Album Review: All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ and a new era of hip hop

Co-authored by Lucca Sturari.


Context


Joey Bada$$ morphs into a political commentator in ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, his second album.

It is no secret around the world that the headlines in the United States have been dominated by politics recently. Ever since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, public figures are increasingly coming out to oppose the tycoon-turned-president. This includes hip hop artists.

One of the biggest gripes many people have with Trump’s modus operandi are the heavy racial undertones. Trump’s career has blotched by discrimination,, be it allegations of racism in the 90s or his apparent initial refusal to denounce the support of white supremacist groups. Bada$$ addresses these criticisms in ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ (emphasis on “KKK”) in what, at its very core, is a very heavy and topical album.

Hip hop has always been defined by eras. The 80s were the “golden age,” represented by a diverse arsenal of topics. The 90s were key in making hip hop mainstream through the rise of gangsta rap and the East Coast vs. West Coast rivalry with 2Pac and Biggie Smalls at the forefront. The 2000s saw a small decline, with artists like Eminem and Jay Z peaking, but others like Souija Boy and Lil Wayne not maintaining the momentum. More recently, in the mid-2010s, mumble rap and trap music have surfaced as popular alternatives. Now, with such a politically-charged atmosphere, the hip hop world could be entering into a new era of music.

This new wave of music will be defined by relevant political tones, as is the case in ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ and other recent hip hop projects like Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart Part 4” or Eminem’s “Campaign Speech.”

This discussion can be crisp like the name of the album or lyrics on “LAND OF THE FREE” (“And Donald Trump is not equipped to take this country over”), or subtle like the personification of the U.S. as a cruel lover in “Y U DON’T LOVE ME? (MISS AMERIKKKA).”


Top hits


Here are the Underground Flux’s four best songs from ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$:

For My People

Joey Bada$$ takes a stance for the black community in “FOR MY PEOPLE.” With the influence that he has a mainstream rapper, the Brooklyn-based artist feels that he can make a difference (“Who will take a stand and be our hero, of my people, yeah?”).

Bada$$ raps over a funky beat distinct from the more gangsta beats in the latter half of A.A.B.A. A highlight from the song is when Joey references Superman in the second verse to discuss the improbability of him making it big.

Look up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane
No, it’s the young black god livin’ out his dreams

He compares the unlikeliness of Superman to how difficult it is to for a black man to fulfill his dreams.

Though “FOR MY PEOPLE” differs from the sounds listeners are accustomed to getting from Joey Bada$$, it’s a nice change of pace that is coupled with an inspiring message.

Temptation

“TEMPTATION” was one of the best tracks from A.A.B.A. because of its upbeat chorus and harmonic instrumentals. The beat, produced by Kirk Knight, made this song extremely fun to listen to. It makes you want to get up and dance.

The choir vocals in the last 30 seconds or so of the song brought a new aspect to the song. Additionally, the little girl speaking about how destructive racism gave the song a more emotional sense. From the touching message to the uptempo instrumentals, “TEMPTATION” is definitely a recommendable listen.

Rockabye Baby (feat. Schoolboy Q)

“ROCKABYE BABY” was initially released eight days before A.A.B.A. came out to give the listeners a flavor of what would await them. The 90s gangster-type of instrumental with heavy piano sounds and perfectly-timed drums definitely caught the listeners’ attention from the start.

Schoolboy Q’s verses and flow as the beat played sounded amazing. Joey’s verses about a revolution, defying Donald Trump, and the struggles of black people were not mindblowing, but were solid enough.

Babylon (feat. Chronixx)

Joey Bada$$ channels his Jamaican heritage to compare the current state of the U.S. to the Jamaican slang word “Babylon,” meaning an oppressive force.

For this track, Joey enlists the help of Jamaican reggae singer Chronixx. Chronixx’s verse is mostly in Jamaican patois, which adds a different flavor to what A.A.B.A. had been up to “Babylon.” He denounces the U.S. being the land of the free, and also uses Babylon as a double entendre (the Jamaican meaning of the word and the city seen in the Hebrew Bible) when saying that the mistreated black community should run to Mount Zion (a better place).

“Babylon” features one of the most incendiary lines in A.A.B.A. when Joey references the murder of Eric Garner (“He ain’t breathin’, you made it clear / ‘Fuck your breath, nigga,’ don’t even deserve air”).

Bada$$ is terrified for his fellow black brothers and sisters. While he knows that the same fate is unlikely to occur to him because of his status, he wants to take action (“Less fortunate than I, let’s formulate a plan”).


Features


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As the listener weaved through the album, several features came up. Including top-notch rappers like J. Cole, Schoolboy Q, and Styles P.

The first feature was on “ROCKABYE BABY” with TDE rapper Schoolboy Q. After Joey’s first verse, the beat paused and guitar strings began to play as Q narrated his violent past and lifestyle growing up in the hood. He flowed seamlessly until the beat kicked back in and he started rapping faster.

It felt as if the melody had been made especially for his gangster vocals. Q diverged from Joey’s previous mellow vocals. After a few more mentions about the unfair treatment of African-Americans and criminal violence, Schoolboy Q ended his verse. His addition to “ROCKABYE BABY” was essential, as it added the gangsta essence Joey was missing on the track.

The second feature was on “RING THE ALARM” with verses from Meechy Darko (a member of the Flatbush Zombies), Nyck Caution, and Kirk Knight. The latter not only kicked a verse towards the end of the song, but also produced the track. The first appearance was from Meechy on the bridge and the outro where he flowed through with some heavy, affirmative vocals and lyrics that carried on with Joey’s subject matter. Finally, Nick Caution and Kirk Knight alternated similar-sounding verses.

Another feature was from Dreamville rapper J. Cole in “LEGENDARY.” The production sounded like it had been especially made for Cole because of its similarities to 4 Your Eyez Only. The North Carolina-based rapper’s verses were decent, matching the topic of “LEGENDARY” and the overall theme of A.A.B.A. Cole discussed the false accomplishments of being wealthy (a recurrent theme in his own projects), some internal struggles, his faith, and other doubts about life:

Just, ride the wave, I say to myself
Find a way, the weight of my wealth
It’s honestly a lot to bear
[…]
I look at all I got like, “What’s missin’?”
God is my only guess, ’cause yes, faith relieve the stress
I find peace again when I find Him and see I’m blessed

Jamaican reggae singer Chronixx also had a feature on “BABYLON.” The notes his voice hit matched the instrumentals of the song nicely. Similar to most of the features on the album, Chronixx shared his own perspective on today’s America.

The final feature on the album was by classic New York rapper Styles P, who most recently made an appearance on Mike WiLL Made-It’s Ransom 2. He spoke about police brutality, and the destructive treatment of America’s black communities.

Overall, every feature delivered, with Schoolboy Q standing out the most. They completed their job to carry on the theme of the album by offering their own visions on the matter.


ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is a glimpse at what the future of music could look like for the next 4-8 years. While the features delivered for the most part, none were truly exceptional. In terms of production, A.A.B.A. lives up to the hype. It is absolutely impeccable.

The subject matter of the album is consistent, but one walks away with the feeling that Joey could’ve branched out into other topical areas. For those who enjoyed Bada$$’s previous projects, A.A.B.A. is very different, particularly in its first six songs. It represents a sonic evolution for Joey geared to a more mainstream audience. For those who preferred his previous style, the second half of the album starting with “ROCKABYE BABY” is more adequate.

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / 5

You can follow Wilko and Lucca on Twitter @wilko_mart_cach and @lucca_sturari respectively.

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