Written by: TC
Still just 22 years old, Joey Badass is already a five year veteran in the rap game. Starting back in high school, he got his start in the Brooklyn based Pro Era collective which sought to restore the essence of 90s NY hiphop. Joey was first heard on Capital STEEZ’s w mixtape in April 2012 and later released his own debut mixtape Waves later that summer. Joey became pretty well known amongst fans of 90s revivalism while some people felt he was too limited to that spectrum of hiphop. Since then, he has released a few more mixtapes as well as his debut B4DA$$ which was released two years ago. Each release has given him a slight rise in notoriety but he still has yet to breakthrough to the mainstream and while this album is solid, I don’t see it being his crossover record either.
In a recent radio interview, Joey compares All Amerikkkan Badass to vegetables in an era of candy music. To him, his peers are creating disposable music with not much value while he seeks to provide musical nourishment. While I understand his sentiment, I can’t fully agree with his statement. Just from the title, you know that Joey has a lot to say about the state of this nation. It serves as both a reference to Ice Cube’s legendary debut album as well as to the main group that represent this country’s legacy of white supremacy. Most of the tracks on this album overtly mention oppression, police violence and how America still treats black people as second class citizens. Numerous songs mention police brutality, police injustice, police murder. For an artist who is still seeking mainstream success, it’s a powerful topic that he continues to address and explore throughout most of the album. A topic that we all know is an everyday threat to black men around the country as evidenced by the recent murder of 15 year old Jordan Edwards in Dallas. I do applaud Joey for shedding light on this disturbing reality that millions of us face daily. However, he falls somewhat short when he speaks more of racism in America. While he goes into great detail regarding the threat that black people face and the disrespect that is given on a daily basis, I feel that he could have gone into greater detail about how institutional it is. Joey himself was raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn to Caribbean parents. Flatbush, Crown Heights and the surrounding areas have been undergoing and struggling with gentrification for close to a decade at this point. This gentrification divides neighborhoods, erases culture and displaces long time residents. As a son of Brooklyn, I would have liked to hear more of his thoughts on that phenomenon and how it affects him and people close to him. Also I feel he could have diversified his message and the delivery of it. He is very direct and plain spoken but perhaps he could have offered examples or gave the listeners actual accounts of how racism has affected him or his friends and family directly. By failing to do so, the racism he excoriates on record basically becomes a faceless boogieman, a monster under the bed.
As far as the music goes, Joey does a solid job of escaping some of the retro leanings that have dated some of his work. It’s no secret that Joey is very influenced by 90s New York MCs, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, some of his previous work was a little too beholden to its influences….perhaps a bit too reverential. On this album, he manages to take his love for that era and update it sonically. Most of the production is handled by Kirk Knight, Powers Pleasant and Static Selektah. While most of the beats are still boom bap derived, the sounds that are used aren’t the dusty, played out breakbeats and samples. There’s more of the punchiness of modern day production included in the mix which helps keep the record from being just another throwback style record. Tempo wise, most of the tracks are pretty midtempo and steady. I feel a couple more up-tempo tracks would have helped the variance. I’m not saying he needs to have Metro Boomin style bangers with crazy 808s but maybe a few tracks with more bass and energy would have kicked things up a bit. As far as Joey’s vocal performance, his delivery is a little more forceful than the usual laidback style of his previous releases. He spits with more energy and vigor, most likely because he is passionate about the topics that he is rapping about. His wordplay is still a bit lackluster as are his rhyme schemes. They’re still above average but you’re not going to be reaching for the rewind button or talking to your homies about all the dope quotables you heard on it. Amongst the featured MCs are Schoolboy Q, Styles P and J Cole. To be honest, none of the three really add much to the song that they are featured on. The only feature that really hits for me is “Ring the Alarm” with fellow Pro Era MCs Kirk Knight, Meechy Darko and Nyck Caution. That track sounds like a group of friends in a cypher just going for broke. The other ones just seem like attempts to have a big name on a song. Another standout song is “Babylon” which offers a little of the Caribbean flavor that honestly is missing in a lot of Joey’s work. I wish he would investigate that side of his sound a little more because I really feel it works for him and represents who he is.
All in all, All Amerikkkan Badass is a very solid record, both musically and vocally. It’s a record that a lot of listeners aren’t going to necessarily put in heavy rotation mostly due to the heavy subject matter. Joey is right, we do live in a disposable era. A lot of music is just a form of escapism for the listener. We do want to hear about the jewelry, money and hoes. After living thru the daily struggle and seeing the worst that man can do, a lot of folks don’t want to listen to music describing that struggle. It’s unfortunate but I can understand why it is. That being said, I don’t see this record doing much to really advance Joey’s career towards mainstream success, but it doesn’t really feel like he made this record for that purpose. He had something important, he said it and that’s good enough for him. I applaud him for that.