ABOVE: JOEY BADA$$
If you want to get a sense of 17-year-old Joey Bada$$'s rapid rise in the hip-hop world, spend a few minutes in his management team's muggy, unfurnished, and graffiti-laden midtown offices. The newly-installed phones don't always work, much of the recent wiring is exposed, and the Internet connection is fickle.
But Joey remains buoyant.
Standing in the ramshackle front room, watching Joey and his crew (Progressive Era) riffing and rapping over a newly-minted beat, one can't fight the feeling that one is witnessing something special. Here is a group of vibrant teens, fiercely passionate about their music, who are wholly unperturbed by the titanic wave of media coverage heading their way.
Next door is Creative Control, the two-man videography team who shot Joey's lauded "Survival Tactics." That video—released at the end of February—brought the Flatbush native words of acclaim from big-name hip-hop blogs, and even caught the ears of major outlets like MTV, Complex, and Vice. Joey has yet to release a solo mixtape, let alone an album. But his fanbase is building, and he's earning features with well-known MCs, among them Mac Miller and Smoke DZA, whom he's joining for a 29-city tour this summer. Joey's soon-to-be-released "Waves" video boasts director and stylist Va$htie, and a collaboration with renown soul producer 9th Wonder is in the near future.
With Joey's debut mixtape 1999 slated for a June 12th release date, all eyes are on the young, dexterous rapper... a term which, by the way, he despises.
ANTHONY BADAMI: I saw in a recent video you shot with Perrion and Bryant Dope that, like Jay-Z and Biggie, you don't write anything down. Is that true?
JOEY BADA$$: I mean, on most occasions I go into the studio without a pen and pad... Sometimes I write, sometimes I just come up with it in my head. I started freestyling more often because I thought it would be necessary to develop that skill, being that people are saying I'm going [the] places I'm going, just me preparing myself. Eventually that turned into not writing at all, just saving the same couple of bars in my head, doing it over and adding on.
BADAMI: You know what's nuts? I was shooting to do this interview mid-day, sometime around 1 or 2pm, but then your publicist told me you couldn't because you were still in school.
BADA$$: People forget how young I am. I often forget how young I am.
BADAMI: Exactly. Now that you've released this video, "Survival Tactics," and it's getting such wide reception, all of a sudden there's this machinery around you, people vying for your attention.
BADA$$: I mean, it's crazy. I'm definitely not a person that lets anything get to me like this. I've just been balanced, and balancing it out is what I do naturally. I'm still the same person. I still live at the same place I've been living.
BADAMI: What was it like to have Vice magazine walking through your high school in Flatbush, Edward R. Murrow?
BADA$$: That day I say, everything really started changing. I'm not really a fan of having cameras in my face, especially when I'm in school. These people see me every day, and out of nowhere, these cameras are following me around. A lot of people asked me, "How much did you pay for those cameras?" I'm like, "What? Free 99!"
BADAMI: So Basquiat went to your high school.
BADA$$: Yeah, Basquiat did, and Adam Yauch. Rest in peace.
BADAMI: Do you have visual artists, painters that you really like, that you think about when you're making music?
BADA$$: At the moment?
BADAMI: Or in general.
BADA$$: There's this girl named Cassie L. She's in my American history class. She's a really good painter; better than she thinks she is. I really like her paintings. It gives me a lot of inspiration, to see it every day, that's what she's doing on the side, is really amazing.
BADAMI: To move forward a bit, tell me about the day you opened for Mac Miller at Roseland, the same day you did MTV and shot a video?
BADA$$: It was like superstar, stardom 101. [laughs] That day was amazing. I got out of school and went straight to do the Sucker Free interview, the whole time, I was just like, "Ah, fuck it," it wasn't really getting to me, I was just doing it. After the Sucker Free Countdown we performed at the Mac Miller show, and then after the Mac Miller show, we went to go shoot the video. And it wasn't until the end of my day when I got back home at like 6 o'clock in the morning and I had school in an hour that I realized what I'd done. So, anyway, it was crazy, it was an amazing day. From the performance, we got a lot of good feedback.
BADAMI: You said in an interview that someone recognized you when you were walking in.
BADA$$: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That was cool. I learned not to do that anymore. I was told that I'm not allowed to walk past the fans. I didn't know. [laughs]
BADAMI: So how did you come to the form the group Progressive Era?
