Album Review: Joey Bada$$ – ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’

Written by on May 1, 2017


Album: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$
Artist: Joey Bada$$
Label: Cinematic/Pro Era
Release: April 7, 2017


Joey Bada$$ has carved out an enviable niche for himself in hip-hop.

The torchbearing figurehead of New York’s boom-bap revival has emerged as one of the genre’s eminent traditionalists, extolling the virtues of “real rap” in the face of hip-hop’s imminent identity crisis.

Joey’s reverence for this perceived classical approach to hip-hop comes to a prickly head on his latest release, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$.

All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is a lush, enjoyable vintage hip-hop album; from the funky stomp of “Temptation” to the haunting posse cut, “Ring the Alarm;” there are plenty of great moments scattered throughout its 50 minutes. But this enjoyment is largely skin-deep – under the vibrant soundscape, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is an album fraught with conflict.

All Amerikkkan Bada$$ is perpetually at odds with itself.  The general dissonance of both the production and the writing feels more like a mixtape of throwaways than a complete album. The lack of cohesion begins to feel less like an artistic choice and more like Joey Bada$$ struggling to find his footing in the rap canon.

The production is minimal yet exciting, mingling classic breaks with complex melodies and off-the-wall sampling. Longtime collaborator Kirk Knight, along with new faces like DJ Khali and 1-900, craft a mesmerisingly old-school backdrop for Joey and company’s bars.

While Joey is very much the star of the show here, there is a sizable pool of features that drop in throughout the album to add much-needed depth to the verses. In particular, ScHoolboy Q’s incendiary verse on “Rockabye Baby” and Meechy Darko’s madcap intensity as he handles hook duty on “Ring the Alarm” stand out as some of the album’s strongest moments.

Ultimately, where All-Amerikkan Bada$$ falls short is in its heavyhandedness. Joey’s message has become more important and all-consuming than his delivery, and he lets his elder statesman sensibilities get in the way of making an engaging, resonant rap album. His work has always been outspoken and laden with white-hot social critique, but up until now, his preachiness was kept in check by a keen sense of self-awareness. On All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, Joey Bada$$ seems to have bought into his own hype.

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