Through an analysis of “Land of the Free”, this essay will argue that Joey Bada$$ is using his platform as a musician to take on personal responsibility to fight a corrupt society impacting minorities in America while offering a path moving forward. His belief that music is capable of instigating genuine change is echoed by David Tame in the following quote, “The sheer volume and variability of composers and compositions make music a timeless and unparalleled site for creative individuals to explore visions of peace and democracy, and express outrage at violence and suppression” (Tame 2014, 1). Early rap artists such as Tupac Shakur and Lauryn Hill saw their music as a voice to “fight the powers from above” (Howard 1999). Joey Bada$$ takes it a step further. Before analyzing “Land of the Free”, it is important to understand the context in which Joey Bada$$ created the work.
According to Joey, “Land of the Free” was inspired by Dr. Umar Johnson, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X; all proponents of equal rights for African Americans (Genius, 1:31). The choice of release date was a strategic one: “Land of the Free” was released on January 20th 2017, the confluence of the first black President leaving office and the inauguration of President Trump. The album “All-Amerikkkan Bada$$” is Joey’s challenge to the American people to stand up and “Start a new coalition against corrupt politicians” (Bada$$ 2017, Land of the Free). In the song, he makes it clear that it is his turn to stand up for the oppressed, “But how do I go about it? Tell me where I start?”.
The firing squad scene corresponds with the second verse which outlines numerous injustices faced by people of colour including racism, discrimination, mass incarceration, and corruption. It is this last point that Joey Bada$$ is highlighting in the scene. The image of the firing squad is powerful in itself, but the directors take it a step further by showing the bullets actually killing people at 2:28. This can be viewed as a metaphor for police brutality with neither control nor accountability. Throughout the video, Joey is connecting with a group of children dressed in white, a symbol of the innocence of youth and the vessel through which change can become a reality. These scenes are a direct foil to the desert wasteland where the firing squad takes place. The children exude a sense of peace and harmony, absent in the wasteland. The imagery found in the final scenes depicting the rebirth of both those murdered in the firing squad as well as Joey himself, beginning at 4:01, precisely represents the responsibility he has taken on to not only deliver the message of fighting corruption but showing that the fight is not lost. The future can be a new and more positive reality.
The backbone of the “Land of the Free” music video is the lyrics. As stated earlier, the inspiration for this song were black activists such as Malcolm X however, Joey Bada$$ also draws from other important historical figures such as Mahatma Gandhi who inspired the first bar of the bridge, “We can’t change the world unless we change ourselves / Die from the sicknesses if we don’t seek the health” (Bada$$ 2017, Land of the Free). In the Genius lyrics video, Joey expands on his words with a plan, “I think the first thing that we can do is, it involves going to the United Nations and presenting our problems to the world. We can’t present our problems in front of this country, because this country knows what it has done to us” (Genius, 7:05). These bars set the tone of responsibility for the rest of the song. Continuing on the theme of responsibility and accountability, Joey raises the point that having a black president did not remove the need to continue the fight, “Obama just wasn’t enough I need some more closure / And Donald Trump is not equipped to take this country over” (Bada$$ 2017, Land of the Free). As Joey states, “I personally believe that putting President Barack Obama in office for black people was of course a good thing, but what it did to us, our political selves, it put us to sleep, because a lot of black people was like, ‘OK if our president is black, let me turn my back. Let me not worry about what’s going on over there’…just because you gave me a black president don’t mean that you know, all our problems is resolved, don’t mean that our history is erased” (Genius, 3:16). People have to critically think and take responsibility for themselves rather than placing it on someone else. As Joey turns towards the future he states, “The first step into change is to take notice” and that he is “reaching out to my children, just hoping that they will listen” (Bada$$ 2017, Land of the Free). These lyrics illustrate how he wants to pass the ‘torch’ to the next generation as well as outlining how they have a role to play in reforming society.
As Stuart Hall states, “The media are not only a powerful source of ideas about race. They are also one place where these ideas are articulated, worked on, transformed and elaborated” (Hall 1995, 20). Joey Bada$$ approaches his music in the same way. While his earlier songs focused more on simply entertaining, they acted as a springboard to introduce his theories on issues of corruption and systemic racism. For Joey, music is both an expression of ideology and identity, one that is capable of instigating powerful change. Ultimately, Joey understands that everyone needs to step up, and, as he states, “All eyes be my witness when I speak what’s felt” (Bada$$ 2017, Land of the Free).
Bada$$, Joey. 2017. “Joey Bada$$ – “Land of the Free” (Official Music Video).” Youtube video, 4:49. Posted by PRO ERA, March 6, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeQW-9Cg8qs
Tame, David. 2014. “Semester at Sea Course Syllabus.” Ho Chi Min: Semester at Sea
Genius. 2017. “Joey Bada$$ Land of the Free Lyrics.” Accessed October 1. https://genius.com/11201017.
Genius. 2017. “Joey Bada$$ “Land of the Free” Official Lyrics & Meaning | Verified.” Youtube video, 7:20. Posted by Genius, February 23, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaCnL7hxiEs&list=RDvaCnL7hxiEs&t=89
Hall, Stuart. 1995. The Whites of Their Eyes. London: Sage.
Howard, Willie. 1999. ”Rap: The Cry of of a Rebuked People.” Ethics of Development in a Global Environment. Accessed October 2. https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/rap.htm.