By Thomas Infante
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Jo-Vaughn Scott — better known by his rap moniker Joey Bada$$ — has always been somewhat of an outsider in modern rap music. His first album, “B4.DA.$$,” drew heavily from the sound of ’90s East Coast hip-hop, while infusing its own distinct style due to Joey’s solid lyricism and smooth flow.
The 22-year-old rapper released his second album, “All Amerikkkan Bada$$,” on April 7. While his first album, at times, felt like a tribute to Joey’s rap idols, “All Amerikkkan” is diverse in its production, which highlights the heavy tone of the subject matter that Joey speaks about.
As a whole, “All Amerikkkan Bada$$” is much bolder and more subversive than any of Joey’s previous efforts. In an April 10 interview with XXL Magazine, Joey said he aimed to craft his lyrics — which often commentate on current socioeconomic, political and racial issues — around catchy and upbeat production.
“The music is a vibe, but it’s something that you just got to listen to,” he said. “Even though you’re having a good time, you will listen and be like, ‘Damn, he said that? That’s some real shit.’”
These lyrical themes are evident from the first track on the album, “For My Pethis track, Joey raps about how difficult it can be growing up black in America. It’s a great opening track, and its calming, yet upbeat production draws the listener in with soft synthesizers and horns behind a groovy drum rhythm. His lyrics also seem to summarize the purpose of the album.
“Music is a form of expression,” Joey raps. “Imma use mine just to teach you a lesson.” His train of thought continues onto the next track, “Temptations.” The beat features a bluesy guitar riff over heavy bass and snare drums. Joey’s lyrics are both dark and empowering, making for one of the catchiest conscious rap songs in recent memory.
“I never felt selfish before, I’ve been living so reckless I know,” Joey raps on the chorus, ending each by repeating the phrase “Lord can you help me?”
The following track, the single “Land of the Free,” is one of the more overtly political songs on the album. The beat features bright synthesizers syncopated with a jazzy bass line, while Joey’s lyrics once again address socioeconomic issues of the black community. While the track sounds good overall, Joey’s lyrics come off as a little preachy, especially since such similar subject matter dominates the lyrical content of many of the album’s songs.
The next track, “Devastated,” was released several months ago as the lead single to the album. When the song was first released, it seemed like a cool change of pace for Joey, but compared to the rest of this album, the track is pretty weak. Joey’s singing in the chorus is grating after multiple listens, and the production and lyrics don’t really stand out, especially against the much more powerful songs on this album.
“Y U Don’t Love Me?” also suffers from the same problems. Nothing in the production is very memorable, and for once, Joey’s lyrics are disjointed and forgettable.
The album’s tone becomes darker around the second half, starting with the track “Rockabye Baby,” which features rapper Schoolboy Q. The beat consists mainly of a minor sounding piano riff complemented by a simple yet powerful drum groove.
Joey’s lyrics similarly shift in this song, which features himself and Q trading verses about selling drugs and running with street gangs. Joey still has the occasional conscious lyric, but for the most part, this song just bangs.
The next track, “Ring the Alarm,” has far more featured artists than any other track on the album. Rappers Meechy Darko of the Flatbush Zombies, as well as Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution from Joey’s own Pro Era record label, each contribute a strong verse to the song. Refreshingly absent of politics, the verses of the song illustrate the lack of lyrical skill of many popular rappers, which is accentuated by the impressive and deft lyrics from each.
The album gets political again on the track “Super Predator,” the title referencing the outdated term used by some politicians to describe black youths in gangs. Joey raps over a simple snare beat complemented by a saxophone, giving it a distinctly cool East Coast vibe. Despite the title, the lyrics aren’t very political, rather they are optimistic about the future of the nation.
The next song, “Babylon,” has a reggae-inspired sound, assisted by Jamaican reggae artist Chronixx who sings on the bridge. The subtle four-chord organ pattern complemented by trumpets, a saxophone, drums and finger snaps add sonic diversity to the album. Joey’s lyrics are quite bleak and, at times, very angry.
“To tell the truth, man, I’m fuckin’ disgusted / I fear for the lives, for my sisters, my brothers / Less fortunate than I,” Joey half shouts, half raps. “I’m sick of holdin’ grudges / I’m loadin’ in all my slugs and aimin’ it at the judges.”
The final two tracks, “Legendary” featuring J. Cole and “Amerikkkan Idol,” both have laidback beats that allow the lyrics to stand out. At the end of “Amerikkkan Idol,” Joey calls his people to action, and stresses the importance of civil disobedience in an era in which black people cannot trust the government or police.
“What the government is doin’ amongst our people is downright evil /Disturbin’, but not surprisin’, that’s for certain,” Joey rhymes. “They want us to rebel / so that it makes easier for them to kill us and put us in jails / Alton Sterlings are happenin’ every day in this country and around the world / The scary part, boys and girls / Is most of these stories don’t make it to the news and reach mass consciousness / It is for sure time that we as a people stand up for acknowledgement.”
Joey continues his monologue for a while, his claims becoming more and more extreme as the track goes on. While I cannot directly relate to what Joey is talking about on “All Amerikkkan,” I admire the conviction and phrasing of what he has to say. As he said on “Temptations,” “That’s just the way I feel.”