By Jon Fuchs, Music Director
[Pro Era; 2017]
Key Tracks: “LAND OF THE FREE,” “ROCKABYE BABY,” “LEGENDARY”
There aren’t a lot of rappers as dedicated to their work as Joey Bada$$. With great projects like 1999 and B4.DA.$$ under his belt, Joey Bada$$ and the rest of the Pro Era crew have been some of the most influential figures in conscious hip-hop, with a known talent for old-school beats and unsubtle lyrics about political toxicity and racial tensions. Joey’s long-anticipated sophomore record, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, switches out his beloved sample-covered production for a cleaner, more pop-friendly approach, but manages to keep its lyrical topics and flows as strong as ever.
This is clear from the get-go with “FOR MY PEOPLE,” a smooth, funky track that almost goes down a checklist of the injustices POC in America face daily, such as racism and police brutality. The chorus alone (“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?”) is catchy and to-the-point, never needing analysis or personal experience to understand the message.
“LAND OF THE FREE,” one of the album’s singles, is a huge highlight, as its excellent production and Joey’s lyrics about American mass incarceration and hope for the future combine two pretty overused topics and make them feel fresh again. The beat’s background vocals and 90s like synth leads feel dreamy and nostalgic, and the verses, with lyrics like “Sorry America, but I will not be your soldier / Obama just wasn’t enough, I just need some more closure / And Donald Trump is not equipped to take this country over / Let’s face facts ‘cause we know what’s the real motives” take any hint of subtlety out of the equation to create something raw and truthful.
The lack of political subtleness is one of the best parts of ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$. It doesn’t try to be the long, over-analytical hotchpotch that albums like To Pimp a Butterfly are, but still, manages to be just as intelligent and important. “ROCKABYE BABY” has no subtleness or filter (see the line “And if you got the guts, scream ‘Fuck Donald Trump’”) and has the same energy and anger as a Public Enemy track. A huge reason for this is also the verse from ScHoolboy Q, with lines like “I’m by them stop sign, you love that wi-fi” that show off his street cred while simultaneously create commentary about race inequality in America.
“LEGENDARY,” a collaboration with J. Cole, allows the record to take a breather to discuss hope, spirituality and rising above poverty and injustice. The calming piano and saxophone-heavy beat feels like an outlier from the rest of the album, and Joey and Cole’s calm delivery allow the listener to sit back and contemplate on their own reality. This song, mixed with the closer, “AMERIKKKAN IDOL,” allow for a perfect, thoughtful closing to the album that helps wrap everything up while keeping it memorable and iconic.
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is only further proof that Joey Bada$$ can do only good with whatever you put in front of him. It was super gutsy to get rid of the classic boom bap instrumentation he uses so much, but he’s able to remain just as strong without it. The only thing the listener has to think about in the end of it all is what exactly Joey will do next, since it feels like now the world is his oyster.