A lot of hip-hop music nowadays is like candy. It might taste good, but it leaves your stomach empty – too much of it and you’ll end up with cavities in your brain. After years of living off rations, my hunger has ceased with the release of Joey Bada$$’ second studio album “ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$.”
Known for having a traditional New York ‘90s sound, Joey takes a new direction on this album by incorporating melodies and tackling political issues. He works with old collaborators, including some of his fellow Pro-Era partners, but also incorporates new faces such as Schoolboy Q and J. Cole.
The album begins with Joey questioning the most important value in this country – freedom. Over soothing, piano-driven instrumentation Joey encourages listeners to join him in his reflection. He remains calm despite the heavy subject matter and asks if being shot down on the Channel 5 news by “coppers” is freedom, or if using scientific knowledge for unethical purposes (weapons of mass destruction and exploiting laborers) is freedom.
“Some of us woke while some stay snoozed, zombies walkin’ around trippin’ over its shoes. The knowledge is official but it’s often misused.”
Joey pronounces “its shoes” as “issues,” creating a double entendre. His impressive skill as a lyricist allows him to sprinkle multiple meanings throughout the entirety of the album.
The spelling of America with three K’s is a double entendre in itself. The three K’s and two A’s represent a full house of cards in poker with three kings and two aces — meaning Joey has a lot to deal with. It is also an obvious address toward the Ku Klux Klan as a way to depict the country as racist.
Joey adds an additional layer to his “AMERIKKKA” when he personifies it on the bouncy “Y U DON’T LOVE ME? (MISS AMERIKKKA).” He cleverly compares the United States to a woman who doesn’t treat him right as a way to confront the country’s attitude towards African Americans. Somberly he asks “Miss Amerikkka” why she never listens to his side of the story, why she never trusts him, why she led him to believe he’s ugly and why, after all this, she’s never looked him in the eyes and said sorry.
Eventually Joey becomes fed up with the mistreatment and snaps on the hard-hitting “ROCKABYE BABY” alongside Schoolboy Q. With an aggressive delivery, Joey declares that he is not intimidated by the system and drops the inevitable “Fuck Donald Trump” line.
He proceeds to call on crips and bloods, whom he refers to as the “neighborhood police,” to unite.
Schoolboy Q adds another layer to the track by airing out his frustrations regarding police brutality. He does this by sending a clear threat to police that leads him to sarcastically question if he took things too far.
Not every song is as extreme as “ROCKABYE BABY.” The highly anticipated “LEGENDARY” featuring J. Cole serves as a break to the album’s political themes. Over a smooth Tribe-esque type beat both rappers speak on spirituality and seek inner peace.
“Tables keep turning, which way do I go? A fire’s burning inside of my soul. Tables keep turning, which way do I go? A fire’s burning inside my control.”
Joey’s brightest moment comes on “Land of the Free” which ironically deals with mass incarceration. Joey opens up his first verse by stating that he feels like the words he speaks aren’t his, like he’s “just a vessel channeling inside the universe.”
At times it does seem like there’s a higher power behind Joey’s words, especially when taking into consideration the vast amount of knowledge he has attained at only the age of 22.
On the second verse alone he accuses the judicial system of being biased against Black people, calls attention to the idea that the genesis of Black people in American history is slavery as opposed to past glories and criticizes religion for separating people with a reference to Karl Marx’ “Opium of the people” quote.
Joey closes the album with the brutally honest “AMERIKKKAN IDOL.” This track is bound to gain Joey some unwanted eyes as he downright accuses the government of extermination though cancerous foods, chemical warfare and economic suffering. This track is a clear call to resistance, either through knowledge or revolution.
Aside from a few guest verses that felt more like Joey doing his friends a favor than anything else, “ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$” is a flawless project. In true hip-hop essence it is filled with powerful messages that are guaranteed to anger many and force reflection. Restore balance to your ad-lib filled diet and eat your veggies.