Jo-Vaughn “Joey Bada$$” Scott is one of the first emcees to be heavily influenced by hip-hop created before his birth. At 22 years of age, Joey became known for his reverence of early ’90s hip-hop music. His early mixtapes and albums centered on craftsmanship. With his new album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, he’s out to chronicle and inspire.
On his debut album, 2015’s B4.DA.$$, Joey recorded a throwback album about growing up and finding his place in the world. Musically, he rapped over dusty and gritty tracks that evoked the mid-’90s NYC hip-hop aesthetic. Sonically and lyrically, it had a lot in common with ’93 to ’96 era albums by artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, and the Boot Camp Clik. It was unquestionably one of the top three or four hip-hop albums released during a particularly strong year for the genre.
Things were good for Joey and his Pro Era crew in the immediate aftermath of B4.DA.$$. The album was a critical and commercial success. Joey started his acting career as a regular cast member of the critically acclaimed Mr. Robot television show’s second season. Former first daughter Malia Obama was photographed wearing a Pro Era t-shirt.
In early 2017, Joey finds himself in a different place. Although he’s found personal triumph, the world around seems to have lost its mind. With the departure of President Obama from the White House, hope and optimism are missing in action. Questionable shootings by police officers are still occurring at an alarming rate, often without repercussion. African-Americans around the nation continue to protest so that people recognize and respect that their lives matter.
All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is the product of these times. Like his debut album, it’s purposely evocative of past hip-hop classics, but this time it pays homage to the more socially conscious releases. The album’s title echoes the name of Ice Cube’s monumental debut album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990). Much of the album is a journey through the anguish that Joey experiences daily. However, instead of giving up, Joey opts to channel his pain into his cadence, turn his brain up a wavelength, and create an album that reflects the realities of being a young Black man in America today in 2017.
Picking up where Joey left-off with B4.DA.$$’s “Like Me,” All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’ 12 tracks find Joey channeling the sorrow that many Black youth in the United States endure every day. Lyrically, Joey elevates his game, establishing his voice and strong vocal presence. But the album occasionally falters on the musical end, as for at least the first half of the album he relies upon a more accessible sound. There’s nothing inherently wrong with moving away from the “throwback” tracks, but some of the beats are too polished.
Even with the occasional production misstep, there is a lot like to about All-Amerikkkan Bada$$. On “For My People,” Joey explains the difficulty of trying to stay strong and lead as a positive example, all while living in a world where the system seems stacked against him. Over a breezy synth and ethereal sax track produced by veteran DJ Khalil, Joey raps, “Look up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s plane / No, it’s the young Black god living out his dreams / What you mean? I’ve been up on the ultra-light beam / They don’t want to see you fly, they just want to shoot your wings.”
Songs like “Temptation” and “Y U Don’t Love Me (Miss Amerikkka)” delve into the pain, desperation, and despair that the Black population continues to feel when faced with rampant racism in this country. The latter track is particularly effective, as Joey directly addresses the United States, lamenting the lack of love this country has shown for Black communities as a whole for hundreds of years.
Things take a darker turn during the album’s second half, especially on the musical side. “Rockabye Baby,” Joey’s duet with T.D.E./Black Hippy’s Schoolboy Q, is gritty hip-hop at its finest, with the pair trading verses over an ominous piano sample and a heavy drum beat. With its gothic piano and strings, paired with an echoing drum track and haunting vocal samples, “Ring the Alarm” would fit right in on a mid to late ’90s Mobb Deep album. The posse cut features solid verses from Pro Era members Nyck Caution and Kirk Knight (who also produced the track), as well as a chorus courtesy of Flatbush Zombies’ Meechy Darko.
“Super Predator” and “Legendary” are two of the stronger tracks on the album, both produced by Statik Selektah, a frequent collaborator of Joey’s. “Super Predator,” the jazziest track on the album, features mellow vibraphone and sax samples as well as a killer guest verse from The Lox’s Styles P. “Legendary” is also on the jazzier side, built upon horn samples and a meandering bassline, but the drums sound like they were lifted from a dub/reggae track. Rap superstar J. Cole, who’s usually a little dull for my tastes, rises to the occasion by contributing a solid guest verse.
All Amerikkkan Bada$$ ends with “Amerikkkan Idol,” a direct verbal assault on the U.S. government and the broader system for its marginalization of Black lives. Joey unleashes his righteous anger over a muted guitar loop, rapping, “Sorry white America, but I’m about to black out / Gotta a message for the world and I won’t back out / But I won’t stop ’til this whole shit painted in all black / And we on top, ’cause my people been paining before crack / Media’s got this whole thing tainted, that’s all fact / Feeding you lies like this whole thing wasn’t built on our backs.” He ends the track with a protracted spoken word verse, filled with glitches and fuzz, making it sound as if he’s speaking through a pirated, unauthorized broadcast.
Joey starts off “For My People” with the lines, “All heroes don’t wear capes /And all villains don’t get away / But all limits eventually fade / I don’t want to be good, n#@%a, I’m trying to be great.” Joey clearly shot for the moon with All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, working to speak for his own generation while simultaneously trying to educate those in need. It isn’t perfect, but it hits a lot more than it misses, and especially succeeds on the lyrical level. Joey Bada$$ is in the midst of becoming an outstanding artist, and it’s exciting to see where his career can go from here.
Notable Tracks: “Amerikkkan Idol” | “For My People” | “Super Predator”