Nas wasn’t old enough to buy booze when Illmatic was penned, he was barely of age to purchase a pack of Marlboros. Astounding what he was able to craft as a teenager, so young and talented. His pen did to hip-hop what Arthur Rimbaud’s quill did to French poetry―both prodigies with baby faces.
I couldn’t help but think of Nas when Joey Bada$$ arrived. He was young with an old sound and an older soul, like a time traveler from a forgotten era who wanted to bring ancient flavor to the present. He was no older than 16, making music that could exist 16 years prior to his existence; walking nostalgia that exuded '90s-inspired New York hip-hop. There was a maturity to Joey, even back then, he was a kid that knew much more than his time on this planet.
When “Waves” first hit the blogosphere, nothing about the song seemed of the moment. It was nostalgic, yet still fresh; Joey drew from ghosts years before his time and did it with an excellence that was immediately revered by his peers. A baby-faced prodigy with the potential to be another diamond shining in Brooklyn's jungle. He met the criteria for all those crying for real hip-hop: a capable wordsmith, a conscious lyricist, meaningful concepts, boom bap beats, and barely any trace of outside influence. Joey didn’t bring a dance or catchy jingle to hip-hop, he brought bars, and that was enough to create a following around him and his Pro Era conglomerate. The industry saw a refreshing newcomer with a mighty pen and room to grow.
Joey found his niche early as a pure rhymeslayer who wanted to be seen as a great lyricist and not a temporary hitmaker. He stayed indie instead of going major, built a team and only brought in outsiders who shared his passion for greatness and consistently fed a growing fanbase with raw raps and intricate records. He cultivated his following through mixtapes, and he kept to his roots with the release of 2015's B4.DA.$$ his 2015 debut. Reviews were mixed, but I found the album to be another apple from the tree of Joey, true to the artist he has been since his 1999 debut. B4.DA.$$ didn’t transcend Joey to the top of mainstream music but it allowed him to dwell beneath and stay true. He didn’t water down his sound for the sake of success and was able to move 54,000 copies in the first week, impressive for an artist without major label backing.
In the two years since his debut, Joey has grown as a man and artist and has adjusted his focus. His sights are on America, and him naming his sophomore album ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is proof of that. He also surprisingly expanded his palette with the album's lead single, “Devastated.” Instead of his signature lyrical miracles, Joey showcases a more melodic side―he found a way to greet the present with a song fitting for the times without completely conforming―on ”Devastated,” which helped the song become his most popular single to date.
Skill and talent can keep an artist afloat, but being able to adapt without following the leader allows an artist to truly flourish without losing the essence that made them. Would Joey continue to adapt or was he teasing the industry with a strong single just to draw them into another album driven by hip-hop’s golden influence?
Nas isn’t the rapper he was when he made Illmatic, Joey isn’t the rapper who made 1999, and that’s the beauty of evolution: growing beyond the artist you once were. ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is the next stage in Joey’s career, an album that defines who he is today. From afar, we’ve watched him go from teenage prodigy to adult overflowing with promise while exploring new avenues in his artistry. I’m hoping for a progressive album, one that shows an artist not stagnant but courageous enough to take things to the next level.
In usual 1 Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "GOOD MORNING AMERIKKKA"
Let’s get started. Greeted with a hand clap and some soft, elegant keys. A gentle voice, no, voices are singing "wake up," this is what people must hear after that first sip of fresh Folgers. Joey is requesting that we free our minds. He’s starting the album with a slower flow and asking about the meaning of freedom. A cop shooting mention, he's starting early. Drums just kicked in, a nice little knock. I like how he’s riding the beat, like the Karate Kid in crane kick formation about to knock some sense into the world. Targeting America’s problems is a concept I’m expecting based on the album title. The first verse is strong, it's setting the tone. A soundbite is being used, a black man’s voice. He's mentioning dreams and ancestors. Musically it's tender but there’s depth here, a cool intro setting the stage for the project to expand on the subjects young Joseph quickly mentioned.
2. "FOR MY PEOPLE"
Joey is a man of the people. Starting the song with his wish for super powers, I think that’s a universal desire. Something about the beginning of this reminds me of a Charles Hamilton song, I can’t recall which one. Okay, singing Joey. I think that’s Joey, a little rasp in his voice. This is still such an interesting approach for him. The production is building around him, so soft, feeling tranquil and jazzy. This is how the beginning of a new day feels. It’s a long build-up. I kind of wish the track would go ahead and explode, I’m just waiting for this volcano to erupt. Oh, here we go! Some easy drums just dropped to go with the warm jazziness, this is Sunday morning music. Joey wants to know who will take a stand for the people? Great question. There’s a nostalgic quality to the production. I don’t know if it’s different to hear Joey on something this bright, but he just seems different, it’s like when you see your teacher outside of school―after witnessing them in one setting it’s strange to see them outside of it. I like the positive, motivating message. The hook isn’t bad, but I wish a soulful singer was outsourced to really give it the gospel touch. BJ The Chicago Kid would’ve killed. Joey taking off on the second verse, lot of truth here, it just doesn’t feel grabbing. A woman’s voice singing in the background and the horns really add to the texture of the hook. Hmm, not in love with this one, but I do like it a lot.
A child’s voice, a young man. Talking about being treated differently, the young man understands how the color of your skin impacts how the world treats you. Poor kid, a painful truth to uncover so young. Another beat that is far more radiant than Joey’s usual texture. He’s singing, more singing. There’s a bit of reverb on his voice, he’s really getting into it. You can hear the passion. Melodic Bada$$. He doesn’t have a natural singing voice but this isn’t bad, could grow on me. It switches to the rap flow with more knowledge kicking. Man, I wish this beat was a bit more gritty but it is groovy. It doesn’t seem to match Joey’s tenacity. He sounds like the world is on his back while the production is carefree, skipping in the grass while he’s being eaten alive by his struggles. I can bounce to it though. “I just take the pain and paint a picture,” I like this line. I like the message, I see what he’s going for, but the singing and production are holding me back from being all-in. Okay, this breakdown after the second verse is pretty interesting. Is that a choir? Man, choirs have been getting crazy rap money. Collection plate features. I like this ending, would be a fitting interlude. A tearful child talking about black people and protesting. Chilling, so chilling.
4. "LAND OF THE FREE"
Another slow-builder. I wonder what made Joey take this approach? Almost every song has been like Lego blocks instead of a completed picture. The drums just hit, but soft. Is it strange this album reminds me of Surf? Production isn’t as jazzy, but the warmth and lack of aggression connects to Chance’s Surf and Noname’s Telefone. For a song discussing America’s history and the flaws of America’s idea of freedom, there’s no tension. From the production to Joey’s tone, it’s so calming. Too calming. Okay, he’s starting to speed up the flow. Again, I like the sentiment but the execution isn’t hitting the nail with a hard-enough hammer. I need him to swing like Thor at such a heavy topic but maybe that’s the genius, make it easy on the ears so the message will be received. Joey fades to black while the production sits in the forefront. Heavy drums delivered at a slow tempo. I can tell musicality was a big focus on this one, he wanted to convey feeling without words or leave room for the listener to think about all he’s said. Children playing as the song ends. Joey is making sure we hear the kids.
Five songs in. Joey's been rapping but not rapping like the Bada$$ I know. I’m okay with it, he’s delivering a much-needed message, I just wish he would throw a bit more of the celebrated wordsmith into his new works. “Devastated” fits well with the album's content, so far it’s still my favorite. This is the best balance between singing, melody and captivating rapping. The kind of song you can hear on the radio but wouldn’t mind playing alone, a trap banger with a heart of gold. Has Joey always been this positive? He’s been given zen-esque hope thus far. I love when the horns come in, like a king returning home from another victory. Such a catchy tune, he has a hit on his hands that will live beyond this album release. Hopefully, it continues to get love throughout the summer, I need to hear this one at a barbecue in Brooklyn.
6. "Y U DON'T LOVE ME? (MISS AMERIKKKA)"
Interesting beginning. Keys and voices swirling together. Not sure what to make out of this. This album has been—WOOOO now that’s how you drop some drums like you want to make a heart skip a beat or two. I don’t even know what I was about to write but I’m happy at the moment. Loving the riffs. This is nice, I’m enjoying this already. Okay, I expected Joey to kick the door in but the easiness of his appearance was like he climbed through the fifth floor instead. He’s speaking to America like a woman, someone he’s in a rough relationship with. I like this contrast, he’s asking the heavy questions. I love how he’s being frank with the country like you would with someone you've been meaning to have a serious conversation with. Production-wise, I’m getting TPAB vibes. There are subtle similarities, not so much the funk, but it’s the jazziness. Production is excellent, this could be transformed into a dope Def Poetry poem. I can imagine Joey performing this in all black garb with a band backing him. Ending just like how it begun. Transitioned into another soundbite. Shit, that got intense.
7. "ROCKABYE BABY" (ft. ScHoolboy Q)
HERE WE GO!!!! MAN! YOU HEAR THAT DUST ON THE DRUMS!? YOU HEAR HOW OLD THESE KEYS SOUND!? Drums sound old enough for a baby Morgan Freeman to have freestyled over them. My grandmother could've grown up with these keys. This knocks. It feels like Jadakiss is about to rob my mom for her pearls and laugh his way to the pawn shop. It feels like I’m in Brooklyn circa ‘96 and all I want to do is commit robberies and do B-Boy stances. Joey baring his fangs, finally a bit more grit in his approach. A "fuck Donald Trip" was shot like a bow and arrow from Robin Hood. Man, this is the kind of music you drop-kick Trump voters to. Boom bap drop-kick music. Q! The grooviest Crip. Ha, Q claimed to be the reason why there are still Crips in Brooklyn. This flow, though! He’s so loose, they cut the drums and let him dance to the keys. He’s going off, DRUMS BACK AND Q IS LEVITATING LIKE HE JUST REACHED LVL 100 RAP ENLIGHTENMENT. I miss Q, Blank Face didn’t get enough rotation. He has some of the best imagery in rap, when Q paints a picture it’s like standing in a museum with your nose pressed up against the glass. Best song thus far. Without question. THE BASS AT THE END IS MENACING. This is Royal Rumble music.
8. "RING THE ALARM" (ft. Kyk Caution, Kirk Knight & Meechy Darko)
I didn’t know how much I missed Joey's hardcore raps. Okay, this one is a bit weird. A maniacal laugh setting the tone. Joey keeping it up with his signature rap style, “The double entendre monster” is an incredible name. WOOOO! THIS IS A THUMPER! Yeah, if he wanted to bring along the posse for a cut this one is it. Kind of feels like a haunted house filled with monsters. “Ring The Alarm” is the conventional Joey, he even added some scratches in here to give it the vintage touch. Verse two, Joey sounds like he’s here to tear off heads and kick them into soccer goals. Production is nasty, holy shit out of nowhere Meechy The Zombie from Flatbush just entered like he threw Joey out the booth to get some shit off his chest. I love the aggressiveness, Nyck Caution was just tagged in with Kirk Knight, I believe, the two tap dancing away. The Beast Coast has taken over the album. Meechy has the voice of a supervillain. I would love for him to work with RZA, those two would make something insane. Fire breakdown, this is the polar opposite of what the album’s first half sounds like. I prefer the darkness.
9. "SUPER PREDATOR" (ft. Styles P)
Incredible drums, and a scratching, stuttering sample. I’m already satisfied. Joey is about to float across this like Aladdin across Arabia. I wish him and Statik Selektah would do an entire project. This is a refreshing change of pace. He’s such a natural rapper, boom bap is water to his Jesus sandals. I could rewind this and the song hasn’t even reached the hook yet. There was a Steez shout-out somewhere in the first verse. Not feeling the hook but he could whistle and I would replay it. Styles P doesn’t sound any older when he raps, his flow hasn’t aged. Ha, I love how he ended the verse. Mentioning police brutality. Beat is getting a chance to breath, so happy that Joey is going back in for a second slice. Beat switch, oh this is different. My headphones might melt, I would much rather Joey kick the truth through this medium than the approach of singing and melodies. America doesn’t need to be spoon fed, we need to be kicked in the chest.
10. "BABYLON" (ft. Chronixx)
Three more songs to go. Okay, humming. Police sirens. Joey's back to singing, a woman’s vocals are backing him up. I like how soulful this sounds… Oh no, he started to sing and it didn’t warm my ears the way I expected. He’s singing his heart out, claps just got thrown into the mix. Too much Joey, too much. Okay, the rapping just started and he sounds entirely fed up. Now, this is the fury I wanted. It’s in his voice, his words are coated with all rage, fear and disappointment. He’s finding the voice to articulate what needs to be heard. Okay, who is that singing? Chronixx? Solid voice, I like it. This song got much better, I'm enjoying this. The horns are nice, this is a really jazz-influenced album. Chilling, Joey’s second verse is coming straight from the heart. Still can’t get completely behind his singing, but there’s a chance I’ll revisit this one. A bit long-winded but it sounds good.
