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Monday, December 11, 2023

Joey Bada$$’s ‘ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$’ boldly critiques political climate

On his debut album in 2015, Brooklyn MC Joey Bada$$ rapped, “Always drop hot s--t / Toroidal Flow keep constant / And I won't stop 'til I reach Christ Conscious.” With his latest project, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, he’s still dropping hot shit, and he’s one step closer to fully understanding how the world, and more specifically, America, works.

In an interview with Genius at the end of February, Joey made a bold statement; he claimed to be a better rapper than Tupac. It’s necessary to clarify that Joey strictly meant he’s a better lyricist which, to be frank, could very well be true.

The storytelling and overarching themes on AABA are abundantly clear. On top of that, Joey proves his lyrical prowess across the album with countless multiple-syllabic rhymes and astonishing double entendres. When there’s an important story to be told, Joey makes sure that the narrative is straightforward, but he makes sure to take time to deliver lyrics that have you rewinding to pick up on hidden messages.

“Real G's move in silence like my designer / Intertwined with the timeless, divine higher power / I was dipping in the gold since a minor / Sitting on my throne overlooking my empire, uh,” Joey raps on “RING THE ALARM.”

A dive into the life of a young Black man in America, this album is tense, hopeful and woke—all at the same time.

Joey’s music is unique in the sense that he brings thought provoking, occasionally controversial topics to the front, all displayed through the lens of a millennial trying to find answers for the world’s problems.

The young MC came on the scene when he was only 17 years old, and now at 22, he’s one of the best lyricists in the game. AABA is his most focused and cohesive project yet—a testament to his spectacular growth. Since he appeared on the radars of hip-hop fans across country, he’s had a distinct sound that didn’t leave much room for mainstream appeal. Now he’s taking steps to put himself on the map with a wider audience.

While the production on AABA is considerably more pop-friendly, it doesn’t take away from its political potency. On tracks like “FOR MY PEOPLE,” “TEMPTATION” and “DEVASTATED,” Joey uses the upbeat production to bring a sense of optimism in a world that is often incredibly bleak.

Beats influenced by reggae, jazz and boom-bap production give Joey a unique lane that he uses to take his artistry to new places. He’s proven that he can rap, and on AABA Joey ventures further into singing. He’s talented but, as a new skill, he has work to do in order to make it more impactful.

Ice Cube was one of the first to link America and its racist past with the Ku Klux Klan; Joey’s project echoes sentiments that have been found in hip-hop since its inception but with a modern twist. In a similar vein as artists like Kendrick Lamar and Run the Jewels, Joey Bada$$ is unabashedly outspoken. He is not afraid to speak out on the injustice against Black and Brown bodies in America.

On the first half of the record, songs have a lighter feel to them—a sign that Joey is still hopeful that race relations in America will improve sooner than later.

“LAND OF THE FREE,” the fourth track on the album, is all about changing the world for the better. When Joey raps, “The first step into change is to take notice / Realize the real games that they tried to show us,” he is calling on everyone to acknowledge the fact that the country has flaws. Admitting there is a problem is the first step toward solving it.

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Luckily, Joey isn’t alone on his mission to bring America to a place of acceptance and equality. On the latter half of the album, which features Joey Bada$$ rapping over more traditional production, artists like ScHoolboy Q, Styles P, Chronixx and J. Cole hop on tracks to bring new perspectives on our modern society.

On “ROCKABYE BABY,” ScHoolboy Q delivers one of his most aggressive features ever while addressing the fallout of America’s prison system. Reggae singer Chronixx gives a helping hand on “BABYLON,” where the two artists scream out against oppression.

Getting people to realize flaws in American society is no easy task. Centuries of oppression have led to a system that is hard to break, but Joey delivers each and every line with incredible levels of passion supported by awe-inspiring conviction. It’s his best project to date, and if he continues to evolve as both an artist and human being, he has potential to make serious changes in the world.

Grade: A-

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