Written by Carina Ly
When Joey Bada$$ first appeared in the game, he was young, with an older sound and older soul. He found his niche early, with a focus on being a lyricist rather than being a hitmaker. He was spitting top-tier bars like Traded in my Nikes for a new mic/I guess it’s safe to say he sold soles for his new life, positioning himself as one of the young rappers with a pen game that is not be taken lightly. This humbling prodigy showed maturity even back then, seeming wise beyond his years, who knew much more than his time on this planet implied. Producing music that hits home to 90s hip hop, an era of hip hop with a message driven by societal change which he very much reflects, Joey is the answer to all our pleas.
Since the 1999 debut, Joey has grown as a man and as an artist and his focus has shifted. Between attending Black Lives Matter protests, releasing Land of The Free on Martin Luther King Day, and declaring the release date of ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ to be the official Global Hip Hop Appreciation Day, this was the start of his new direction. Joey made it clear that the ongoing policy brutality happening in America is becoming important to him, and believes he has been sent to be the seed of change. Naming his sophomore album ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ and collaborating with likeminded artists such as J. Cole, the album was already expected to be one with a strong socio-political message. It comes to no surprise that Joey views J. Cole with high regards, stating him and Kendrick Lamar as some of his favourite rappers when he was around 15-16. Not to mention with his recent claim of his music exceeding Tupac’s in the run up to his album, Joey had a fair amount to prove, especially to old school hip hop fans.
AABA from start to end delivers a sound that is consistently heard throughout the album: an empowering, yet vulnerable voice speaking volumes on the many racial issues in America. He does this all in a way that’s digestible and not too preachy. Putting that into perspective, Joey is somewhere inbetween the spectrum of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar; J. Cole is more reflective on experiences relating to many aspects of life like money, relationships and motivation. In contrast, Kendrick is more figurative and metaphorical on matters. Sonically speaking, Joey achieved this balance by expanding his palette, showcasing a more melodic side and concentrating less of his signature lyrical flair. Skill and talent aside, this only proves that Joey is more than capable in his abilities. Capable of adapting his sound, without selling himself short and losing the essence that made him.
Joey made his voice very clear within seconds of opening track GOOD MORNING AMERICA investigating the ideals of America “Now, what’s freedom to you? Let’s talk about it, take a minute, think it through/I’m all about it, but the concept seems new and then immediately speaking on BLM “The coppers still shoot us down on Channel 5 news/Lock us up for anythin’ we do to pay dues/ Some of us woke while some stay snoozed.” He then speaks on racial discrimination in TEMPTATIONS, sampling Zianna Oliphant, a nine-year-old girl who tearfully addressed the killing of Keith Lamont Scott. This song and LAND OF THE FREE are prime examples of how he has sonically adapted his style to be more upbeat and melodic, while not losing sight on his mission to educate and being the spark to ignite change.
RING THE ALARM then takes a break from themes of black empowerment and inequality, and addresses the state of hip hop that is today. Here Joey is seen to show no mercy in picking up the guns and spitting his usual top-tier bars such as ‘We bombardin’, me and my squadron / If you want it, get your army / We droppin‘ bombs calmly’ which reflects America’s ideas of bombing countries so calmly. In this track, he is accompanied by fellow labelmates Nyck Caution and Kirk Knight, plus Meechy Darko. It is clear the four do not rate what hip hop has come to, which is especially heard in Kirk Knight’s bar ‘All I hear is that ad-lib rappin’ on my SoundCloud / Sick of the trash out, this is the crackdown’ signifying that meaningless mumble rap can no longer go on. ‘Death before dishonour, I die for my brethren / This is a stick-up, ocean’s 47’ by Meechy Darko is a powerful reference paying homage to Capital Steez. Ocean’s 47 is a reference to the film Ocean Eleven, replacing it with 47 which captures Steez’s philosophy:
“47 is a prime number, and it was seen as the perfect number by Steez. The 4th chakra is the heart, and the 7th is the mind. The 47 symbol is symmetrical to symbolize a balance between heart and mind. You can’t overthink, and you can’t be heartless, you need the B47ANCE between them. Steez also mentioned once that 4+7=11 and the 11th chakra is the pineal gland (third eye) chakra. So, it represents 3 chakras, heart, mind, and third eye.”
The highly anticipated LEGENDARY which features J. Cole was admittedly not the most outstanding track for me, but still one that I enjoyed. The track takes a break from the ongoing themes in AABA and speaks about spirituality, peace and progression as heard in Joey’s bar ‘Always been my mission, never secondary / Gettin’ better every January, it’s very scary’ with a lot of emphasis that to create conscious rap is his purpose, as he raps ‘Swear all of it was written for me (yep, yep) / By a higher conscious spiritually (up, up)’. The overall sound is easy-going with minimal instrumental music, quite a change from Joey’s usual palette of instruments and beats. J. Cole’s verse was fittingly just as relaxed as he reflects on life and God, in one of my favourite bar ‘Maybe, life happens like tides / One minute you’re low and feelin’ shallow, then all of a sudden you rise / Just, ride the wave, I say to myself’. The minimalism from LEGENDARY shows Joey stripping back to the basics and is about ‘Quality what I sell, quantity in the sales’.
Throughout AABA, you hear Joey voicing on several ideas and his own conspiracy theories. Joey did not hold back in his closing track, ALL AMERIKKKAN IDOL which ties in all his emotions, outright denouncing the American government and even voicing his theories:
‘Because this is all part of the government’s plan and what they been plottin’/ They’re literally beggin’ for this to happen, so they can kill us off / Usin’ uprisin’ and rebellion as the excuse in a timely fashion / The cancerous foods, the chemical warfare, economic sufferin’ is not workin’ fast enough’
Perhaps some of his ideas may be come across as exaggerated, but I truly believe that Joey did not have the intentions to be shallow, rather, he is urgently telling us that if we do not take action then ‘Ameri-K-K-K-a is force feedin’ you lies down your throats with a silver spoon’ will continue to occur and so ‘eventually, we’ll all be doomed / Real, real, real soon’. Joey spent months reading and researching before releasing LAND OF THE FREE so it comes to no shock that this sophomore album is spilling with knowledge especially censored, and his strong ideas about it.
To conclude, ALL AMERIKKAN BADASS enlightens three main things for me. Joey has reached new heights in his game, pushing himself sonically and beating the sophomore slump consequently puts him high up with the conscious rappers. Being sent on a mission by a higher being, perhaps what Joey is trying to do is warn us what yet to come during Trump’s presidency, and his “exaggerated” theories may in turn be true. Despite beating the sophomore slump, there is a lot more Joey has to offer. At the age of 22, he is still figuring out life with the added fame. His growth since 1999 is undeniable, but through further refining in his ways of expressing discontent, Joey will excel even further.
Lastly, while the album voices on all the disturbing murder cases as heard in TEMPTATIONS and BABYLON, negative stereotypes around black people Y DON’T YOU LOVE ME? (MISS AMERIKKA), Joey still sounds hopeful. With all that is happening, hope may sometimes be the only few things to cling onto, and Joey arrives as the torchbearer of optimism and hope.
Check out the single LAND OF THE FREE here:
Credit: PRO ERA