With the ever-changing facades of new musical endeavours birthing more creatives and inspiring the humble, one that has proven it’s mainstay, is the solid, rock-faced beats of hip-hop. With such a heritage and rooted foundations, the scene has churned up and lost as many stars as it has formed.
The balance to this, however, lies with artists who have their own visions, and have the heart and soul to be able to construct it. As is the scenes penchant to uncover the truest artists, one such came to well-deserved prominence in the summer of 2012, and since then, has remained as a strong cornerstone of the genre.
The Brooklyn born Joey Bada$$ begun his journey by releasing his debut mixtape, 1999, which stands now as easily one of the most solid and established busts of Joey’s sound. It was with his debut album, B4.DA.$$, that the roots and mannerisms of Joey’s style let itself be known.
Shifting the warm low-fidelity styles of 1999, Joey cast a gritty and littered shroud over the beats, creating an original, industrious soundscape that lay grounded over the syncopated jazzy drums and signature upfront sampling. It is this mood that Joey’s trademark voicing and flows really blend with, which led to the critical acclaim that it more than deserved.
Three years later, and Joey yet again challenges himself against the flow of the scene, with the announcement of his next album, a couple songs of which were teased at Coachella, at the beginning of last year.
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ released today (April 7), falling on the fifth anniversary of AmeriKKKan Korruption, a mixtape created by fellow Pro Era and late friend of Joey’s, Captain STEEZ. The album itself is a very solid piece of music, with obvious time spent on it, not least judging by the extremely well done production and mixing.
The narrative behind the album garners food for thought, and navigates through racism, politics, and the beauty of being free. This is, by far, Joey’s biggest endeavour, and one he should be fiercely proud of.
The beginning of the record starts with the track “Good Morning Amerikkka”. Through Joey’s words, the track tackles the subject of freedom, specifically the lack thereof where racism ensues. A slow opener, Joey flows effortlessly off of the gliding bass and percussive fills that build the foundations of the track. The lyrics themselves open very clearly, and provide the listener a taste of the subject matters Joey pursues in the record.
Processed chords through a phaser support Joey’s flow as the track progresses, creating a warmth that feels like it’d fit in well on his debut mixtape. As the track gets into itself, shakers and hi-hats filling the space left by the bass, Joey lets his flow take control, setting the stage for the rest of the record.
The second track is “For My People”. It acts as a pleasant contrast to the gritty tones of the track before. The song begins with a beautifully composed piece of modulated synth lines, and jazz-spawned piano and soulful guitar work that provide a dreamlike platform for Joey’s opening statement of him always wanting super powers.
This then drifts into the hook, which features some singing by Joey, accented by the voices of like younger children, all singing in harmony. The track then amplifies its natural feel-good rhythm, with Joey rapping about how he wants things to change, and the joy of chasing your dreams, and his own future. A breathy saxophone and head-nodding beat fills in the space Joey leaves, with lingering vocal harmonies adding their own thing to the flow.
“Temptation” begins with an upbeat, poppy melody, layered with an old sample of a young child addressing her distaste for not being treated equally. A roll of hi-hats shift the track into a groove of pumping kicks, rimshots, compressed snares, and funky, dynamic bass, in an arrangement that leaves one thinking of late garage beats. As Joey raps, ditching his renowned flow, he goes for something slower, empathizing the groove of the beat.
A group of horn stabs create a melody that lays atop the beat, wherein the aforementioned mixing skills really show themselves, as they don’t disrupt Joey’s flow one bit. A harmonious mix of choir singing and pad stabs make themselves known in the latter half of the track, again utilising the melodies and flows of the beat, adding to the general groove.
The next track, “Land Of The Free”, touches on more tender subjects, with Joey stating, “We can’t change the world unless we change ourselves/Die from the sicknesses if we don’t seek the help”. The track backs him respectfully, taking a slower, gentle route, draping the processed guitar chords with delicate pads, sweeps and soft stabs.
As the beat kicks in, consisting of heavily numbed snares, compressed bass drums and soft claps, the listener starts to really get a feel for the turn Joey takes in this track. Joey then touches on politics, utilizing the captivating beat to get his words across. There is a simple truth in his words, in such a way that the listener is left with food for thought, even after the track ends.
It is the hook, however, that stuck with me the most, personally. Featuring wonderfully harmonized sweeping pads layered with soft chords, and Joey’s slower rapping, wherein the title of the song makes itself apparent: “The land of the free is for the freeloaders/Leave us dead in the street they’ll be organ donors…” Joey’s haunted preaching fits the track well, and slides its way into the thoughts of the listener with harrowing weight.
It was November 14, at Camp Flog Gnaw Festival, that “Devastated” made itself known. Again, following the now speculated trend of the record, by leading a slower, intimate song with more upbeat head-nodders, “Devastated” consists of more contemporary sounding pads, broken hi-hats rolls, and pumping kicks.
This track is perhaps one of the more established on the record, and the listener can tell Joey must be very proud of the track itself, with a lot of time spent on it, and featuring some excellent mastering. The track follows the narrative of Joey’s rise to success, specifically how he felt before he became internationally known.
As the hook comes in, you can’t help but bob your head, and notice a grin spread across your lips, as you feel for Joey’s happiness at having made it. The track is laced with inspirational context, too, which just adds to the feel-good nature of the track. A very, very solid track.
“Y U Don’t Love Me?” is the next track and, again, follows the record’s trend. As such, it takes a slower flow, almost as a perfect contrast to the prior track. I feel this track in particular really demonstrates Joey’s innovative mind.
As soon as the first huge, acoustic fill rolls in, one is treated a glance into the pastel dream world of producers like J. Robb, Jupe, or something the likes of GoldLink would find themselves on, all of whom are considered masters of their craft to their community, and it’s a refreshing change to see Joey demonstrate his affinity for exploring different musical styles.
