The response to the Trump Administration has been a level of activism and civic engagement that the U.S. hasn’t seen in years. Millions of Americans are marching, calling their representatives, showing up at town halls, and in general letting the government and world know that they don’t agree with the administration’s platform or proposed policies. It was with this backdrop Joey Bada$$ released “All-Amerikkkan Bada$$,” whose title seems to directly reference both the Trump Administration and white supremacists who both helped elect Trump and have been emboldened by his campaign and presidency. Bada$$ isn’t known as a political rapper, but he is one of the more promising young rappers around. Would he turn out to be this generation’s Ice Cube?
In a word, no. While Bada$$ remains a solid rapper with a lyrical style influenced by 90s New York hip-hop, he doesn’t quite manage the transition to political rapper. Part of the issue is that this album also sees Bada$$ trying to transition to a more mainstream rapper, and the tension between rapping for the club and dropping science is tough. Kendrick gets away with it mostly by being a once in a generation talent, so he isn’t a good model to follow. Where Kendrick manages to come up with rhymes that are both raw and deep, Bada$$’s political rhymes here feel shallow and half-baked. It’s not that they are bad so much as not that good.
On the album opener “Good Morning Amerikkka,” he raps: “Won’t you come smell the hot coffee/Stick your nose in the wrong place you might OD.” His explicit reference to politics on “Land of the Free” is full of empty platitudes:
“The first step to change is to take notice
Realize the real games they tried to show us
300 plus years of them cold shoulders
Yet 300 million of us still got no focus
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 cuz we know what’s the real motives”
The fact that Bada$$ isn’t the deepest political thinker isn’t the only thing that makes “All-Amerikkkan” so disappointing on a lyrical level. After all, YG’s “FDT” isn’t a complicated song, but it is an effective one. What bothered me about Bada$$’s lyrics on this album is how dumbed down they feel, especially in comparison with the complicated rhymes of his earlier efforts. It’s like he had a character limit when he was writing his rhymes. While there are moments where the old Joey Bada$$ shines through (like on album highlight “Ring the Alarm”), a lot of the raps on this album are kind of clunky.
While it’s disappointing that Bada$$ doesn’t offer more inspiring rhymes, it would be a mistake to write off “All-Amerikkkan Bada$$” because he isn’t the second coming of Ice Cube. I found myself enjoying this despite the odd cringey lyric. This is largely due to the production, which embraces the woozy sound that ScHoolboy Q has made popular. 1-900, DJ Khalil, Kirk Knight, Powers Pleasant, and Chuck Strangers handle most of the beats, and they mostly skew towards laid back and melodic. There are also some references to reggae, along with the obligatory 90s boom-bap supplied by Statik Selektah.
Most of the best tracks on the album are the ones that feature guest rappers. Maybe that’s because the other rappers add some needed flavor, or because they inspire Bada$$ to step up his game. ScHoolboy Q offers some fierce verses on “Rockabye Baby;” Nyck Caution, Kirk Nkight and Meechy Darko all bring verses to “Ring the Alarm;” Styles P shows up on “Super Predator:” and J. Cole is featured on “Legendary.”
It’s hard for me to tell to what extent the issues I have with “All-Amerikkkan” are due to it being genuinely lacking and what is due to me having unrealistic expectations. Political rap is an incredibly tricky thing to do well. And at the end of the day, I’m not the target audience for this album. It’s not geared towards a political junkie who spends his spare time reading about the wonky intricacies of policies. It’s geared towards people like Bada$$, 22-year-olds who never really thought much about politics until an administration came to power on a platform of scapegoating immigrants, harassing women, and adding outspoken white supremacists to its cabinet. To the extent that “All-Amerikkkan Bada$$” speaks to them, it’s a success.