Joey Bada$$, that Boom Bap 90s dude from the Pro Era collective, finally drops his second album “All-Amerikkkan Badass”, the follow-up to 2015’s “B4.Da.$$”. This is the second studio album from Joey and typically, a sophomore LP is out to prove an artist’s growth and maturity, and with “All Amerikkkan Bada$$” Jozif Badmon kind of does that. There’s no more dusty old-school beats for instance, there’s hardly any scratches either (aside from “Ring The Alarm”) with this LP there’s a distinct feeling that Joey is trying to move to pastures anew.
This moving away from golden era sounds is probably calculated since I’ve heard Joey Bada$$ say in an interview that he doesn’t want his music to be “put in a box”, but that being said this album is so wanting to be political that it’s hard not to label it as anything but a political Hip-Hop album. This is a release that is even touted by the media as a political or conscious Hip-Hop LP, but for every bit of progression and inserting of messages, for me there’s something missing, something that made Joey’s previous mixtapes and album stand out from the crowd. This missing element isn’t about style however, it’s more to do with lyrical content, for me “All-Amerikkkan Bada$$” has a feeling of going one step forward and one step back.
Cast your minds back to the noughties for a second, for most people it was a shitty time, post-9/11 America was a shambles politically, economically, and socially. The post-millennial world had so much wrong with it, not just in foreign countries but in America too, but many MCs including pretty much all the mainstream rappers were busy rapping about cars, rims, and bitches than to be bothered with society’s ills. Many rappers back then could also be seen wearing and waving the American flag, some even refused to comment on war or denounce the government but for the past few years, all of a sudden “being political” has become a safe and acceptable thing to do. It’s in this climate that Joey Bada$$ drops his second album, a time where everyone openly hates the government, the president, the police, everyone is aware of discrimination, inequality, and war. With people on the same wavelength and such widespread convergence of ideas, it’s hard for a Hip-Hop album to sound uniquely political and that’s where “All-Amerikkkan Bada$$” falters a little.
How can you stand out and sound distinctive when almost everyone agrees with you? The thing about political Hip-Hop from N.W.A. and Public Enemy all the way to Ras Kass, dead prez, and Immortal Technique is that these rappers distinguished themselves from the mainstream by saying something nobody else was willing to say. The difference between them and Joey Bada$$ is that this album is exactly what people want him to say; fuck the police, fuck the government, fuck Donald Trump, it’s all present in this LP but these statements are slowly becoming clichés in contemporary society. Saying “fuck the police” anywhere outside of the 80s is commonplace, these days F.T.P. sounds like someone ordering coffee, nobody bats an eyelid any more.
That’s not to say this album and its point of view is false in any way, it isn’t for instance a Pepsi/Kendall Kardashian exercise in exploitation for profit, rather it’s more like a Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly-type, safe-protest music – a political point of view that is already part of the public’s collective thought. So whilst staying on the right side of the status quo and like a check-list of contemporary platitudes, this album contains the following; anti-Donald Trump sentiment, anti-Police sentiment, anti-media sentiment, comments on the Prison Industrial Complex, comments about pollution, hell there’s even Eastern greetings such as “Namaste” and “As-Salaam-Alaikum” included. Now of course something like “Fuck Donald Trump” needs to be said but it feels a little late in the game, this is a time where almost the entire entertainment industry is saying almost the same thing, this is nothing unique or controversial any more. In addition, sometimes you begin to glaze over with all the political contrivances on this LP, you hear senator this and president that without hearing anything new, or dare I say it, deeply meaningful? For me, there’s a feeling of just a generalised and sanitised overview of dissent – “look at the generic struggle someone or everyone is going through right now” the album seems to say.
