By: Jake Lundkovsky & Nick Cooke
Joey Bada$$, Brooklyn-born 23-year-old hip-hop artist, dropped his second studio album ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ on April 7, 2017. In this work, Joey employs conscious lyrics to magnify pressing issues such as police brutality and volatile race relations that currently plague the United States. Joey hopes that his work does not fall on deaf ears, as his lyrics often cut deep and hit hard. For instance in “GOOD MORNING AMERIKKKA”, Joey raps, “America, my masseuse, massagin’ my back / Tryna act like, she ain’t gon do me like Pratt.” (“ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ by Joey Bada$$.”). In this lyric, Joey references Geronimo Pratt, a former Black Panther Party leader who the FBI wrongfully framed and convicted for murder in 1972. Had one merely listened to the song or album once, he or she might not have caught this subtle yet profound message and other messages that Joey litters throughout his work. Thus, Joey wants his listener to relisten and further analyze what he has to say. He wants his listeners to truly ascertain his message that despite the current state of affairs, one should remain hopeful. Joey wants his listeners to realize that the effects of slavery live on and that we should not overlook them; in fact, many minorities still face similar prejudice that African American slaves faced two hundred years ago. ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ serves to acknowledge the widespread discrimination and provides those affected a bold call to action.
Historical and Cultural Context
The year 2017 was one of continued high political tension, increasing police brutality, and feeble race relations. In 2017 alone, police officers were responsible for ending the lives of 1,127 individuals in the United States. To provide some perspective: police killed more than 700% more people in 2017 than there were lynchings during the peak of the Jim Crow years (“2017 Police Violence Report.”). Out of the 1,127 incidents, only twelve police officers faced criminal charges. Twelve out of 1,127 is an astonishingly small number — a 1% rate of conviction. Many people wonder why no change has taken place so far. Police brutality is no new phenomenon either; Chaney and Robertson write that the Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights has investigated more than twelve police departments in major cities across the United States for this very issue (Chaney, Robertson). Needless to say, many African Americans and other minorities in the United States feel strongly about this issue, as does Joey Bada$$. With such poor conditions, Americans wonder how far our society has really moved past the slavery era. Further research proves how the odds are stacked against the community. Higher unemployment rates, higher incarceration rates, and lower bachelor degree rates are merely a few of the many disadvantages this community faces.
But how does this relate to the afterlives of slavery? When modern scholars think about the issue of slavery, their discourse often revolves around the ideas of prejudice, persecution, and oppression — and rightly so. When one considers the current times, some common themes exist. Minorities face discrimination on a day to day basis. If an outsider were to examine the current power dynamics and numbers, he or she would vividly see the residual effects of slavery. These truths are self-evident; one simply needs to take a second to view what is in front of him or her. Joey Bada$$ mentioned in an interview with Fuse that he felt as though there was no better time than 2017 to provide the message of hope to a community — a culture — which needs it most (FUSE). He did just that. His album struck at a crucial time. In 2017, many minorities sharply opposed the president in office; many minorities faced prejudice on a daily basis, and many minorities have perished through acts of police brutality. These occurrences continue to happen to this day. Joey wishes that this injustice does not go unnoticed; he does not want these Americans to fall complacent with the status quo. His goal is for people to hear his music, to examine society further, and then to stand up for themselves. He wants his music to be a kind of call to action. Through his album, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, Joey seeks to give a voice to the people who, during this period of discrimination, feel voiceless.
Themes and Style
Joey Bada$$ is known for his lyrically focused writing style. His skills as a lyricist have been evolving ever since he stepped foot in the rap game a few years ago. Joey is best known for his old-school style and vivid metaphors – traits he established on his 2013 mixtape Summer Knights. As a storyteller, Joey excels, and he made full use of these skills when he delivered ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$. A lot of Joey’s songs build their message throughout the song and contribute to the overall story of the album. In the album’s intro, Joey begins by repeating “Good morning Amerikkka” which begins his deep look inside his conscious and that of America’s. In “LAND OF THE FREE”, Joey explains his inner conflict with his culture’s past (Fig. 3).
He points out many of the difficulties facing African American society and the challenges he faces in changing things. He uses rhetorical questions like, “But how do I go about it? [changing society] / Tell me where I start? / My destiny rerouted when I chose to follow heart / You told me to follow suit, but tell me what it did for you? / Except weigh you down, now you trapped inside that cubicle” These bars, or lines, are rich in both rhetorical questions, rhyme, and theme. Joey wants to make his audience think with this project, so he adjusts his style to that purpose asking the audience questions and trying to relate to the common plight of many. Regarding Joey’s style, he often relies on developing an idea over the course of a few lines. Like in the quote above, Joey develops the idea that making a change is difficult over the course of a few lines in what appears to come across as a conversation between Joey and the stereotypical corporate American. He implements this style again in “FOR MY PEOPLE.” Joey raps, “Never restin’ / I’m surpassin’ the expectancy of life in my direction / Man the section 8 is depressin’ / Hard to be progressin’ through recession and oppression / Not to mention that they had us cell blocked ever since an adolescent”. Joey again takes several lines to develop the idea that he will rise above the difficulties that have plagued the African American community. The life of an African American who is born into “section 8” and faces a constant “oppression” is what Joey is trying to bring to attention to his audience (“FOR MY PEOPLE”). In many ways, this is the afterlife of slavery that continues to haunt many African American communities. The harsh cycle of depression, violence, crime, discrimination, and incarceration that stems from the end of slavery is what Joey styles his lyrics around.
