Joey Badass falls flat with social commentary
When Joey Bada$$ made his debut with “1999” at just 17 years old, he turned heads with a style distinct from that of his youthful hip hop contemporaries. His ’90s influences were certainly surprising coming from a rapper born midway through the decade. On ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, Joey Bada$$ appears to be struggling to find his own voice, and his style hasn’t evolved far from the ’90s homage.
Many of the tracks, particularly those on the first half of the album, don’t stray from this style and are too upbeat to convey the seriousness of his political message. When he does shift from his jazzier, optimistic style, it doesn’t seem to be of his own volition. He shares the stage with a number of talented features that certainly add to the album, but who also often overshadow him on his own tracks. J. Cole sounds more at home than Joey on “LEGENDARY,” and though “ROCKABYE BABY” is one of the album’s standout songs, it feels more like a Schoolboy Q track than one from Joey Bada$$.
The album’s intent is pretty clear from the title alone, a maximalist attempt to describe our abhorrent political climate, the fever pitch of racism and divisiveness that plagues us. For the most part, the lyrics don’t pack enough of a punch to do the subject matter justice, and often come across as banal and forgettable. Though he maintains a barrage of political commentary, his ideas often repeat what the listener already knows. “Donald Trump is not equipped to take the country over,” he raps in “LAND OF THE FREE.”
He stays in his comfort zone, tackling serious themes while staying in the realm of easy listening. “DEVASTATED,”, the first single released from the album, is the perfect example. Already his most popular, the track is highly forgettable and lacks substance. “I put my pain on the cadence/Turn my brain up a wavelength,” he says, but the promised vulnerability is completely absent on this track, which repeats ad nauseam a predictable and cliché chorus about his rise to greatness. There is no doubt Joey Bada$$ has the skill and intuition to make popular songs, but the content of this album requires a willingness to get personal and exposed, a concept he seems uncomfortable with.
Though he falls short of delivering the sharp political commentary he aims for, there are times when his promise as a rapper is clear. Joey Bada$$ is at his best when he drops his guard, speaking from the heart rather than attempting to deliver direct political commentary. On “BABYLON,” he breaks through to the listener as he growls with a strikingly raw combination of pain and power, “It’s another black man, died at the white hand of justice/To tell the truth, man, I’m fuckin’ disgusted/I fear for the lives, for my sisters, my brothers.” It’s a moment of vulnerability that showcases the fire within him that he raps about, but rarely shows.
Joey Bada$$ clearly has the capacity to address themes broached on ABBA in an impactful way. If he is able to get past his tendency to play it safe and instead allows himself to be open, if he prioritizes making music that is genuinely insightful over music that is catchy, he will doubtless be able to hit on what is missing in this album. At only 22, he certainly has time.
More from The Rice Thresher
Pop powerhouse MAX’s performance at Houston’s House of Blues on Nov. 10 was nothing short of electric. Although I was a relative newcomer to MAX’s music, I already knew and liked his songs “Still New York” and “Love Me Less (feat. Quinn XCII),” the latter of which was included on the setlist.
Upon entering the Wortham Center for the annual holiday show, there is an unmistakable anticipatory energy in the air, accompanying their signature Christmas tree and bubbly mingling between well-dressed patrons. “The Nutcracker” is undeniably a holiday favorite for audience members, but their excitement for the show may be misguided. Despite the show’s remarkable popularity, the Houston Ballet’s production falls short of the original’s charm.
The original “Knives Out” is one of the few mid-budget movies in recent years to become a household name, and for good reason. It’s an engaging whodunnit with a cast of intriguing characters, smart subversions of the mystery formula, and sharp political commentary. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” does all of this again, opting to use the success of the original to go big. The quaint house from the first film has been exchanged for an island, the mystery on display is much more audacious and striking and writer/director Rian Johnson’s commentary on wealth’s role in our society has been amplified and brought to center stage. However, the decision to heighten and expand the scope of the film in no way lessened my experience — “Glass Onion” is consistently hilarious and captivating, trading out some of the quaint mannerisms of the first film in favor of more bombastic moments.