The fill is tailed by two very powerful, wide notes that further reinforce Joey’s no doubt affiliation with the future genre, a rapidly growing collective that the aforementioned artists all call home. The track continues with a processed guitar taking side by Joey’s new flow, distinct hat patterns, and compressed kicks that you can’t help but groove along to.
As is the record’s narrative, Joey’s lyrics weigh with hard significance, as he raps about the lingering racism that laces his streets. The track finishes with Joey’s staple, the use of sampling, although this time, shifting it into a more harrowing nature.
After the slow groove of the last track, Joey decides to keep it going, in the track “Rockabye Baby”, a darker composition, that features the lyrical wizardry of Schoolboy Q, one of the most prominent and beloved figures in the hip-hop scene now. As such, this track is extremely strong, and very well structured, including some very clear personal thoughts Joey and Schoolboy have on America’s current political state.
Nevertheless, the track itself is one of the most well done of the record, and reminds me personally of something Captain Murphy would conjure up from his own transcendent plane he resides in, which is a very big compliment from me. I believe, with the track’s sound design, production and lyrics, “Rockabye Baby” will reinforce itself in becoming one of the strongest songs on the record.
“Ring The Alarm” begins as perhaps the closest thing the record gives to Joey’s debut album, B4.DA.$$, beginning with slow broken sampling, gritty pads, and haunting sweeps. Joey’s boys, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution, both from Pro Era, the collective of whom Joey is a founding member, make an appearance on the track, as well as Meechy Darko, who acts as one third of Flatbrush ZOMBiES.
Who, in turn along with Pro Era themselves, form the Beast Coast, a larger hip-hop collective based out of Brooklyn. All rappers add their own flows to the cracked, industrious beat, in such a way that still leaves a dark emphasis on the beat itself, as it navigates through the listeners mind, toying with the emotions it finds there.
“Super Predator” reigns in the darker take the record has shifted to, and Joey fans back into familiar territory. This beat consist of light acoustic drums, processed warmth from a Rhodes piano, soulful sax fills, and a flow that just screams Joey. Ruff Ryders’ and LOX’ Styles P is featured on this track, adding to the welcoming warmth the track teases.
Despite this, the song still retains a strange coldness that pictures in the mind’s eye something like a length of cracked pavement, drenched in the sun of the East Coast. I personally feel like this track would feel more at home in the warmth of his debut mixtape, 1999, as the coldness it brings doesn’t feel quite right. But, that’s just me, and I’m sure Joey knew exactly what he wanted, and it’s known he defiantly possesses the talent to carve his visions perfectly.
Cronixx is featured on the next track, “Babylon”. As such, the track brings a natural endearing quality, one that is very welcomed on the record. “Babylon” consists of low-fidelity snares and drums hits, that sit patiently between atmospheric pads and vocals, with a modulated Rhodes backing up Joey and Chronixx’s flow. Their lyrics ring with truth, and it is obvious the messages Joey wishes to portray
Despite the perhaps encumbering weight of the lyrical context, the track still flies well, and proves Joey hasn’t fully moved on from the warmth and hearted grooves. This is more apparent in the latter half of the song, which I feel is the strongest part. Chronixx begins singing, while Joey leans back and allows the compressed drums and numbed vocal slices to play their parts, shifting between Chronixx beautifully. I only wish this bit was longer.
The next track, “Legendary”, starts with a fiercely strong arrangement of drums, bass and spliced piano chords, that could well be the creation of J. Cole himself, who is featured on the song. Along with the piano, dreamy vocals take stage, utilizing the talent of the producer’s ability of sound design well. It is when the sax comes in, however, that the premise of the song takes off.
This is personally my favourite track of the record, as it practically drips with soul and emotion. I had my head swaying the whole length of the song. Joey flows effortlessly through the beat, and J. Cole keeps his own as he lets himself go on the hook, and speaks some powerful truth through his verse. I think this is the strongest track on the record, at least from a production point of view, and believe it will learn to lay safe in many a listener’s heart.
The last track of the record is “Amerikkkan Idol”, and at six minutes, remains the longest song on the record. It is more than a track, and should be considered really as a something much more, a statement of Joey’s views, and the haunting truths of the dark reality we live in. It begins with layers of piano and guitar loops, with Joey dreamingly unleashes his flow in the beat, giving the listener a taste of his strength.
His lyrics are perhaps the most powerful of the whole record, not just of their actual context, but from how Joey delivers them. There slow and clear, ringing with disappointment and sadness, it feels. The drums come in at one minute, almost unexpectedly, beginning with a solid arrangement of snare and kick patterns, until they calm down and retain their flow.
Joey doesn’t let up, not nearly finished with getting the truth out. It is from this, the track shifts to something much, much more. This is a statement now, one Joey will not rest with. The latter part of the track is when Joey really lets the world know. Every syllable rings with unyielding truth, and dark realities.
This is the unbridled figurehead of the record, and the narrative of the piece gives the impression that Joey was deliberately holding back a little during the rest of the record, until he could speak the things he needed in this track, when he felt the audience was ready. And hopefully, they are.
As a whole, the record is an extremely solid piece. Not solely for the value of its production, or even Joey himself, but for the messages he relays, and the beliefs he holds. This is more than an album, it is a statement by Joey.
He created it, I feel, as a message against his enemies, and as advice for his fans. A truly powerful piece of music, I genuinely believe this will remain a solid foothold for recovery, and deserves every piece of praise, attention and recognition it will no doubt garner. Joey Bada$$’ ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ can be heard on iTunes here.
Words by James Hailey