By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
“Who will take a stand and be our hero?”
These words come to my mind as I stare at my ceiling fan spin lazily at 2 a.m. Having music to play at night, especially during a government-imposed quarantine, is therapy for those who may be going insane like myself…but sometimes the music is too reflective of our own emotions in times of uncertainty.
I guess it’s time to talk about one of hip-hop’s most divisive records in recent memory.
Joey Badass’s All Amerikkkan Badass has inspired me to remember the plight of the common man during the COVID-19 crisis. It has inspired me to ask one simple question: Who will take a stand and be our hero?
The issues presented by COVID-19 and All Amerikkkan Badass seem worlds apart. Coronavirus is a virus that has taken a violent hold on countless lives and caused a halt on all economic and social activities. It’s a pandemic that directly affects the human body, regardless of color or creed. In today’s social environment, infrastructure seems incapable to support the infected, heroic medical workers, and the poor.
The problems presented on All Amerikkkan Badass, on the other hand, are tied directly into color and creed: inequality, racism, crime. Joey’s family and friends have to deal with oppression in the land of the free. They seek a hero and face an impossible task to overcome, one that has no definite solution…a social virus with no cure in sight. It’s a socioeconomic issue that has treated minorities horribly, and it still goes on today.
The mental struggle to fight an impossible battle is something that bridges the effects of coronavirus and Joey’s 2017 album. These two crises show that the innocent and helpless both suffer under a mountain of pressure and a lack of protection. Joey Badass, however, uses All Amerikkkan Badass as a platform to craft a message for everyone that suffers under the weight of the world.
Hold on to hope and become a legend through your family, your beliefs and your own actions.
All Amerikkkan Badass is a political record that doesn’t dive into the brass tacks of legislation. It chooses to dwell on the effects of chaos on our community. It highlights the cries of premature children tired of mistreatment and the desire to cling onto hope.
When I see coronavirus victims around the world unable to receive treatment, hardworking business owners forced to close, or even see my little brother unable to see his friends, I see that same desire for hope. Hell, I feel it. It would be fantastic for a new scientist to come in with a cure or a politician to make perfect legislation…
But just as we seem to be entering the true hardships of this pandemic, the underlying message of Joey’s verses rings all too true. There most likely won’t be one simple solution. We have to focus on what matters to us most: protecting our loved ones and helping those who can’t help themselves.
All Amerikkkan Badass reflects this desire to protect our loved ones from pain by showing how we react to bad situations. It’s a record that shows how anyone can respond to trauma; whether the song is a deeply thought-out metaphor or a gut reaction, it mirrors how we’re responding to the economic and social struggles of today. “Y U DON’T LOVE ME” is a breakup song…but Joey’s love interest is the country he lives in. For the poor and homeless condemned by a lack of support today, their relationship with their country must be on the rocks. “ROCKABYE BABY” paints criminal activity not as a fun, but as a necessary evil to ensure your family is fed. The line is blurred between what baby Joey is carrying: his family or his gun.
As All Amerikkkan Badass turns 3-years-old, its use of human elements to portray our reaction to conflict has aged like wine. “LAND OF THE FREE” dwells on the past of the U.S, showing that even the beacon of the world has committed atrocities against itself. It’s something to remember In times of internal struggle like today. “TEMPTATION” shows the effects of sin on the psyche; those with power can easily be tempted to abuse it without helping others, just as some will refuse to assist those without means to support themselves.
The themes of the album age so well because it focuses on the human elements of struggle: each conflict is universally relatable by appealing to pathos, the emotional core of argumentation. It just so happens that now, these songs reflect the COVID-19 pandemic. Even the “bangers” of the album seem to paint the hardest of beats as coming at a cost. “ROCKABYE BABY” and “RING THE ALARM” turn the volume and middle fingers up high…but who is the real winner here? When they’re placed between songs of struggle, you can’t help but feel that the fun has hurt someone. As Miami Spring Breaker videos pop up on my local news station, I can’t help but see a common theme of mindlessness inevitably hurting others.
The scattershot nature of Joey’s song topics on All Amerikkkan Badass are purposefully so. Every conflict summons a wide variety of emotions that all come at once. Fear, shame, sadness, cockiness. But even at the beginning, Joey gives us hope. “I used to feel so devastated!” he shouts on “DEVASTATED,” his celebration of self and confidence…but soon he slips into fear and violence. This culminates on his most harrowing song to date: “BABYLON”.
It is the embodiment of fear in a society that doesn’t know where it’s going.
As a fan of the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, I see parallels here between Joey and the show’s protagonist, Shinji Ikari. Both are faced with impossible odds and an unsolvable problem. “I’m running away” they both declare as an answer. How many of us, regardless of hearing this album or not, have wanted to run away from coronavirus? To never feel the fear of potentially infecting our grandparents and loved ones?
But as Joey says on the following song: “Legends they never die”.
On “Legendary,” Joey shows us that true power lies within the self and with others. Our ability to overcome the problems of today and tomorrow can turn us legendary. We have to make the decision to stay strong, and be strong for our loved ones. It’s a tough burden, but if it means everyone can make it through the day, then we have to do it.
We may not have a cure for coronavirus yet, but we do have a hero that can help us survive it. Ourselves. You can be a medical worker, an older brother, or even a thoughtful grocery store shopper.
We all can become legends and make it through to a better day. All it takes is endurance, love for the common man, and plenty of social distancing.
Link to more listening options on Joey Badass’s website: https://joeybadass.lnk.to/AABAID
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