In the last song of the album, “AMERIKKKAN IDOL,” Joey writes and flows at his best. He shows that he has decided to take a stand and take action against the wrongs he has witnessed on behalf of society and government. He raps lines like, “And we [African Americans] on top ‘cause my people been paining before crack / Media’s got this whole thing tainted, that’s all fact / Feedin’ you lies like this whole thing wasn’t built on our backs / Assimilate our history then made it a mystery / Now they inherit the bittersweet victory,” using rhyme and storytelling to paint the picture of the entities he feels are putting down African Americans. In the last verse, Joey raps slowly, emphasizing what he feels is most important. He points his finger directly at the government with lines like, “What the government is doin’ amongst our people is downright evil / With all of the conflict of propaganda, I believe they are simply tryna slander / Start a Civil War within the USA amongst black and white and those alike” exposing a bigger plan set in motion by racism and power. This plan is that “They want us to rebel / so that it makes it easier for them to kill us and put us in jails.” To combat this scheme, Joey urges everyone to come together. For the gangs to “protect” the neighborhoods they are destroying. He asks everyone to “wake up” and “form opinions” that aren’t influenced by the media so everyone can change America before it is too late (“AMERIKKKAN IDOL”). The style of these bars and their delivery is almost like a speech. Joey does this as this is his final message on the album and he wants to use the pedestal he has built in the previous tracks to make sure his audience knows what to take away from his work and what they can do next.
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ is full of significant themes like race tension, police brutality, slavery, current politics, and finding one’s purpose in life. Joey focuses much of his argument on looking at the past and present times to work toward building a better future together. In “LAND OF THE FREE”’s chorus, he raps, “In the land of the free, it’s full of freeloaders / Leave us dead in the street to be their organ donors / They disorganized my people, made us all loners / Still got the last names of our slave owners” Joey has annotated these lines pointing out that his last name is Scottish and comes from a slave owner who owned an ancestor of his (Genius). Joey’s point is to point out the legacy, or afterlife, of slavery that still lingers in society today. In another song, “TEMPTATION,” Joey includes a snippet from a speech delivered by Zianna Oliphant, a nine-year-old girl from Charlotte, North Carolina in 2016 in response to the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, an African American man. At one point, Oliphant sobs, “Just because of our color doesn’t mean anything to me.” The fact that a child is pointing this out in 2017 shows the state of race relations in society and how much the color of one’s skin still matters today like it did in the time of slavery. Joey discusses the inner challenges he forces himself to face in response to the discrimination and police brutality that many African Americans face in their daily lives. He addresses the cycle of gangs, drugs, mass incarceration, welfare, government housing, police brutality, and lack of family structure that continues to hold his culture down. As the last song of the project, “AMERIKKKAN IDOL” brings together many of the themes of the album and allows Joey to push forward and present a plan for moving on towards the future.
Joey Bada$$ released ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ at a critical time. Following the turbulent 2017 presidential election, much of America was as divided as ever. Police brutality is a hot issue frequently appearing in the news and race is becoming more commonly used to separate America’s diverse population with movements like Black Lives Matter representing the injustices faced by some racial groups over others. Joey capitalized on current times with his project and truly made this a contemporary piece of art. Thus, this album got a lot of press coverage and was trending for quite some time after its release.
The work itself provoked controversy and conversation, something Joey aimed to create with this project – his ultimate goal is to make the listener “open” his or her eyes and think (Bada$$ 2017). Media outlets like Fuse interviewed Joey to gain insight into what his motives were while writing this album. The internet was flooded with album reviews ranging from praise to caution. In a podcast interview with culture icon Pharrell Williams and Scott Vener on Beats1 radio, Joey feels his album might alienate him from the industry due to his willingness to speak out the wrongs he sees every day. XXL’s hip-hop magazine praised Joey as making a very conscious yet catchy album. Spin media pointed out Joey’s attempts to make more radio-friendly music as a detractor to the album as a whole due to the “tepid” nature of his radio-friendly cuts (XXL). Spin media and others like Clash Music felt that the album became too “preachy” at points. Rolling Stone conducted an interview with Joey that pointed out Joey’s attempts to create a project that would invite new fans to listen and hear his message. Joey stated that he wished to make every song a song that he could perform at music festivals in front of 50,000 people (Bada$$ 2017). Comparing the reviews we saw with this album to his previous album, B4.DA.$$, it is clear that Joey took a leap with ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$. In his previous album, he noted that he relied on his nostalgic 90’s sound to tell the world a little bit about himself as he transitioned from mixtapes to an album. It’s clear with ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ that Joey is telling the world that not only is he here to stay but he is here to make a difference.
As a whole, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ was met with both critique and praise and regardless of opinion, there is no debate that Joey represents a growing trend of both artists and everyday citizens speaking out against injustices still existing in the world today.
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Rap, Music, Joey Bada$$, Conscious Rap, Police Brutality, Hip-Hop, Race Relations, Afterlives of Slavery, Pop Culture, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$