11. "LEGENDARY" (ft. J. Cole)
OH! This is nice. These drums have life to them, almost like the sound elephants make when they stomp into the ground. Did Cole make this beat? This feels like it could’ve been made for 4 Your Eyez Only, it's jazzy enough. Joey sounds good on this track, he’s in the pocket like a hand digging for quarters. This flow is one of his nastiest thus far, able to deliver a message while showcasing his prowess as a wordsmith. Production could light the Olympic torch, that’s how fire this is. Jermaine Cole, ladies and gentlemen. “Tasted peace and prayed it never leave my tongue,” loving this bar. This is the focus I enjoyed about 4 Your Eyez Only, J. Cole is slowly reaching his prime as a mature rapper. This is one hell of a feature he gave Joey, it's a feature that makes you revisit Cole’s last album. These horns are way too elegant for Jay Z not to rap on this.
12. "AMERIKKKAN IDOL"
Last song, let’s see how strong Joey ends. Swift flow over a mellow skeleton, but what happens when the beat drops? Actually, we don’t need any drums. This is cool, Joey is in his zone and my ears are pleased. “Sorry White America I’m about to blackout,” is the perfect way to segue into some drums and a spazzing flow. I wonder how long it would take to paint the White House black? “Going off like bomb threats,” I like, I like. The beat is breathing, Joey just returned with his voice sounding a bit deeper than usual. I like this tone, there’s a heaviness to it that juxtaposes such a light production. This is hypnotic, easy to get lost in. “While you sleeping I’m just trying to stay woke.” Third verse, he’s completely fading in and out, I like it. Crazy that Joey does Mr. Robot and then makes an album like this; talk about picking a perfect job. Well damn Joey, talk the talk! He is being frank, blunt and terse about human rights and the government's intentions. “Economic suffering isn’t working fast enough.” Harder drums just came in and added even more feeling to such passionate words. Joey is entranced, vomiting the gospel. “Justice won’t be served by a hashtag.” Now this is how you close out an album.
Joey’s passion to speak on America’s issues is commendable. He is stepping up as an emcee who cares to use his position to speak for all the voices that aren’t heard loud enough. I enjoy that aspect of his latest effort, a dedication to being a vessel that is much bigger than himself. Especially for his biggest project yet, there are more eyes and ears on him than ever, and he decided to use this opportunity to talk about police brutality, racism, discrimination and the state of Black America in 2017―he doesn’t run from reality but uses it as a muse.
My biggest problem with ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is the yearning for Joey to bring us into what America actually feels like in 2017. The first half of the album is delicate, tender and warm―a sound perfect for the summer but doesn’t match the building tension that matches the feeling of Trump’s campaign and presidency. I wanted the aggression of “BABYLON” or the brutal assault that is “AMERIKKKAN IDOL,” songs that take the message he’s conveying and bring the listener into the very heart of his frustration. He has the right ideas, but the approach doesn’t feel sharp enough. There’s more singing and utilizing melody, and I think that’s commendable, but it left me wanting more of the straightforward lyrical thrashing that appears toward the end of the album. I understand why he wanted to deliver a modern message through a modern medium, but it didn’t hit as hard. Intensity was missing. What I consider a shortcoming, though, could very well be the reason these songs speak to so many.
Overall, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is proof that Joey is stepping into his own as an artist. He is bold enough to switch things up, to try new things and still be a voice that can be impactful and wake people up. I’m such a fan of his rappity rapping that the moments where he’s flexing those muscles are my highlights, but I know the need for the bigger message at hand. This sounds like the kind of album that will allow him to expand. Ears who are unaware will find this album digestible but still a tough pill to swallow. Joey’s words are coated in sugar; he is a dagger that strikes viciously, but he found a way to do it in the light. I’ll likely spend more time with the second half than the first, but the bigger message about America needs to be heard from Brooklyn to Bangkok.
As for me, I’m headed to see Get Out. After hearing ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, I think Joey would approve.
Early Favorites: “AMERIKKKAN IDOL,” “SUPER PREDATOR”
Early Not-So-Favorites: “TEMPTATION,” “GOOD MORNING AMERIKKKA”
By Yoh, aka Yoh-Amerikkkan Bada$$, aka @Yoh31