This is empowerment but with a friendly, mainstream appealing sound; a blend of contemporary production with occasional Jazzy elements, basically tonnes of crossover appeal whilst maintaining credibility, in some ways a perfect second album from a once underground rapper. For me, the style of this LP is sometimes too upbeat and friendly, so much so that at times the production sounds at odds with the sentiment. The album is like a lounge act dabbling in Political Hip-Hop music, occasionally throwing in Pop-friendly sounds the listener’s way in order to soothe any potential anger. That being said, “A.A.B.A” flows pretty well from beginning to end, much better than Joey’s début. As a whole this LP is better constructed than his previous offering, it doesn’t for example contain any obvious bad songs. There are a few moments of mediocrity here and there; there’s a lacklustre chorus in “For My People”, a Poppy, Prince-esque, even Disco-esque style to “Temptation”, and the chorus of “Babylon” (“I’m running away, I can’t cope with the pain”) is sang badly and even sports a corny falsetto bit (I think Chronixx should have been left to deal with the hook on his own). Having said that, as a whole, the album works well, these Pop elements continue throughout the album but they’re well disguised and blended-in so as not to jar with you like the song “Teach Me” did in “B4.Da.$$”. “Devastated” for instance is a song I absolutely detested last year because of its Hip-Pop style, but it does fit well into this album rather than as a stand-alone single (the chorus however is still too mainstream for my tastes). These Pop tracks are offset by songs like “Rockabye Baby” and “Ring The Alarm” (more to my taste) so things balance out a little, but the “radio-friendly” stuff slightly overpowers the semi-hardcore joints.
Sometimes, the overtly mainstream feel and lack of a genuine left-field and out there opinion leaves “All Ameikkkan Badass” with a feeling of conformity. Hip-Hop, especially political Hip-Hop used to feel dangerous back in the day but now with this LP, even black power sounds conventional. This is partly due to the production, partly due to Joey’s lyrics and persona, but it also has to do with timing, someone like Crank Lucas for example already said what needed to be said around eight months ago and managed to compress it into one song-slash-freestyle.
Speaking of conformity and conventional sounds, there’s also the convention of “white man versus black man” present in this album… what, there’s no other minority being discriminated against? The thing that would have made this album not only unique but dragged Hip-Hop kicking and screaming into the twenty first century, is a condemnation of all prejudices and a coming together of all demographics who are currently being oppressed. But alas there’s a constant “black male only” angst from “Land Of The Free”, “Babylon”, “Legendary” to “Amerikkkan Idol”. If for instance you listen to “Land Of The Free”, it seems as though the music video director is making more of the song than the actual lyrics – the only place there’s other minorities is in this video…
For me, Joey also comes close to wearing out the “KKK” title concept; either have it on all the tracks or one, not three. This is another element of the LP that feels safe in contemporary society, likening America to the Ku Klux Klan was first done by Ice Cube and then Spice-1, but after the early-to-mid nineties this too became a trite thing to insert into Hip-Hop music. Of course “All AmeriKKKan Bada$$” is released on the 5th anniversary of fellow Pro Era member Capital Steez’ début mixtape which was titled “AmeriKKKan Korruption”. To follow in the footsteps of the late, great Steez, Joey has incorporated the “KKK” from Capital’s mixtape into the title of this album so this is less of an old and conventional concept and more of a tribute to a departed friend.
All this criticism aside, I have to point out that as a complete project, this album works well, I didn’t find myself hovering over the “next track” button, it was all very pleasant to listen to. One of the stand-out tracks for me is “Amerikkkan Idol” in which Joey showcases a great flow and delivery. There’s also a fantastic lyric in this song; “I’m out for dead presidents to represent me, ’cause I never knew a live one that represent me” which makes a brilliant reference to the old-school and makes a great modern addition to the classic Nas lyric. Joey even goes a little “spoken word” on the last half of the song, but just as he gets rabble-rousing the song and the album ends.
Now it might seem like I’m being too harsh in this review; political statements need to be made, things need to be said, this generation of rappers need to make their mark and say what they feel just like MCs did back in the 80s and 90s. I get all that. But it still remains a fact that for the most part this LP treads old-school ground at every step. This is unfortunate and easily avoidable especially when at times Joey proves he can elevate commonplace opinions into something rebellious and memorable. For instance he evokes the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the Police in the song “Babylon” where he raps; “You’re certain he ain’t breathing, you made it clear, fuck your breath nigger [you] don’t even deserve air” which is the best lyric on the LP in my opinion. If Joey Bada$$ made an entire album of creative and genuinely anarchic statements like this, “All Amerikkkan Bada$$” would have quite easily been a 9/10 or even a 10/10, but as it stands, despite it being consistent and well structured, this I have to say is an overall conventional release. Yes it’s better than Joey’s début but it’s still far from being the classic album we all want him to make (and deep down know he can make).
The Era of the Progressives.