While this review comes a few weeks too late, I thought it was still poignant as so much hip hop has been released in 2017 already (You Only Live 2wice, DAMN. and, of course, Iggy Azalea’s seminal Mo Bounce), and Joey Bada$$ is one of the biggest players in the game. And while I liked DAMN. and thought that 2wice was potentially the best hip hop album of the year—however premature that claim may be—ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ was a disappointment.
For a start, the fact that Anthony Fantano gave this album an 8/10 and J. Cole’s 2016 effort 4 Your Eyez Only a 6/10 is absolutely fucking criminal. J. Cole’s political insight, the record’s production and the overarching theme on Eyez made it a vastly superior album to this one. Joey’s thoughts on the state of black America are pretty basic—he’s not saying anything particularly profound. More than that, though, he sounds like a downright Flatearther on some parts of this thing; take the quasi-revolutionary spiel (which seems to go on forever) at the end of ‘AMERIKKKAN IDOL’, in which Joey seems to imply that the American government uses chemical weapons against its own citizens and that American gangs should be protecting their ‘own people’ in some kind of horrific race war. Perhaps the Crips (who are ‘still Crippin out in Brooklyn’ thanks to ScHoolboy Q, according to ‘ROCKABYE BABY’) shouldn’t be shooting the Bloods, and should be killing white politicians and civil servants instead? Add to this, oh, I don’t know, a random bar from anywhere on the album: ‘How we supposed to see stars? Chemical trails above us’ (‘Babylon’), and the extent of Joey’s tin-foil-hatism becomes apparent.
Then there are the tunes themselves. Take the horrendously bad ‘DEVASTATED’ which came out last May. (N.B., having to write all song titles in capital letters becomes aggravating extremely quickly. Thanks so much, Joey/Kendrick.) If somebody’s talking to you about selling out, go and listen to ‘Christ Conscious’ and then go and listen to this thing and you’ll understand exactly what they mean. People have argued with me that he needs to make songs like this to expand his fan base and get more people listening to the better songs he produces. If it’s a choice between Joey staying relatively unknown and not producing shit like this, or everyone respecting his talent as an MC in exchange for a few sellout tunes, I’ll happily stick with the former. And yes, of course I know that Kendrick did that ghastly tune with Travis Scott, and J. Cole had ‘Work Out’, and Nas wrote ‘You Owe Me’, and they all suck, too. (‘Work Out’ isn’t that bad, actually, but boy, is ‘You Owe Me’ a terrible tune.)
Aside from ‘DEVASTATED’ (incidentally how I feel after listening to the song), there are a bunch of other songs which all sort of melt into one another in their inadequacy on this record. ‘Y U DON’T LOVE ME? (MISS AMERIKKKA)’—not even talking about that horrible song title—just doesn’t go anywhere, the hook is really quite weak, and listening to Joey use a woman treating him badly as a metaphor for how America treats him is tired and gets boring quickly. ‘Tell me why we gotta war?/Why we gotta fight?Why we always gotta spar for?’ Cry me a fucking river.
Fortunately, ‘Y U DON’T LOVE ME (MISS AMERIKKKA)’ (getting really annoying typing those out) finishes after a prolonged three minutes nineteen seconds and the excellent ‘ROCKABYE BABY’ begins. I loved this song when it was released and I love it now; that pounding beat is reminiscent of earlier tunes like the aforementioned ‘Christ Conscious’, and the wordplay and rhyme schemes of Joey’s bars are very impressive. While there’s a lot of anger in this tune, there’s also a sense of playfulness in Joey’s delivery, especially in the hook. Unfortunately, I don’t rate ScHoolboy Q’s verse much at all; I wish Joey had just delivered another minute and a half of unadulterated fire.
It’s true that the second half of the album is much better than the first. ‘RING THE ALARM’ is a decent track, improved by the features; Meechy Darko, especially, I think always adds a great atmosphere with his inimitable delivery and voice, and Kirk Knight’s verse is decent, too. Again, I don’t really like the hook on this track, and I don’t think the beat switch up towards the end does much to improve it, especially as most of the remainder is lyricless.
