How This Album Made Me Who I Am Today
The personal impact of Joey Bada$$’s sophomore album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$
4 years ago, Joey Bada$$ released a (personally) life-changing album. The timing of this album is pivotal for me, as it came out right as I was approaching my senior year of high school. In my opinion, this album is a certified classic and will continue to age beautifully as it inspires the youth. With some of the most difficult subject matters to talk about, Joey Bada$$ sends a very loud message in his sophomore album. From police brutality to reparations, the black plight in America comes to the forefront. What’s almost heart-breaking looking back at it, is that every single theme is still relevant in this point in time, and almost prophetic at times. Read on to see how this album, essentially, radicalized me.
I had known about Joey Bada$$ for years now (from a verse in the infamous posse song, 1Train), but I never really bothered to give him a listen. It wasn’t until I heard, probably, the most recognizable song on the album — “Devastated”. The catchy chorus interpolated with the swift, adjunct bars created an addicting sound that pulled me into the orbit that was Joey Bada$$. Upon further inspection, the entirety of All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ was stockpiled with the verses of adversity.
This wasn’t just an album, it was a message — to me, to you, and the entire world.
Still young and impressionable, I was bombarded with the realization of the inequality black people face in America. I was no longer shielded by the naivety that came with being young. Videos of black people being brutalized and murdered by police flashed through mind and timeline, alike. It all seemed to click in a timely manner. The connection between race and inequity became apparent to me, everywhere I looked. That could be me running, begging, and pleading for life. This album was vital in helping me realize this. The pain and anger in which Bada$$ spoke reverberated in my mind, heart, and soul.
Here are a few songs that could help you make this realization too, if you haven’t already.
“For My People”
In an anthem to people of color, Joey Bada$$ dissects what it means to be a POC in America. Police brutality and systematic oppression are the main themes as they are a couple of the largest obstacles POC face. As a mainstream artist, Joey feels as if it is his duty to provide that voice that will spark a revolution. Music is the way he does this, the microphone is his “weapon” and he aims it right at his oppressors.
“This for my people, tryna stay alive and just stay peaceful
So hard to survive a world so lethal
Who will take a stand and be our hero, of my people, yeah?” — Joey Bada$$, For My People
For me, this song felt like an indoctrination into the culture. I felt as if being a part of this community, embracing what it means to be black, was vital in my ability to speak out against injustice. And honestly, I denied that part of myself. I heard this song and realized, oh shit, these are my people, too.
This song opens with a speech from (at the time) 9 (!!) year old, Zianna Oliphant, who goes on to explain — in tears — that she feels the nonacceptance of black people in America is unfair and unjust. This was after Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by police officers in 2016. The song focuses on the temptations that riddle black youth as they grow up in a system not built for them. Bada$$ sympathizes with those that gave into temptation, as that easily could’ve been him. However, these temptations must be battled as they stand in the way of the ultimate goal, prosperity and equity.
This was heartbreaking to listen and watch upon my discovery of this album. She was nine, a child, aware that black people are treated in a different way based upon the color of their skin. Why and how should a child be aware of this? I felt a little guilty and betrayed that I had been ignorant in light of these issues. Obviously, age was no excuse. She was one of the reason I write the way I do now, with and for a purpose. I want to fight now so these kids don’t have to later.
The vibe in this song is different from the others. The chorus, featuring artist Chronixxx, has a very Jamaican-Bob Marley Vibe. But the main focuses are the verses — especially, the first verse. It is an absolute slaughtering criticism of the oppressive system and really emphasizes the harsh reality that exist being black in America. Here is a snippet of the verse:
I’m sick of holdin’ grudges, I’m loadin’ in all my slugs and
Aimin’ it at the judges, f*ck the cops
F*ck the system and the government, you f*ckers not
Protectin’ and servin’
You more like damagin’ and hurtin’
And letting off shots ’til you motherf*ckers certain
He ain’t breathin’, you made it clear
“F*ck your breath, n*gga,” don’t even deserve air
Don’t even deserve shit, don’t even deserve nothin’ — Joey Bada$$, Babylon
This is where my anger began to grow. “Don’t even deserve air” echoed loudly in my ears and still does as the trial for the murder of George Floyd continues. No matter how or why you’re approached by the police, they should never hold the power to take your life away — who are they to decide who gets to live and who deserves to die? Normally, I am a very level-headed person, and even through my anger, I remained so. I decided upon writing as an outlet. This anger created two of my most popular and my personal favorite poems: “White Lies” and “Oink!”. These both would go on to be published in several different mediums including my university’s literary magazine and here on my profile.
Honestly, I’m going to paste the very last verse here and let it speak for it’s self. The brevity and bravery of this verse is haunting and could go on to define Joey Bada$$’s career. It would go on to define my career as well.
What the government is doin’ amongst our people is downright evil
Disturbin’, but not surprisin’, that’s for certain
With all of the conflict of propaganda, I believe they are simply tryna slander
Start a Civil War within the USA amongst black and white and those alike
They are simply pushin’ us to our limit so that we can all get together and get with it
They want us to rebel, so that it makes easier for them to kill us and put us in jails
It is for sure time that we as a people stand up for acknowledgement
And accomplishment of what we call human rights
It is time to rebel, better yet, raise hell
I just want everyone to be cautious about how they go about it
Because this is all part of the government’s plan and what they been plottin’
They’re literally beggin’ for this to happen, so they can kill us off
Usin’ uprisin’ and rebellion as the excuse in a timely fashion
The cancerous foods, the chemical warfare, economic sufferin’ is not workin’ fast enough
There are many steps ahead of us and manifestin’ the future that they want
The code words to killin’ a black man by police is, “He’s got a gun”
Damned if he do, damned if he don’t, damned if he runs
Or what about them? Them murderers got it
Ameri-K-K-K-a is force feedin’ you lies down your throats with a silver spoon
And eventually, we’ll all be doomed
Real, real, real soon — Joey Bada$$, Amerikkkan Idol
Who Am I?
So how did this album change me? It made everything that I was ignorant about in high school, come to the forefront and demand my attention. Police brutality, economical and psychological disparity, and systematic oppression continue to be challenged by my generation and I. In my sophomore year of college, I decided to change my major from Computer Science to English. A move that I believe will benefit me greatly in my attempt to write as a living, especially to amplify and produce black voices. I also learned to not take everything for face value, meaning, read beyond the headline. They are often misleading on purpose and take time to understand, much like people.
My evolution from naive high school student to proactive college student was largely shaped by this masterpiece by Joey Bada$$. And I’m thankful for that.
Originally published in Modern Music Analysis on Medium. Leave a tip to support the publication!