Bada$$ progresses from the old-school hip-hop sound he established on his mixtape (1999) and first studio work (B4.DA.$$), turning towards conscious rap with some heavy pop appeal. Early fans of Joey might find his move from his patented aggressive flow as an artistic step back. Initially, I did as well. But it’s clear that his new sound is a maturation and refinement of his previous work. Sure, he aims for the appeal of a wider audience on ALL-AMERIKKAN BADA$$, but he never sacrifices his lyrics or the music. It results in a focused project with a clear message. Sonically, the album is jazzy and uplifting, while remaining catchy. It perfectly complements what he has to say. It’s impressive to see the artistic maturity and evolution he is capable of at only 22 years old.
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ contemplates on the state of black people in America, focusing on social wrongs and the possibilities of peace in the country. Joey preaches a positive message about awareness and a state of good we can reach. He may attempt to cover too many topics, ranging from racism, police brutality, the media, and the origins of these social ailments. It’s not exactly original, but he commits the entire album to this concept and comes off incredibly thoughtful. He does not try to solve any of these issues, nor should we expect that. It’s just one man’s thoughts that he wants off his chest. Joey is engaging through his passion and relays his message’s significance through his voice. The closing track “Amerikkkan Idol” encompasses the album’s plight, accumulating into a powerful final verse. The content is focused and is one of the most lyrically impressive moments in Joey’s career.
Joey Bada$$ also showcases his technical writing skills prominently in the tracks “Land of the Free”, “Y U Don’t Love Me? (Miss Amerikkka)”, and “Babylon”. “Land of the Free” touches on his ambition to influence and create a better future. The highlight of the track appears in its bridge, “Full house on my hands, the cards I was dealt/Three K's, two A's in AmeriKKKa/I'm just a black spade spawned out the nebula/And everything I do or say today that's worthwhile/Will for sure inspire actions in your first child.”
“Y U Don’t Love Me? (Miss Amerikkka)” is one of the more interesting cuts on the record. It is framed as a love song with America as the woman. Joey uses repetition throughout his verses and the chorus to emphasize all the wrongs America has done to himself and his people. “Why you treat me like I don’t matter?/Why you always kicking my ladder?/Why you never hearing my side to the story?/Never look me in my eyes, say sorry?” “Babylon” is one the few songs where Joey really explodes, letting his aggressive and violent flow take over. Each verse showcases the best of Bada$$, the lyrics and the delivery. However, this highlights one of the issues on ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$. For most of the track listing Joey opts for a softer, higher-register flow. They are nice and fit the album’s theme, but do not play to his strengths. Joey Bada$$ differentiates himself as an emcee with his dark and raspy vocals. There are few who can match his passionate anger when he gets his voice low over a verse. (Example: “Christ Conscious” on B4.DA.$$). It would have been preferable if he brought this to the table a few more times on the album.
Musically, Joey Bada$$ assembled his catchiest and most refined set of hooks. One after another, “For My People”, “Temptatio”, “Land of the Free”, and “Devastated” all deliver excellent sounds. Joey also does a great job by carrying these choruses on his own. He sings over all four of those tracks, and it seems like he really made an effort to fine tune his voice. Definitely a welcome surprise to the record.
At about the halfway point of the album, we are finally given our first banger. “Rockabye Baby” hits hard. Heavy guitars and bass drive over a haunting piano loop for one of the most interesting instrumentals. Schoolboy Q appears as the first feature of the album and is fantastic. The next track, “Ring the Alarm”, keeps the intensity up. The piano loop paired with deep, pumping bass creates yet another strange instrumental. Meechy Darko of Flatbush Zombies is perfect over the hook.
The majority of the album has a jazzier feel with slick synths and soft drums. Both “For my People” and “Land of the Free” have a funky feel to their grooves, while “Temptation” brings on some horns and a guitar. “Babylon” is another instrumental highlight as Joey embraces his Jamaican roots with some easy sounding horns and keys. The song features reggae singer Chronixx and is another great guest performance on the project. The limited list of features including J. Cole on “Legendary”, Kirk Knight on “Ring the Alarm”, Meechy, ScHoolboy Q, and Chronixx all felt meaningful. Each was given a strong opportunity to shine with their talents. Despite all this there are some weaknesses in the music. Around the end of the record, “Super Predator”, “Legendary”, and “Amerikkkan Idol” seem to blend together instrumentally. There isn’t much differentiating them and it can begin to feel rather stale. It also does not help that the Styles P feature on “Super Predator” was underwhelming.
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is a focused and concise musical effort, featuring a solid concept and great performances across the board. Bada$$ makes noticeable improvements in both his sung hooks and song-writing. The project is aimed towards a wider pop appeal, delivering catchy rhythms and vibes without sacrificing its content and lyrics. Musically it does not fall into the common traps of pop-rap. With such a mature catalogue and noticeable progressions, it’s easy to forget Joey Bada$$ is just 22 and only on his second studio record.
Favorite Tracks: “For My People”, “Temptation”, “Land of the Free”, “Devastated”, “Rockabye Baby”, “Ring the Alarm”, “Babylon”, “Amerikkkan Idol”
Least Favorite Tracks: “Super Predator”