Immediately upon hearing ‘SUPER PREDATOR’ I was impressed with the production; it’s got a smoothness not really present on the rest of the album, and Joey’s flow is unparalleled on any other track on the record. It helps that most of the track is him talking about how great he is at rapping, rather than trying to be insightful about politics/society/white people (though there is, of course, an implicit sociopolitical theme, evidenced by the title). I enjoyed Styles P on this track, too, though his bars or flow don’t nearly live up to either of Joey’s verses, especially his first.
‘BABYLON’, a bit of a dark horse, is my favourite track on this record. It’s not the lyrics—indeed, they contain some of the worst conspiratorial bullshit on this whole thing—and it certainly isn’t Joey embarrassingly spelling out Jozif Badmon; it’s that fucking hook. That’s a hook to get stuck in your head for days on end, to sing to yourself while you’re in the shower, to hum on the train, to break into mid-conversation with your mates, to scream at your mum when you’re a little drunk and feeling angsty. (U JUS’ WON’T UNNERSTAYN, MUM!) ‘BABYLON’ (aside from ‘ROCKABYE BABY’), is the one track on this album I’ve returned to time and time again. And as much as I despise most of the notions lying behind the actual content of Joey’s bars (for instance, him trying to sound intelligent by naming the ‘branches of the government’, and talking, as mentioned, about fucking chemtrails), I really rate his flow. His second verse, especially, is seriously impressive. But it’s just that fucking hook I can’t get out of my head. (THEY SAY YA NEVA KNOW WHAT YA GAAAA-AAAAT!!)
I’ll move on, as I find myself singing the hook as I write. Anyone who knows me knows how much I rated J. Cole’s last album, and thus I was extremely excited when I saw he was featuring on a track on this album. Unfortunately, it’s one of the worst songs on this record. Somehow, Cole doesn’t really sound himself; there’s none of the emotion or passion that was on Eyez. He sounds lethargic, a little bored—and who wouldn’t be, over the top of this beat. The production on this thing is interminably crap. It doesn’t go anywhere, the variation is minimal, and it doesn’t suit J. Cole’s bouncy, playful flow. He would have been better suited to a track like ‘SUPER PREDATOR’ or ‘FOR MY PEOPLE’. It’s a shame that his talent has been wasted.
And we come to ‘AMERIKKKAN IDOL’. Joey’s relentless, mumbling bars at the beginning of this track don’t appeal to me at all; I can barely even work out what he’s saying. (I caught ‘That’s why I keep the .40 loaded with no safety around’, of course, for future use.) The beat finally kicks in after over a minute—disappointingly, may I add—and, as seems to be a common theme on this record, doesn’t really go anywhere at all. Then, of course, there’s that mental conspiratorial call-to-action from Joey right at the butt end, which would make me feel like throwing the album away had I bought a physical copy.
Joey’s follow up to the acclaimed B.4.DA.$$ simply doesn’t have the energy, production value or, indeed, the bars to come anywhere close to the quality of its predecessor. It’s only got a few really good tunes on it—’ROCKABYE BABY’, ‘BABYLON’, obviously—and quite a few really terrible ones—’DEVASTATED’, ‘LEGENDARY’, ‘Y U DON’T LOVE ME? (MISS AMERIKKKA)’—and the former don’t nearly make up for the latter. While Joey manages to highlight a few decent and interesting points about institutional racism in America, he goes so overboard with the conspiracy theories that any credibility he has is lost in an unpleasant Mos Def kind of way. Most of all, though, I don’t like the majority of the production on this record. The tracks don’t do all that much, and even some reasonably high profile features can’t help to pull this one out the gutter. Sorry Joey. I’m going back to You Only Live 2wice. (I’ll be playing ‘BABYLON’ for months, though. AHM RUNNIN’ AWAAA-AA-AY!!!)