The past two weeks have been abuzz with the album drops of the rap industry’s two most influential artists. Joey Bada$$ released his 12-track album, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, on 7 April 2017 and Kendrick Lamar released his 14-track album, DAMN., this past Friday on 14 April 2017.
Both albums are boldly capitalized and unapologetically controversial with Lamar’s explicit title and Bada$$’s upfront reference to the KKK. Amid the hostile change in America’s political climate following Trump’s election to office, the political context of both albums is unmistakeable.
Here are two reviews and a rundown of little-known facts pertaining to the creative thought process behind the albums.
ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
Bada$$’s work is always a breath of fresh air among the mainstream rap that continues on its formulaic path of drugs, money, and girls. From the start of his relatively fresh and precocious career, he’s never been one to shy away from sociopolitical themes. And he delivers again with his 12-track album, ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ with a clear and singular message on oppression in America. The album is no doubt a blast from the past of old-school political hip-hop and riddled with rap culture Easter eggs that nod to the genre’s golden age.
The timings of his single and album drops are also significant to his message. His Martin Luther King Jr. tribute LAND OF THE FREE was released on the day of Trump’s inauguration and the album itself was released on the anniversary of Capital STEEZ’s 2012 mixtape, Amerikkkan Korruption. 
Bada$$ opens the album with his first track, GOOD MORNING AMERIKKKA, a song that questions and criticizes both America and himself. Throughout the mellow beat he alludes to his faith in God and the wake-up call of taking agency in standing up against oppression instead of waiting for a higher power to intervene. The brief song acts as an introduction to the next 11 tracks, as they play out to become a musical essay of Bada$$’s thoughts. Each song, with his boom-bap sound, retains a sense of purpose and distinction that doesn’t tire out the listener or allow for any unnecessary overlap in his points supporting the thesis of his album. There are layers to his frustration.
In the third track, TEMPTATION, Bada$$ brings in a familiar topical reference with audio samples from a viral video that circulated last year of a girl tearfully addressing Charlotte City Council. Her voice is sweet and earnest as she says “I feel like that we are treated differently than other people / And I don’t like how we’re treated / Just because of our color doesn’t mean anything to me.” 
The fifth track, Devastated (the only un-capitalized title within the album), is a distinctly melody-based song among his other rap saturated tracks—though all his songs have a good balance between beat, synth, and lyricism. The song also lends itself to be a good follow-up to the heaviness of the previous track, LAND OF THE FREE, which is arguably the bulk thesis of his album. The heavily rap-based songs return after the end of Devastated, with a slew of consecutive up-tempo collaborative tracks that include artists such as ScHoolboy Q, Kirk Knight, Nyck Caution, Meechy Darko, Styles P, Chronixx, and J. Cole.
As the album reaches its closing track with Bada$$’s unadorned voice in AMERIKKKAN IDOL, the album reaches the catharsis of his frustration. His voice is smooth, as he raps faultlessly and with ease. It’s clear that he’s taking his time with this one, the background music understated. He ends the album ominously, with “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”. 
Lamar’s DAMN. is ambitious, each song a thoroughly thought out component to the narrative flow of his album. He collaborates with three influential and talented artists, Rihanna, Zacari, and U2. And although there was skepticism and surprise when fans of both Lamar and U2 heard that they were collaborating, the partnership is far from a gimmicky reach. In fact, it makes a lot of sense within the context of both the song and the album.
The song, XXX. FEAT. U2., begins with a brief one and a half verse introduction that alludes to the unwritten prejudices of the American Dream. The haunting vocals of the prelude is abruptly cut by a change in music, and Lamar’s frustrated voice comes in overlaying a loop of police car sirens as he illustrates the moral conflict he faced through his experience with gang violence. As the song eventually transitions into the mellow lull of Bono’s hook, the follow-up rap slows down into something more reflective and focused. In its entirety, the song mirrors the themes that U2 has historically built its legacy upon: personal faith and sociopolitical concerns. Billboard critic, Gil Kaufman, sums it up well, stating that “in looking backwards to sounds from a different genre and an earlier era for inspiration, Kendrick is seeking out the links that connect us even as he sings about the things that divide us.” 
Lamar also doesn’t hesitate to criticize Fox News on multiple fronts. He not only criticizes the news outlets contribution to the dehumanizing of black issues in media, but also retaliates specifically against reporter Geraldo Rivera’s negative comments about his 2015 BET performance, Alright.  Throughout the album in songs, BLOOD. and DNA., he samples Rivera’s scathing and uninformed quote: “hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years” which was a statement Rivera made based on a perceived counter-intuitive attack on law enforcement in Lamar’s music. 
Through lyrical wit and nuanced decisions, Bada$$ and Lamar dissect the systemic reasons behind their country’s failure to end the social stigma surrounding race. However, it’s important to note that both albums are undeniably distinct. Bada$$ criticizes the bigger picture of society and government, while Lamar tackles his own personal struggles with developing as an artist and a man in America. The details of their lyrical narration lie on completely different planes of the social ecological model—Lamar focusing on his own microcosm versus Bada$$ illustrating encompassing systemic issues. And although there is no staged correlation between the two drops, the tone of the two albums no doubt suggests a greater political shift in hip-hop culture and music.