In hip-hop, there’s always been much discussion about what is and isn’t “real” rap. Music that’s considered “real” has a focus on lyricism and a message, as opposed to being commercialized and just trying to make a catchy song. And while I’m not one to call out artists for not being “real” hip-hop, Joey Bada$$ definitely gives us “real” rap on his sophomore album, “ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$”
Though you may not have heard of him, Joey Bada$$ created a significant amount of buzz in the hip-hop world, already having three mixtapes and an album to his name. His first album, “B4.Da.$$” while still lyrically skillful, cannot stand up to the power and message of its successor. This album has the opportunity to ride that buzz to mass appeal. But Bada$$ isn't compromising his sound for commercial success, instead going the other way entirely, spending the entire album calling out America for its enduring systemic racism.
When it comes to discussing the modern lyric masterminds, it could be argued that it’s almost always Kendrick vs. Cole, but Bada$$ is working his way into that conversation. On “ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$” his flow is so smooth that it’s like the words are melding together; I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I could feel the fire he said it with. The lyrics read like a book of poetry, and are worth looking up. One such example comes from “BABYLON:”
“Detached from the roots since we set sail, my brothers / That’s word to the motherland, sold us on stolen land / Visions from brother man, he seen us all holdin’ hands”
Joey Bada$$ sees himself as a prophet. He even describes himself as such on “LAND OF THE FREE,” saying, “Sometimes I speak and I feel like it ain’t my words / like I’m just a vessel channeling inside this universe.” He’s an educator, seeking to show people the real issues. In the video for the same song, he’s shown rapping to a group of children, teaching them the wrongs in America. In a video for Genius.com, Joey describes how much it meant to him when an 8-year-old kid quoted his song, saying, “That kid is going to forever just grow up and know that America because of me.” It’s clear he takes his role as an influential figure seriously.
Even though Joey paints an accurately bleak picture of society, there’s an underlying theme of hope. The album’s all about how the masses need not be oppressed and how these problems only exist because we turn a blind eye to them. In a time where it seems that activism is back on the rise, these are songs to bump on the way to your next protest.
While I’m obsessed with hip-hop, it’s clear that most rappers aren’t ideal role models. Bada$$ puts idealizing violence, drug use and consumerism aside to talk about something more meaningful, while still making good music. And though I’ve focused this whole review on the album’s political angle, it never once comes off as preachy. It sounds like Joey’s speaking from personal experience, like it would be impossible for him to speak about anything else.
Matthew Callahan is a junior media arts and design and writing, rhetoric and technical communication double major. Contact Matthew at email@example.com.