No one expected a rapper with just one full studio album to his name to drop one of the most politically charged albums of 2017 thus far.
But Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ may have done just that with the release of his second full album Friday.
The album “ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$,” as suggested in the title, sets out to provide a harsh critique on the current state of American culture and politics. Joey Bada$$, a rapper known for his lyrical prowess, uses punchy words and flowing rhymes to fill each track with passionate criticism of America.
In “AMERIKKKAN IDOL,” Joey Bada$$ raps, “What the government is doin’ amongst our people is downright evil / Disturbin’, but not surprisin’, that’s for certain.” The abrasive lyrics set the tone for the rest of the album, which is filled with similar shock-value stanzas.
Most listeners would expect an album that spends the majority of its time raising questions about racism, inequality and distrust in the government to accompany its songs with a dark and angry tone. But Joey Bada$$ does the opposite, juxtaposing heated topics with bright songs and melodies.
The album’s first track, “GOOD MORNING AMERIKKKA,” features a live bass, warm keyboard and clapping rhythm that together form the core of the driving beat. Joey Bada$$ addresses hard-hitting ideas of embracing freedom and calling out America’s racial injustices in the album’s introduction, saying he’s “waitin’ for the day the big homie take these chains off me.”
On “FOR MY PEOPLE,” the 22-year-old rapper continues the theme of contrasting his songs’ topics with their positive tones as he soulfully sings, “This for my people / Tryna stay alive and just stay peaceful.” Later, in the second verse, he details how a friend was driven to buy a gun out of his own fear of the police. But despite such a grim image, he continues singing about staying strong despite seeing his friends consumed with fear.
Although the buoyancy of his musical melodies infuses a sense of hopefulness into the album, the quality of the criticism he sets out to make is not sacrificed.
The album’s second single, “LAND OF THE FREE,” ruthlessly criticizes the American government for turning its citizens into soldiers, and even calls out President Donald Trump by name for not being ready to lead the country.
In the song’s second verse, he blames the American government for being corrupt and causing the mass incarceration of African American citizens, saying, “Trickery in the system, put my n—– in prison / All our history hidden, ain’t no liberty given.” In his lyrics, Joey Bada$$ sets out to expose the injustices he sees and hold those with power accountable.
The album not only demonstrates his desire to tackle pressing issues in American society, but also showcases his immense and unmatched talent as a lyricist and poet in each song.
In “ROCKABYE BABY,” Joey Bada$$ experiments with internal rhymes that create a jarring flow within the song. In one verse, he raps, “Feel like Ali in his prime / As-Salaam-Alaikum, alaikum salaam / Peace to my Slimes, and peace to my Crips.”
He also weaves Arabic phrases and Jamaican slang seamlessly into the song, using different languages to further his message of unity.
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ScHoolboy Q’s feature in the song is the album’s most energetic moment; he sings an angry tirade during a verse that leaves him breathless. The animosity in Q’s lyrics stands out against the hopeful tone Joey Bada$$ established with the album, but serves as a much needed release of tension.
The album does have shortcomings, but they only minimally diminish the whole product. The track “DEVASTATED” feels both thematically and musically out of place within the politically conscious album. The song deals with the rapper’s complicated relationship with fame, and musically features a very slow, trudging beat. The song was released in May 2016 and feels like it belongs to an entirely different project.
Likewise, “LEGENDARY,” the album’s penultimate song, features a J. Cole verse that feels uninspiring and flat.
Cole’s verse on the album is delivered with a notable lack of energy that leave the North Carolina native’s verse feeling lazy against Joey Bada$$’s passionate raps. For being a big name, Cole fails to achieve anything near the quality one would expect.
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Despite the minor flaws, Joey Bada$$’s album on the whole does not fail to impress. For an artist so young to tackle such serious issues but still leave the listener with a sense of hope is nothing short of stunning and unexpected.