Release Date: Apr 7, 2017
Record label: Cinematic Music Group
Upon the release of debut mixtape 1999, Joey Bada$$ was billed by the hip-hop media as "the 17 year-old rapper who's like Nas on Illmatic". Comparisons to other pioneering New Yorkers - Black Moon, Biggie Smalls, Big L, Jay-Z - came thick and fast. Even Malia Obama outed herself as a fan. Many saw the Pro Era figurehead as the rapper to lead New York's second golden generation, and nothing short of a classic debut LP would prove sufficient.
Joey Bada$$ wanted April 7th to be remembered as Global Hip Hop Appreciation Day. We believed that Kendrick Lamar was dropping an album (or something) on the same day as releases from Bada$$, Tech N9ne, and Allan Kingdom. April 7th marked the late Tupac Shakur's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by his Death Row Records labelmate Snoop Dogg.
On his sophomore effort, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, Brooklyn MC Joey Bada$$ continues to honor the golden era legacy of his forebears, while making a major leap in lyrical prowess that takes aim at the ills and injustices in America. Similar to equally politicized releases from the likes of contemporaries Vince Staples, Nick Grant, and Kendrick Lamar, Bada$$ tackles police violence, institutionalized racism, and Donald Trump, while maintaining hope and tempered optimism for the future ("Land of the Free" and "Devastated" are standouts). There's a lot to unpack here, which makes All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ an involved and rewarding listen.
All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is not exactly "entertaining"; the beats don't bang, and the lyrics are light on the braggadocio we're used to from Joey Bada$$. All the same, it's one of the most important albums in recent hip-hop history. Courageous and passionate, Bada$$ is a well-timed soundtrack to social and political struggle. While the album specifically chronicles the horrors of being a young black man in America, Joey articulates his angst in a way that easily resonates with anyone stumbling under the weight of oppression. On Bada$$, Joey doesn't tiptoe around America's ugliness.
It's hard to believe that Joey Bada$$ is only 22. The internet seems to age culture in dog years, so it feels like much longer than the half-decade it's been since the skinny kid from Flatbush entered the national consciousness with the video for "Survival Tactics". The song — whose instrumental and title come from a late ’90s Styles of Beyond track inspired by their early ’90s predecessors — is characteristic of Joey's early work.
Perfectly exemplified years ago, it's funny how much trap beats continue to be everywhere. There's nary a crowded train or bus that doesn't have that familiar high pitched rattle-snare tone playing off someone's phone in a nearby seat. Even Joey Bada$$, usually and rightfully hailed as New Era's king of 90s throwback, is using it. He's at a crossroads this year.
Looking back, 2012 was a bit weird. The Mayans said something about the world ending, Engelbert Humperdinck entered the Eurovision Song Contest for Great Britain, and we launched a robot towards the little red planet. Stranger than all this though, was the hipster rap phenomenon. A group of teenage upstarts by the name of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA for short) were at the forefront of a rap revolution.
Joey Bada$$ began his career rapping about his rapping. The subject matter was secondary to how deftly he jammed together as many words as he could into his bars and most often, he executed effectively. Now on his second LP, Joey has elected to use his elevated exposure to address the societal ills of our time. As he said recently , "I personally feel like I was put here on this Earth not only to inspire, but to wake people up." On All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ , Joey raps about police brutality, systematic oppression and its consequences, and of course, Donald Trump.
As much as it fits perfectly within the parameters that hip-hop was built on, rapping about the current political climate is something fewer and fewer rappers are doing these days. It isn't necessarily a foregone requirement for artists who operate within the genre to be full-on social justice warriors but the essence of rap music is and has always been a direct byproduct of sociopolitical revolution and ultimately a catalyst for positive change. Joey Bada$$ has quietly developed into one of those self-aware artists who will gladly sacrifice boasting and bragging for politically protesting the bleak environment that has recently been cast across the United States and beyond.
At this point, it's normal to read an artist's attempt to lean into political consciousness with skepticism, but Joey Bada$$' specifically worded social critiques shouldn't be treated with that kind of cynicism. On their breakout 2012 single "Survival Tactics," Joey and his Pro Era cohort Capital STEEZ warned us that the men in power are no good, STEEZ summing up their effect on black youth in a few conclusive, elliptical bars: "Half our students fallen victim to the institution / Jobs are scarce since the Scientific Revolution / Little kids are shootin’ Uzi’s 'cause it's given to ‘em. ” When Joey echoes those observations throughout his sophomore album All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ --which comes at an even more dire time--he's looking at the chickens coming home to roost.
When Joey Bada$$ released his generally well-received debut album, 'B4.DA.$$', in 2015, the word "young" was constantly used as a prefix to describe the rapper. In fairness, the album was released on the artist's 20th birthday. But if 'B4.DA.$$' was the fledgling Brooklynite's initial long-play introduction to the world; 'All-Amerikkkan Bada$$' is, unquestionably, the rapper's coming of age opus.