A Wake-up KKKall
After Donald J. Trump’s shocking victory for American presidency late last year, there came a lot of uncertainty – both politically and socially. With such a controversial and outlandish figure in power, people all over the world began to speculate what would and wouldn’t happen. One thing was for certain however, as exhibited in the years of campaigning leading up to the result – hip hop was not going to stand for it. After it was revealed the walking spray tan was to take the hot seat, there was a quiet, cautious sense of excitement in the music community; because we knew in the next 4 years we were about to be given a hell of a lot of protest music. While there’s been plenty already, it seems New York rapper Joey Bada$$ has taken it upon himself to come through with the first full album dedicated to this new America and it’s new leader, and if the cover’s anything to go by, you can imagine ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$‘ is no appraisal.
One of the few founding members of the rap collective and record label Pro Era, Joey is one of hip hop’s most proudest students. His debut LP ‘B4DA$$‘ was a superb collection of the-then 20 year old’s music, taking inspiration from all walks of the old school sound and updating them for a modern audience. He came to be known for his reiterative style of the signature New York sound, the old blood of Boom Bap seemingly running through his veins. He was young, brash and confident with his proclamation as the best prodigy in the game; and he could back it up with his work.
It was a surprise then that the first 2 singles from his sophomore album seemed to dial back this braggadocio style in favour of a more socially conscious tone – both ‘DEVASTATED’ and ‘LAND OF THE FREE’ exemplifying this change. The first, an uplifting song of breaking free from the struggle and coming out victorious, cleverly disguised its undertones in a banger beat and cries of “Skrrr skrrrr”. In some strange concoction of a heartfelt message and hi-hats, Joey created a party song that told the tale of the black experience, a stapling feature that would set the tone for the LP perfectly. The fantastic ‘LAND OF THE FREE’ on the other hand embodies the other side of the energy meter, its buttery-smooth bass guitar and drum loop standing in stark contrast to the hook “In the land of the free, it’s full of free loaders / Leave us dead in the street to be their organ donors / They disorganised my people, made us all loners / Still got the last names of our slave owners”. The first third follows the same suit, with jazz rap trimmings and Joey’s impressively sung hook on ‘FOR MY PEOPLE’ personifying the atmosphere of a peaceful protest.
But just as Black America has become more and more disgruntled with its societal values, it seems Joey gets more impatient for change as the track list goes on. As if the metaphorical, once serene protest suddenly descended into aggravated violence; the track ‘ROCKABYE BABY’ sees Joey momentarily return to his gritty lyrical style over a sinister piano-driven instrumental – one where we see his tenacious, snarling attitude towards his place in the USA. It’s hard, unforgiving, iron-fisted and it features possibly the best feature verse of the year so far from ScHoolboy Q: “From gettin’ lynched in field into ownin’ buildings / Getting millions, influencin’ white children / And oddly we still ain’t even / Still a small percentage of blacks that’s eating”.
The more reflective ‘BABYLON’ with its island falvoured beat (helped by long time collaborator Chronixx) is Joey’s most powerful performance on the album, crying “Nowaday they hangin’ us by a different tree / Branches of the government, I can name all three” through a pained inflection and a bitter tone. With every surgically precise criticism of his country, you feel his agony and disgust at the ensuing events that are an all too common occurrence in modern America. It’s follow up ‘LEGENDARY’ has the most finely tuned production found on ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’, oozing an acid jazz influence through its solitary piano and horn melody that perfectly suits the more spiritual tone both Joey and Mr. J ‘Platinum-with-no-features’ Cole exhibit.
If there was any sort of critique to give ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’ – aside from its admittedly slow start – it’s the way that it conveys its message. While Joey comes across as heartfelt, passionate and committed to his cause, he doesn’t say anything particularly new or give any sort of alternate view on the issue. Not to take away from the problem itself, as the MC addresses it wonderfully through wistful vigour – it’s just we’ve heard it all before. If you take the spoken word poem given towards the album’s finale ‘AMERIKKKAN IDOL’, the message is clear and the portrayal is as truthful as its subject matter, but the words become lost in the unfortunate battle of surpassing any statements that came before it.
Joey Bada$$’ sophomore LP is the type of project that defines the career of rappers like him. He could’ve carried on what was kick started by ‘B4DA$$’, a wealth of love letters to the sounds of the golden age, but what we got instead was a more focused, mature and passionate MC with the drive to see real change. Though his words are no revelations to the ears of those who’ve heard it before, he doesn’t shy away from addressing the social and political implications Trump’s establishment could have on the black community for years to come. Through gritted teeth or contemplative voice, Joey traverses his country’s dark side with direct abrasiveness and a whole host of superb production behind him. If his debut was a showcase of his talents, ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’ is his rallying cry in the face of lost hope, and the rebellion has never sounded much sweeter.