Written by Edward Langley
Sophomore albums are never going to be easy. Especially if you’re like Joey Badas$$, and your debut was already next-level. B4DA$$ was, well, is a classic. It was a near perfect debut from one of hip-hops most talented young MCs, a treasure trove of tunes from hits à la Paper Trails to deeper cuts like Escape 120 and Curry Chicken. From start to finish (aside from the dodgier bonus tracks) what keeps B4DA$$ uniformly great is the fact that the songs are polished but raw, jazzy and soul-tinged but dark and gritty. Its this yin-yang that makes the album so fresh and interesting. Taking inspiration from the artists he admires like MF DOOM and Nas, the then 20 year old put out a record that’s lyrically as mature as his elder idols as well as being sonically diverse. So yeah, expectations were high before Joey dropped his new album, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$.
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is a bold step from the first album. If B4DA$$ was Joey displaying what he was capable of, this new album is him sending a message: “Music is a form of expression, I’ma use mine just to teach you a lesson” he raps in the second track For My People. The album is politically charged from the start, with Trump references scattered throughout. Police violence and racism are the main issues Joey tackles, with the track Temptation opening with the sample of a nine-year-old girl, Zianna Oliphant, who made a speech following the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by police in North Carolina. The production on the album is strong, opening the album is Good Morning AmeriKKKa which adds bright chords to sunny synths giving the album an uplifting start that continues throughout the album. In fact the instrumentals on some songs don’t sound far removed from songs that might have been on Coloring Book. Despite the seriousness of Joey’s message, instead of making it seem dark and apocalyptic he manages to keep the music positive. His message isn’t to be afraid but to keep your head up and carry on smiling.
The singles that dropped before its release are some of the real bangers of the album. Land of the Free packs tonnes of knowledge into the hook alone, and its a catchy hook that has chart appeal without being trash (a rarity). Similarly Devastated has definite club potential, but the standout of the singles has got to be Rockabye Baby with Schoolboy Q. This track has the two rappers spitting over what could pass for a vintage Wu-Tang beat, a dusty piano loop which sees them flex lyrically and finesse their flows: “Feel like Ali in his prime, As-Salaam-Alaikum, alaikum salaam”.
Fans of Joey’s previous work should get excited at this point in the album as its from here to the end where his more familiar style comes on show; if the first half is trying out new ideas the second half is chucking a bone to the fans. Ring the Alarm is a prime example, the production sounds like some Yeezus mixed up with Viktor Vaughn and has Joey and his fellow Beast Coast pals Kirk Knight, Meechy Darko and Nyck Caution complaining about the state of rap and what they see to be poor lyricism. Super Predator, which is presumably a reference to Hillary Clinton’s old comments that came back to bite her, has a hypnotic instrumental with dreamy keys peppered by a saxophone that manages to sound eerie and as if it came out of some old spy film.
My personal favourite beat on this album has got to be Babylon which features reggae artist Chronixx, its just the drums on this song and then the brass sample that’s too smooth. Mmm… Just listen to it and you can almost taste the drums sizzling away in your mouth. Perhaps that’s just me but seriously this song is dope af. But its the last song on the album, Amerikkkan Idol, that will be considered one of the best of Joey’s career so far owing to its sheer urgency. Directing his message at young people, he proclaims “Justice won’t be served by a hashtag”, after accusing the government of trying to start a race war. Its raw intensity and glitchy production ties up the album with a compelling finish.
Overall verdict is this album is very strong. Joey saves the best material for towards the end of the album, but its a solid listen throughout. Only time will tell whether it exceeds B4DA$$, my opinion is that it probably won’t but that’s more because B4DA$$ is such a classic than because this album has any major shortcomings. Although this album is a product of its time and its message is aimed at those living in the present, it already sounds like a timeless record and makes an impressive addition to Joey’s discography.
Favourite tracks: Land of the Free, Rockabye Baby, Super Predator, Babylon, Amerikkkan Idol