Joey Bada$$ is a serious contender for rap album of the year
Brooklyn based rapper continues his sonic evolution on his socially conscious sophomore album
Album: ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
Artist: Joey Bada$$
Label: Cinematic Music Group/Pro Era Records
Release: April 7
When Joey Bada$$ released the lead single to his new albumon Inauguration Day earlier this year, it was obvious what direction he would take on his sophomore album.
On that track, titled “Land of the Free,” Joey raps about mass incarceration, still having the last name of his slave owners and that there are “three K’s, two A’s in America.”
His fearless new album ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ (A.A.B.A.) follows that same lead. Ten of the album’s 12 songs address the state of race relations in America head on. In no way does Joey hide his feelings or views on issues such as police brutality, government corruption and systematic racism.
In the past, Joey has rarely switched up his style from 1990s-influenced boom-bap instrumentals and gritty flows. On such an angry, political album, you would expect him to continue that trend, but on A.A.B.A. he shows more versatility and musical evolution than ever before.
For the first time in his career, Joey’s sound is prioritized just as much as his lyrics.
In the album’s first half, he addresses issues in society from a more meditative perspective, calmly pointing out issues and hypocrisy over a series of melodic instrumentals with catchy hooks. Joey sings every hook himself and proves that he can actually carry a tune, something he has not shown much of in the past.
The album’s second half pulsates with anger, aggressive flows and dark instrumentals. The last six songs will likely make some listeners uncomfortable, which is the intention. With every song that passes, the album gets darker and darker.
The project’s last song, “AMERIKKKAN IDOL,” will be one of the year’s most controversial, polarizing songs. Over six minutes and the longest on the album, the song builds for over three minutes with Joey rapping about dead presidents, painting the White House all black and warning that he is “about to spaz out.”
Finally, with the latter three minutes left in the song, Joey repeatedly says “you leave me no choice, I’m ‘bout to bring noise, I’ve got to fill this void, I’ve got to be the voice.”
The song and album end on a long spoken-word verse that has to be heard to be believed. Many people will disagree with Joey as he speaks about the government trying to “start a Civil War” between blacks and whites, but whether or not you agree is beside the point.
The point is that on the song, and the entire album, Joey bares his soul. It is music in its purest, most powerful form. You can truly feel the desperation and passion in Joey’s voice on every track. This is a rare modern rapper who wants to use his platform to make a difference, and has the skill and intelligence to do so.
The album is clearly constructed in a very thoughtful way. At 12 songs and 49 minutes, it is concise and direct to the point. The album’s melodic first half begins on a song called “GOOD MORNING AMERIKKKA,” and its dark second half begins on a song called “ROCKABYE BABY.”
The production throughout is impeccable. Joey mostly forgoes big name producers that he has worked with in the past and instead uses his closest collaborators from his “Pro Era” collective.
This includes Chuck Strangers, Kirk Knight, 1-900 and Powers Pleasant. Statik Selektah, Joey’s tour DJ and an East Coast legend, also gets two beats on the project.
The result is an album that sounds just as close to its artist’s soul as its themes are. Joey even gets his first ever credit as an executive producer. It’s obvious he was more involved in every aspect of production than ever before, and the result is his most coherent project by far.
It is Joey’s most complex album to date, but oddly also his most commercially viable. There are multiple songs with a legitimate chance to be radio hits. “TEMPTATION” and “FOR MY PEOPLE” are two of the catchiest songs of Joey’s career, as he sings melodic choruses before breaking into verses that are politically conscious but light enough to not offend anyone.
The 10th song, “BABYLON,” features reggae artist Chronixx and may be the most powerful song on the album. It begins with a catchy hook that sounds like it belongs on the album’s lighter first half, but then the beat drops and Joey goes in on two of the album’s best, most rage-filled verses.
“Fifty years later still see my brothers choked to death / R.I.P. to Eric Garner, only right I show respect / Nowadays they hangin’ us, by a different tree / Branches of the government, I can name all three,” he raps angrily on the song’s second verse.
At age 22, Joey is really coming into his own as a rapper and thinker. In A.A.B.A., he has made the best rap album of the year so far, and the best project of his career.
This one will be dissected and listened to for years to come.
Michael Akelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org