the artists are feeling regarding the treatment of the black community by the US government. There is also some Caribbean slang thrown in as an homage to Bada$$’ heritage, “shotta boy, shotta boy shotta go crazy”. This is quite common across AAB as Bada$$ has linear ties to the Island of St. Lucia.
Following one angry track with another, “RING THE ALARM” is the East Coast posse-track. It features fellow Pro-Era emcees Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution as well as the Flatbush Zombies’ Meechy Darko on the bridge. Nothing complicated here, simply some impressive competitive rapping with a particularly astounding to-and-fro between Nyck and Kirk. Chemistry appears to be a major strength in the Pro-Era camp.
“SUPER PREDATORS” is a song that deals with the fear of white America from who they deem as the titular predators, black America. Styles P and Bada$$ take a stance of defiance against this prejudice. The Lox emcee cleverly notes that he’s “not a chicken I don’t listen to Fox News” as the fox is the predator and Styles P refuses to be the prey (the chicken). It is also a jab at conservative America of course, as they “listen to Fox News”.
“BABYLON” is an example of Joey truly displaying his lyrical prowess with such gems as “nowaday they hangin' us by a different tree. Branches of the government, I can name all three”. The song also features Chronixx, a Jamaican reggae artist who also gave a noble performance on the track. Joey’s anger is truly palpable here, it is evident that he is reaching his limit and refuses to tolerate prejudice and injustice anymore.
“Fuck yo breath n*gga, don’t even deserve air”, a potent and heartfelt statement from Bada$$ that harkens back to the death of Eric Gardner in 2014 at the hands of police. After touching on political corruption and police brutality Joey lets it be known that he will bring his people to paradise whether they’re accepted or not. “If them Heaven's gates closed. I'ma break all them hinges for my n*ggas”. Joey was in pain when he wrote this and he does an excellent job of conveying those raw emotions here.
“LEGENDARY” is easily the most disappointing track in the listing. J. Cole spits a verse that can only be described as intensely boring and the hook is a generic mantra of “Legends, they never die. The n*ggas only multiply”. Joey goes as hard here as he has from the beginning and Statik Selektah’s beat is one of the most intriguing on the album, but frankly the lack-lustre feature and chorus inhibit this songs potential.
“AMERIKKKAN IDOL” is an anti-establishment, spoken word-esque tirade that goes off on some tangents here and there but overall pulls the album together quite nicely. Joey pontificates the effectiveness of the US justice system and how America should respond to the crippling injustice they see all around them. Particularly the youth, as he remarks, “Justice won't be served by a hashtag”.
After a medley of emotions and polarising tones Joey finishes on a surprisingly ominous note. Imploring black America to “wake the f*ck up and do our own research. And not form opinions based on just what we've heard. Ameri-K-K-K-a is force feedin' you lies down your throats with a silver spoon. And eventually, we'll all be doomed. Real, real, real soon”.
Considering the more optimistic cuts on this project finishing on such a dark tone is a bold move . One that doesn’t quite pay off I believe, but not so jarring that it compromises the overall quality too much.
Overall, an excellent addition to the Bada$$ catalogue and another stepping stone on what will likely prove to be a vibrant career for one of Hip Hop’s best.