Perfectly exemplified years ago, it’s funny how much trap beats continue to be everywhere. There’s nary a crowded train or bus that doesn’t have that familiar high pitched rattle-snare tone playing off someone’s phone in a nearby seat. Even Joey Bada$$, usually and rightfully hailed as New Era’s king of 90s throwback, is using it. He’s at a crossroads this year. Does one embrace the boom bap classics that tickles ones fan base so thoroughly, or does one press forward into more topical themes?
With the release of All Amerikkkan Bada$$, it doesn’t seem as if Joey felt he had much of a choice in the matter. Gone are many of the New York City tones that warmed the world up to New Era on 2012’s 1999. Gone is the immense tracklist on the superfluous, yet rewarding B4.DA.$$. Despite bearing a similar title to another gangster rap classic, All Amerikkkan Bada$$ is decidedly more modern, digestible, poppy, and hooky than Joey’s usual output. Whether or not it’s a better or worse release is beside the point.
A good take on Kendrick’s “Alright” beat is “Y U Don’t Love Me?” Though it could fit in with the greater narrative of the record, it’s also its own song with Joey spitting about New York City betraying him over spacious bass tones and spastic cool jazz horns. Schoolboy Q brings the album’s first feature on seventh track “Rockabye Baby.” The stellar verse serves as a reminder that you’ve been hearing just Joey up until this point; as if Schoolboy is in the face of the listener, asking “You’ve been paying attention, right?”
This diversity in delivery is the savior of the first half of the record which pales slightly to the second.
Tracks 7 through 12 are a heavier nod to Joey’s past, complete with the gangster rap of “Ring the Alarm” and the classic boom bap of “Super Predator,” which directly quotes Illmatic along with the album’s closer. The only issue is that Joey’s choice to adopt more modern beats on the first half is fully transparent. The feel-good “Devastated,” though a great single, is a knockoff of “Hotline Bling.” However, it’s missing a stylistic tick apart from its familiar and uncomfortable trap tropes.
Joey otherwise manages to keep things pretty close to the record’s central theme: the state of black people in America in 2017. He takes shots at Fox News, the cops, and the need for consistent voices to discuss it. It’s true that “Ring the Alarm” distracts from the theme, but it’s nice to lighten the mood of All Amerikkkan Badass. It’s also nice to hear that Joey’s still playing with a lot of the 90s themes we came to know and love him by, even though it’s clear he’s being called to do more for his people and hip hop at large. Is he making any statements we can’t find elsewhere? Not really. But, the need for many voices to discuss our country’s inequities are in high demand, and Badass is happy to take up the cause. By the time you reach the end of the album, it’s hard to think of anyone doing it better.