Is Joey Bada$$ the New Face of Hip-Hop Revolution?
The Brooklyn-born rapper’s sophomore album ‘All-Amerikkkan Bada$$’ could herald a massive wake up call for America
From the moment his single “Land of the Free” went viral on March 6th of this year, it became a difficult task to schedule time with Joey Bada$$. The heavily symbolic music video for the track resonated with thousands across the globe almost immediately, catapulting the young American rapper into more mainstream channels and overnight fame. After several cancellations and hectic rescheduling from both ends, we finally received a slot for an interview at 4 A.M. India time. It wasn’t ideal, but as the conversation progressed, it became clear that the wait was worth it. “To where I’m at to where you’re at, I always thought that was interesting,” says Bada$$ over the phone from New York. “The way we could connect on totally different sides of the world.” With that sentence, Bada$$ addressed the very crux of his sophomore album All-Amerikkkan Bada$$; finding common ground through music in a world of bigotry. “This whole new album… The microcosm of it takes place in the country, but the bigger picture is about the universe, is about the world,” he explains. “It’s bigger than just where I’m at, the country I’m in, or even the sole life that I live.”
Bada$$ first created a massive stir following the release of his debut mixtape 1999 in 2012, the sound of old-school Nineties hip-hop propelling his popularity and opening doors to collaborations with the likes of Mac Miller and Juicy J. His 2015 debut album B4.Da.$$ brought jazz into the mix of Nineties hip-hop and was the body of work that went on to solidify his reputation as an artist who wanted to talk about things other than money, sex, drugs and women. What stands out even more is that at just 22-years old, the rapper is extraordinarily aware of global and racial politics while most of his peers are worrying about what to post next on Instagram. To him, however, this isn’t anything special. “I get inspired by things that I feel I should bring to light. That’s pretty much it. It is not too complicated at all.” All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, which came out last month, is an extension of this philosophy. Each track takes on several different facets of racism and hate, suggesting solutions and encouraging listeners to wake up and take a look around.
As America drives into a new and frightening phase in its history of racism and violence–currently with one of the greatest bigots of all time at the wheel–more artists are taking to protesting through their music and Bada$$ definitely isn’t afraid to dive deep. In “Land of the Free” he tears apart Donald Trump, questions the ‘American Dream,’ drops references to the Ku Klux Klan and doesn’t even spare Barack Obama; ‘Sorry America, but I will not be your soldier/Obama just wasn’t enough, I just need some more closure/And Donald Trump is not equipped to take this country over/ Let’s face facts ’cause we know what’s the real motives.’ He isn’t afraid to point out the flaw behind Obama’s presidency; in an interview with Genius, he stated that while having a black president was a great thing for African-Americans, it was a temporary pacifier to a larger issue and America remained blind to all the hate still simmering underneath the lid. It is this hate that has spilled out since Trump took office. “They’re always trying to find ways to circumvent the issue of racism that still exists in the country,” he says.
Musically, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ explores rap, Nineties R&B, pop with generous splashes of trap and contemporary jazz. “Devasted,” which was released much before the album in 2016, shocked much of Bada$$’s fanbase with its pop influences, prompting many to flood social media with comments that included ‘sell out!’ and ‘bring back the real Joey!’ It doesn’t surprise him; fans first complain about artists who don’t change their musical style often and then complain when they do. “I mean you’re always getting the real Joey every time I touch a microphone,” he says. “I’m glad you brought that up, because after my first mixtape I dropped Summer Knights [EP, 2013] and I saw that’s what a lot of the criticism was; ‘Oh he’s not evolving, he’s not gonna blow up, he just keeps up with this Nineties style,’ you know what I mean?” He adds, “That gave me an extra boost to show people like, ‘You don’t think I’m versatile? You think this is all I’m capable of? Alright, let me show you that it’s not’.”
In fact, Bada$$ believes that evolution is a large part of what makes an artist great. Whether it was Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Prince or even Bada$$’ personal influences Tupac Shakur, J. Dilla and The Notorious B.I.G., some of the greatest artists in the last 50 years have placed their trust in reinvention. “I don’t know why people fall in love with the fact that an artist should be making the same thing constantly. That doesn’t make sense to me,” says Bada$$. “That’s what I feel about a lot of artists in the game today– some people don’t have to grow and they’re still being accepted and that’s when I think shit starts going on the downhill.”There’s no trace of malice in his tone while he says this, and the same calmness transfers to his demeanor while rapping. His lyrics are about waking up and taking charge but there is patience in his voice and almost no profanity to be found—blended together on a highly political record, the effect is unexpectedly powerful. “I think musicians hold a responsibility to speak for a lot of people,” says Bada$$ about the lack of profanity in most of his work. He says he needs to use his platform to promote positivity, peace and love because there are a lot of kids who are exposed to his music. “I’m definitely aware that they listen and I want to try and inspire them to be the best that they could be no matter what.”
When it comes to what inspired Bada$$ to address all these issues on All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, he explains that it wasn’t musicians who were behind the thought process—it was civil rights figures like Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr and Dr. Umar Johnson. Bada$$ reveals that he listened to their speeches all through the entire year he spent making All-Amerikkan Bada$$. “This comes from a place that’s bigger than me and my life at least.” Tracks like “Temptation,” “For My People,” “Y U Don’t Love Me (Miss Amerikkka)” start pacing the message out slowly before bringing in a little anger and frustration on “Babylon” and “Ring The Alarm.” “Rockabye Baby” is particularly dark, a ferocious dictation of the circumstances racism creates that push individuals into a cycle of violence: “They gave us guns but won’t hire us, nigga?/ So we killin’ senseless/ Homies murked on the bus benches/ Retaliation ’cause his mama cryin’/ Kept it gangsta ’til I modify ’em/ Rockabye, rockabye.”
While the album features collaborations with the likes of reggae artist Chronixx and American rapper Schoolboy Q, Bada$$ shares that the track he’s most hyped about is “Legendary” which features his long-time hip-hop hero J.Cole. “I’ve been a fan of Cole for years, way before I became known in the industry and way before my career started,” says Bada$$, adding that to him collaborating with his idols is one of his greatest accomplishments. “It’s funny to me because even now today I meet young kids and they’ll see me and say, ‘One day I’ll be on a track with you, one day I’ll rap with you.’ I mean, I was that little kid when it comes to J. Cole, you know?”
The ladder to success also brings a tour with American rapper Logic, which means Bada$$ will finally get to bring all the tracks on All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ to life onstage. “To be honest that’s the most exciting part,” he says. “When you make a new body of work, you’re buzzing with excitement to perform it and hear it coming back to you.” In addition to his band, Bada$$ plans to go big on visual graphics and wants to craft an unforgettable experience. “I want people to walk away with something exciting to talk about even if they’ve seen me seven times already. I want them to say ‘He got better,’” he says. We talk about the possibility of a tour in India and he is immediately frustrated that he hasn’t been able to set something up yet. “I’m always beefing with my booking agents about this,” he tells us. “Why haven’t we done shows in Africa? Why haven’t we done shows in India? I guess it’s just the timing thing… When the timing is right, I’ll be there.”
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Watch Joey Bada$$ video for “Land of the Free” below: