Just over two years since his strong, debut studio album, B4.DA.$$, Joey Bada$$ has returned with his politically charged sophomore effort, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$. From the title alone – a reference to Ice Cube’s iconic Amerikkka’s Most Wanted album stylisation – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ grabs the attention before you even listen to its content. The suggestion of social-political conversation is not only relevant, but it has been forced to become more prominent in mainstream Hip Hop once again.
Some of Joey’s peers (most notably Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar) have previously released projects (Control System and To Pimp A Butterfly) that center around social-political issues, so, although All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ isn’t unique in that sense, the album certainly sits appropriately among those examples.
It’s fair to say that the first five tracks – which include two of the album’s singles, ‘Devastated’ and ‘Land Of The Free’ – all have a more commercial feel to their sound, something that Joey has actively tried to incorporate since B4.DA.$$. It’s almost as if he is trying to shake the very specific ’90s rap’ label that he acquired when he released his 1999 project five years ago.
In conjunction with this idea, Joey can be found singing on numerous parts (‘For My People’, ‘Temptation’ & ‘Devastated’) of the opening selection, something that this writer has questioned some rappers for doing in the past (here, here…and here). Again, it’s difficult not to believe that elements of certain songs could have been improved with the aid of someone with greater vocal strength.
Despite the mainstream sound, Joey’s lyrical content is anything but, focusing on aspects ranging from politics, police brutality and violence among the black community. He smartly veils his enlightening agenda behind radio-friendly instrumentation, hoping to eventually resonate with his predominantly youthful fan base.
A change back to his usual sonic direction appears via the smooth ‘Y U Don’t Love Me (Miss Amerikkka)’, where Joey uses the U.S. as a female metaphor and he pleads for answers to her mistreatment of him and people like him. This continues on a more aggressive fashion on ‘Rockabye Baby’, which is used to introduce the first guest of the album, ScHoolboy Q. The feature is very apt – almost too much so, as the track could easily be mistaken for one of Q’s, such is the similarity of the sound to some of his previous output.
Tracks like ‘Ring The Alarm’ can be juxtaposed with ‘Super Predator’ – although both following the same content guidelines, they are expressed in contrasting manners, like protests compared with riots, peacefulness compared with violence. Joey tries his best to keep a cool head when discussing such sensitive topics, but there remain instances of aggressive outbursts, which make for some impassioned verses.
On the aforementioned tracks, Nyck Caution, Kirk Knight, Flatbush Zombie’s Meechy Darko (all on ‘Ring The Alarm’) and Styles P (‘Super Predator’) all make strong contributions, appropriately matching the overall themes of the album with their verses and/or hooks. There is still space for Joey to link up with Chronixx on ‘Babylon’ and J. Cole on ‘Legendary’, both of whom resume the pattern of guest verses complementing the overall narrative of the album, before ‘Amerikkkan Idol’ allows Joey to close the album impressively.
Understandably due to the project’s themes, it is likely that All-American Bada$$ will be likened to Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, adding fuel to those stoking the fire that insists Joey is the east coast’s equivalent to the Compton rapper. Whether you agree with that idea or not, via All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ Joey has displayed that he is among the best of his generation of Hip Hop artists, using his accomplished rapping ability to accommodate a specific subject throughout an entire project.