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First Thoughts: Joey Bada$$' 'All-Amerikkkan Bada$$'

The BK rapper turned his pain into cadence and created one of his best albums yet.

Artist // Pro Era/Cinematic Music Group

In the hours leading up to Joey Bada$$' sophomore album All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, elected U.S. president Donald Trump authorized an airstrike on Syria, firing 56 Tomahawk cruise missiles into a Syrian airbase. According to reports, this strike killed 15 people, including four children, in and around the targeted airbase. Unsurprisingly, the bombing exposed division amongst world leaders, citizens, and general public. Interestingly enough, the timing between this controversial launch and arrival of Joey's LP couldn't have created a greater talking point.

No matter what side of the fence you stand in this current political era, the polarized decision of November 8, 2016 carries on an air of uncertainty over the country. Like the earlier noted missile strike, the presidential election of 2016 exposed the dichotomy of the American society, uncovering a country divided in contentment and despair. However in disaster comes opportunity, and within this existing despair comes crisp optimism courtesy of Joey Bada$$' second studio album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$.

Echoing the societal and political commentaries of sonic mouthpieces like 2Pac's Me Against the World and Ice Cube's Amerikkka's Most Wanted, the fearless and beautiful opus explores the idea of the American Dream inside a 2017 black America.

It's been told and told again: the plight of the black man under the watchful eye of the American Dream. Between the systematic oppression and the injustice that shackles (a) people each and everyday, the harrowing realities of the black experience in America have been well documented. In 1948, revered novelist James Baldwin bought a one-way ticket to Paris, with just $40 in his pocket, to escape the prejudiced society in which he was raised. Other figures like Nina Simone and W.E.B. Du Bois, to name a few, would all famously leave the United States to avoid the harsh reality of the daily social ills. So on All Amerikkkan Bada$$, Joey turns this pain into cadence, not only creating his (and the year's) most poignant release, but arguably his best album yet.

The motive is laid out almost immediately within the opening seconds of the album, wherein Joey underlines this journey through the following words: "Free your mind," "Wake up" and, the most important message, "What's freedom to you?"

In freeing his mind, staying woke, and embarking on this quest to "freedom" — or what Gil Scott Heron once called "free-DOOM" — Joey speaks out against the troubles of mass incarceration, police brutality, poverty and classism. "For my millenials, troubled youth and the felons too / Tryna be perenial, but chance of living is minimal" are just some of the many hard-hitting truths he lays on the table. In spewing these multi-layered lines, Joey throws the ugly truths of the country's constant mistreatment of its black people in our faces and dares us to draw a conclusion.

"My people been sufferin' way too long, and I'm tired of singin' the same old song

People actin' like this shit isn't happenin', it's downright wrong

Justice won't be served by a hashtag, and that's the very reason I ask that

What are we to do?"

Lyrics soaked in pleas ("Can't you see it's a trap"), rumination ("I feel my ancestors arrested inside of me"), self-critique ("Can't change the world unless we change ourselves"), and sharp optimism ("I want you believe not only in me, but have some faith in yourself") help put Joey's spiritual journey in focus. "Got a message for the world and I won't back out," he raps on "Amerikkkan Idol," one of the album's true keystones. Overall, despite the despair and resentment, Joey doesn't soak in a pool of pain. Instead, he actualizes the strength of societal awareness and puts it at the forefront in hopes that it sparks a mind, a change, and an "action in your first child." If none of that comes into realization, then, as Joey raps on the last line of the album, "eventually, we'll all be doomed."

Time to wake up.


Over airy production and delicately pushed piano keys, Joey demonstrates the power of the mic in his palm as he delivers an ode to the above mentioned plight. "Who will take the stand to be our hero," he asks. Echoing a similar urgency to other socially conscious anthems like Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," the record is an examination of the very ills that have spawned movements like Black Lives Matter. "Wishin' all these dirty cops, would come clean, still swervin' on these city blocks, for one thing," he raps at one point, before later adding more vivid depiction, "Man the section 8 depressing / Hard to be progressing through recession and oppression / Not to mention that they had us cell blocked ever since an adolescent."


As one of the most crucial records, Joey confronts his identity as he issues a pointed letter to his country, demanding answers for false hope and continual mistreatment. "I guess some things will never change / Locked in the cycle, tryna break the chains," he snaps. "Handcuffs so tight, nearly slit my veins / This what tough love feels like, feel my pain, uh."


On "BABYLON," Joey makes his war cry. Echoing the disgust echoed on "MISS AMERIKKKA" as well as the sentiments shared by Baldwin, Nina Simone (as mentioned earlier), Joey delivers the sonic composite to his (brilliant) album cover. Like a squealing tire, he screeches lines tackling systematic racism, police brutality, the death of Eric Garner, media's propaganda, and all the harrowing elements that haunts (a) people under this watchful eye of the system. "I just can't cope with the pain," he confesses over the jittery production. It's harsh truth and unreserved frustration that will enrage, inspire, or both altogether.

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