For Brooklyn, New York hip-hop prodigy Joey Bada$$ staying woke extends far beyond social media clichés; it’s the only way he knows how to live. Standing firm in his beliefs of a fair and just homeland, Joey Bad matures from rap phenomenon to black-power ambassador. All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$, his sophomore full-length studio album, is a powerful, passionate artistic statement that uplifts and invigorates a historically oppressed people — his people. The story of the young, black American has been told across numerous generations in numerous variations. In that sense, this is more of the same. However, by no means is this album a humdrum black empowerment vignette that blends in with the crowd. Recent comparisons to YG’s Still Brazy or Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly can be made, but this release, backed by Joey’s supreme lyrical technique and responsibly rebellious essence, is positively chilling and cohesive to the core.
Concisely strung together and politically emphatic, All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ gives listeners the keys to Joey’s heart as he spits his most earnest verses to date. These 12 tracks illustrate the agony, resentment, and hopeful truths Joey holds so dearly. “This just the way I feel / Mind’s been racing so long, yeah / There’s just no way to deal / With these problems alone,” the emcee raps on the inspirational third track “Temptation”. There are almost too many perspective-altering lines on this to measure. I’ll start with the album’s lead single “Land of the Free”. As his words skate across the mellow guitar and funk-styled synth, Joey chooses to rap a mile in the shoes of those with little to no voice in this country. He chooses to ask the tough questions. On the mid-album interrogative “Y U Don’t Love Me (Miss AmeriKKKa)” he takes the place of the struggling, everyday black man in America, asking those in power “Why you always misjudge me? / Why you always put so many things above me? / Why you lead me to believe that I’m ugly? / Why you never trust me?” What must black people do so that albums like this, however inspiring and progressive they may be, don’t have to come out?
Although a well-covered and sometimes harsh reality, being black in America has never quite had a smooth transition into normalcy. Because there are countless hashtags, protests, and articles across all sources of media surrounding the maltreatment of blacks, the realistic livelihoods of our men and women in this country become labeled as solutionless quarrels with no real end in sight. Joey Bada$$ is having none of that, though. After 50 minutes of sonic protest, his message can feel a bit preachy. All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ clearly does not relate to all. Nevertheless, what this album represents (cultural unity, resisting unfair authority, truthful conviction) embodies the spirit of those that came before Joey — ancestors and emcees alike. MC Ren, Biggie Smalls, Nas, Kanye West; he reaches back into hip-hop’s yesteryears to expose the lies that stain the actualities of his people today. This is ponder music, not party music. Though this album has a hard time positioning itself outside of personal headphones, remember this: What is relevant may not always be important, but what is important will always be relevant.