April 13, 2017

TEST SPIN: Joey Bada$$ – All Amerikkkan Bada$$

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Joey Bada$$, Brooklyn rap phenom and founder of the New York hip-hop collective Pro Era, has released his long-awaited sophomore album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, and there’s a lot to be excited about. Joey has made a name for himself over the past few years by making music that truly emulates the vintage 90’s East Coast sound that gave way to the likes of Biggie, Nas and Jay-Z. In a world where the more trap-oriented, less lyrical breeds of rappers have taken the mainstage (think Migos, Lil Uzi Vert and Future), Joey Bada$$ remains wholly committed to bringing hip-hop back to its roots. With his profound, aggressive lyricism and classic boom-bap New York production, Joey Bada$$ has shown a keen ability to make music that reminds listeners of hip-hop’s roots without sounding too dusty. And at only 22 years of age, there’s reason to be hopeful; his debut mixtape, 1999, catapulted him onto the rap scene and drew immensely positive critical reception. His debut studio album, B4.DA.$$, also showed an ability to refine on his original sound but remain true to the hard-hitting lyricism that people expect from New York rap.

With his latest release, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, Joey modernizes his sound significantly, which has both positive and negative consequences. While Joey’s earlier mixtapes and albums were chock full of deft lyricism and meaning, Joey trades in a lot of this profound lyricism for a more mainstream sound and message. This is not to say that All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is a bad album by any means. In fact, this release is probably more refined than any of his past projects, as the mixing and production is phenomenal throughout. And the overall theme of the album is an important one; that young black people in America have to constantly face the overwhelming forces of racism, poverty and governmental corruption.

Many dedicated hip-hop listeners have long awaited Joey’s response to the recent trends of police brutality and systematic racism. The hip-hop world is perhaps most eager to see how Joey would respond to the controversial election of Donald Trump. Joey makes it abundantly clear that as a young black man, the forces of racism and corruption constantly try to bring him down, but it is imperative to fight back against these oppressive forces. Some could argue that Joey only really scratches the surface of this issue, failing to provide a unique, unheard perspective about the development of systematic racism and how it affects him on an individual level. Of course Joey’s message is a vitally important one, but the album can definitely sound repetitive at times, leaving something more profound to be desired and diminishing the importance of Joey’s political message.

The good news for Joey is that thematic depth may be the only weakness of All-Amerikkkan Bada$$. There is almost no filler on the album, as every track seems to have a purpose, both sonically and with its overall focus. In my personal listening experience, this is one of few rap albums where I’m not at all inclined to skip any songs on a listen-through. There is a ton of variety in terms of both sound and content on the album. While “Temptation” tells Joey’s story of resisting oppression in a calm and collected fashion over a silky, upbeat melody, tracks like “Babylon” are ominous and aggressive, really exemplifying Joey’s passion for his subject matter and emphasizing his message. Joey spits one of the hardest bars on the record when he yells, “Turn on to CNN, look at what I see again/It’s another black man, died at the white hand of justice/To tell the truth, man, I’m f*ckin’ disgusted.” Even the lead single from the album, “Devastated,” which has been criticized for sounding too directionless and mainstream, is a catchy song that should help Joey appeal to a wider audience. While tracks like “Babylon” overwhelm the listener with both excitement and anger, it’s often nice to have less complex and more slow-paced songs like “Devastated” on the record to give listeners a chance to digest the other loaded tracks.

It’s difficult to give an overview about the album’s overall sound and production, mainly because it varies greatly throughout the album. The first half definitely sounds more mainstream than the second half does, which may upset hardcore Joey fans who want only the grimy, vintage sound they got on 1999. Still, the production on the first three tracks is crisp and smooth, incorporating elements of jazz and blues while still sounding polished and modern. The intro track, “Good Morning Amerikkka,” eases the listener into things and prepares them for what quickly becomes a more fast-paced and aggressive album.

The middle to late portion of the record is harder and grimier, offering far more aggressive criticisms of the state of politics, culture and the rap game. The track “Rockabye Baby,” which features an excellent appearance by L.A. rapper ScHoolboy Q is brutal and aggressive. It reflects on the rough pre-fame backgrounds of Joey and Q, providing a first-hand account of how American society has continually kept black people down. With the production of long-time Joey collaborators Kirk Knight, Chuck Strangers and Statik Selektah, the album sounds raw yet refined, balancing Joey’s lyrical aggression with smoother, soulful beats in the background. The album has extraordinarily smooth and catchy production, which at this point is to be expected from Joey and his team of New York producers. And while All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ sometimes fails to delve deeply into the issues of racism that Joey so vehemently opposes, the album is a necessary step for Joey in order to advance his career and start rapping about mainstream, politically charged issues.

Will Widmann is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]