Image courtesy of YouTube/PRO ERA
THEBIGGERPICTURE (London) — "Like Me", a non-album single from Joey Bada$$'s debut studio album "B4.DA.$$", is our song of the week.
This week was a week dominated by tragedy over in the United States, the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman filling social media feeds, protesters filling the streets, a shift away from coronavirus dominating the headlines. Floyd repeatedly said, "I can't breathe", after the white officer pinned him to the ground with his knee, but to no avail. George Floyd, an African American man in Minneapolis, was murdered in broad daylight by a police officer; those who are supposed to serve and protect the American state have instead turned to cold-blooded killing. Most depressingly, it is just another incident of police brutality in the United States, a country which has struggled to let go of its racist past, with racism still deeply entrenched in society and the police force.
Joey Bada$$'s track "Like Me" is highly relevant to the debate of race and police brutality in America, and therefore deserves to be named track of the week. "B4.DA.$$", released when Joey Bada$$, real name Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, was just 20 years old, is an introspective exploration of his status in the United States as a young black man, of the gang violence, crime and police brutality in Brooklyn, where he was born and raised. The album is filled of lyrical, conscious rap layered over classic boom bap beats, paying homage to the classic 90s New York hip hop scene, to greats like Nas, Tupac and Biggie.
"Like Me" is no different, featuring minimalist boom-bap percussion, guitar strums, and ominous brass warbles cooked up by legendary producer J Dilla (who has handcrafted the sound of artists and collectives like a Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Slum Village, Common, Mos Def, and Royce da 5'9"), complimented by Scott's easy-going yet intricate flows and wordplay. BJ the Chicago Kid, who features on the track, croons in the background, adding R&B undertones to an otherwise classic hip-hop cut.
Scott wrote this album throughout 2014, a year in which Eric Garner, a black man living in Staten Island, New York, was choked to death by a white policeman. Like Floyd, his last utterances were the gasps in between choked breaths of "I can't breathe". An 18-year-old, Nupol Kiazolu, then led demonstrations in New York against police brutality and racism in the United States. So as well as being informed by Joey Bada$$'s real life experiences growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Garner's deaths and others must have inspired some of the lyrics from this album, which harshly address police brutality:
"Blacks get their ass sprayed just for making a move / We get high and say "Fuck the police" / That’s why we get high and say "Fuck the police / That’s why we get high and say "Fuck the police" / Cause every time I make a move they be sweating me / They want another black man in penitentiary / It's even hard for that man standing next to me / Cause he could catch a bullet that was really meant for me / It's like every step bring me close to destiny / And every breath I get closer to the death of me / I'm just tryna carry out my own legacy / But the place I call home ain't letting me / And not my brothers whose souls now rest in peace".
As well as police brutality, Joey also discusses the impact growing up with crime and racist cops in his community has had on his own hopes, dreams, and ambitions, rapping "I pray there's hope for a n*gga like me / hope for a n*gga like me / just pray there's hope for a n*gga like me".
The track was complimented by a music video, released by his hip hop collective PRO ERA, which shows two sides of his life; gang violence and clashes with the police, and laid-back, sensual romance with a lover, which end up tragically intertwining, communicating across a further narrative in the Nathan R. Smith-directed video.
Joey Bada$$ is also another example of the kind of youth artists that we set out to highlight when we founded THEBIGGERPICTURE; he received critical acclaim for his mixtape, 1999, released when he was just 17. Videos have emerged on YouTube of Scott spitting complex bars over beat-boxed beats courtesy of his friends at just 15, back in 2010. His 2017 album "All-Amerikkkan Bada$$", released when he was only 22, was a standout project and a modern-day classic, an exploration of what it means to be black in America. Cuts like "Temptation" further explored police brutality in poignant detail.