Two years ago BITM awarded Joey's debut album B4.DA.$$ our highest praise as it was the first album to receive the elusive 5 tapes rating, so naturally Badmon had his work cut out for him to impress us even further this go 'round. One huge concern I had going in was the direction Joey would take, as he has kinda been lumped into the ever-shrinking pile of boom-bap rappers trying to rekindle that 90s New York flavor. His first mixtape 1999 was pure in that regard, and stellar in its own right. B4.DA.$$ remained in a similar lane for the most part, but he dipped his toe in uncharted waters on a few tracks with "Escape 120" and "Teach Me." These risks proved that Joey had the ability to branch out of his comfort zone and break up the monotony of an album sounding like a 1999 retread. It also opened the door for him to take his next album in any direction he saw fit without fear of rejection from his hardcore fanbase.
Much like Kendrick's To Pimp a Butterfly, and Tribe's We got it from Here...Thank You for your service, Joey's All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ is therapy for the urban community that's still looking for answers. Badmon might be a couple years late to the party, but the wounds are far from healed. "What's freedom to you? Think about it, take a minute, think it through." This line kicks the album off as a direct shot at how society continues to enslave us through fear and oppression. The track sets the tone for the entire album, and Joey holds no punches pouring his heart out for his people on the aptly named "For My People," as well on "Temptation," which includes a heart-wrenching snippet from Zianna Oliphant, a girl from Charlotte, North Carolina who was brave enough to give an emotional plea against police brutality to the Charlotte City Council back in September.
The lead single "Devastated," which dropped way back in May 2016 (why, Joey, why?) was a more of an intrapersonal journey with Joey wondering why he hadn't fully blown up yet despite all the hard work he had put into all of his music up to that point. The irony with this is, the accessible trap vibes on this track had all the makings of a radio smash and would have easily helped skyrocket All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ to new heights had there not been such an enormous gap between them. The other two singles "Land of the Free" and "Rockabye Baby" aren't nearly as digestible for the uninitiated, but serve as the songs that define the tale of two halves on this album. The first 6 songs are like the calm before the storm for the culture, with the stellar "Y U Don't Love Me? (Miss AmeriKKKa)" serving as an amalgamation of all the questions plaguing our community.
"Tell me why you don't love me? Why you always misjudge me? Why you always put so many things above me? Why you lead me to believe that I'm ugly, why you never trust me? Why you treat me like I don't matter? Why you always kickin my ladder? Why you never hearing my side to the story? Never look me in my eyes to say sorry."
The second half of the album is the rebellion. All of Joey's pent-up aggression comes pouring out in a fit of calculated rage across the next 4 songs. From "Rockabye Baby" with an impressive feature from ScHoolboy Q, to the super charged "Ring The Alarm" and "Babylon," there are no shortages of hay makers from Joey Bada$$ as he attempts to offer solutions to the issues mentioned throughout the earlier parts of the album. The sound fittingly returns to more familiar territory for Badmon on these songs as he spits over amazingly produced boom-bap-inspired beats from his in-house team at ProEra who provide the most notable contributions. Statik Selektah even lends an assist on "Super Predator" ft. Styles P, which, similar to Joey's earlier work, sounds like it was ripped directly from 1995. Statik's production on "Legendary" ft. J. Cole cools things off a bit and offers the simple message of "Legends they never die, them niggaz only multiply," saying that no matter how hard you beat us down, you'll never take our creativity from us. The only problem with this song is Cole's verse, as it clearly sounds "bought." Other than that, this track lives up to its name. It also helps ease the listener into the album's final track "AmeriKKKan Idol" where Joey basically claims he needs to continue to be the voice for his people moving forward as we navigate our way through this divided minefield we call America.
Purists who only crave that boom-bap will take umbridge with most of this album as it may come across as too melodic, preachy, and political for those too shallow to absorb the message. Despite this, one thing I praise Joey for more than anything is the fact the music itself is still amazing despite its subject matter. His choice for production across the board is simply fantastic. The smooth vibe heard throughout the album makes it so that All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ can be enjoyed as both a casual record to ride out to in the whip, as well as an enlightening and empowering experience if you choose to delve deeper into the bars. Joey Bada$$ has truly taken that next evolutionary step in his career and it's great to see that not only has he broken free from his own musical confines, he's officially proven he can produce a different sound across the majority of an album without sacrificing his integrity as an artist.