BADA$$: I wasn't the founder. There were two, there was Steez and Powers who had created it, but then they both brought in me and CJ, and then we founded the group from there. Ever since then, we've been multiplying. That was over a year ago, back then, we never thought we would be where we are now. It's amazing what can happen in one year.
BADAMI: There's no doubt about it. I have to say: that track "Waves" is just incredible. And now Va$htie's doing the video?
BADA$$: Yeah, we actually finished shooting it.
BADAMI: How was that, working with her?
BADA$$: Va$htie was really cool. I love Va$htie.
BADAMI: Digging up your tracks is an adventure; they're all over the place. Now that you have an official body of work coming out, the 1999 mixtape, you must be in a different place mentally. What was that process like?
BADA$$: There were so many changes; I went through so many different stages in a short amount of time. With the initial plan, I had this completely different sound for the tape, until I started chopping things. I started getting it going, building a buzz, and then like, the fans shifted my mind at some point, as to how I should make my music. It was all about staying true to myself, doing what I wanted to do, the sound that I wanted to do. That's basically how I came about it, and now I'm pretty much satisfied with what I have.
BADAMI: Is "World Domination" going to be on that?
BADAMI: How long have you been a fan of MF Doom?
BADA$$: I've been a fan of MF since freshman year. So about two years now. Two and a half.
BADAMI: I heard this song, "Update," which was produced by Kirk Knight, and this is like. . .
BADA$$: He's right over there.
BADAMI: Yo! What's up? That beat is incredible! What's up Kirk, what's going on over there?
KIRK KNIGHT: I'm chilling.
BADAMI: I love that track. It's not that traditional East Coast grimy sample with the drum loop just thrown over; it's a different sound for you. Is that something that's going to be explored on 1999?
BADA$$: I was really into it when I wrote that song. It's just some really experimental shit. I'm not being serious. I'm not saying that nothing like that will ever come again.
BADAMI: So, you just finished the stuff with Adidas Originals, too.
BADA$$: Yeah. That was really... how do you guys know that? It's not even out.
BADAMI: The Internet... everything is there, forever, for everyone to see.
BADA$$: Fuck that. I never even spoke about that!
BADAMI: Don't stiff any waiters.
BADA$$: Noooo... I never even...
BADAMI: How would you describe your style, then? A lot of people try to pigeonhole you; they contrast you with A$AP Rocky. He's from Harlem but sounds like a Southern rapper. Do you see yourself as a New York rapper?
BADA$$: I hate the term "rapper." In the present world, it's so degrading. I hate that fucking term, I hate being called a rapper. There was a point in my life where I didn't want to tell anybody I was really interested in rapping, because I thought it would make me look bad.
BADAMI: So what do you prefer, artist?
BADA$$: I don't even know what I prefer. I am a rapper, right? It sort of sucks. It sucks. I'm a rapper. Fuck it, that's life.
BADAMI: So, typical interview question, what's the first hip-hop song you heard that you really got into?
BADA$$: [laughs] Biggie Smalls' "Hypnotize."
CREW MEMBER: What about "The Thong Song?"
BADAMI: "The Thong Song?"
BADA$$: "The Thong Song"! That was one of the first ones. It's fucking funny you say that. It's funny you say that. That video was the highlight of my childhood. That shit made me want to get the tattoo around my belly button!
BADAMI: You were going to get a tattoo around your belly button?
BADA$$: Nah, when I was younger. Sisqo did it! I'm going down for this, I'm going down.
BADAMI: That was the first song I downloaded on Napster, "The Thong Song." It took half an hour, and I was thrilled.
BADA$$: I used to love Dru Hill, bro. I used to love Dru Hill. Yeah, "dat ass, dat ass." I used to love Dru Hill, man.
BADAMI: I feel like there's not enough attention given to the network of people around you; there's just too much attention on a single individual artist.
BADA$$: It sucks. I hate it, man. I hate it. I really hate it. They always tell me, "Don't worry, get your shine," but deep down inside I wish we could all get our shine together.
BADAMI: I wanted to ask you one more question, and it's one of my favorite lines of yours. I was hoping you could just tell me what you were thinking. It's from "World Domination" and it's "Joey you rule / I'm like phony you knew / I'm only in school for cosmology / that's why I act as lonely as you. . ."
BADA$$: Ahhhhh, I knew you were gonna say that! So, what were my thoughts like?
BADA$$: I mean, all right. At my school, I'm taking a class in astronomy. It's my favorite class. But the only thing, we're not studying astronomy, we're studying cosmology. So that's been bothering me for like a couple weeks. Astronomy is spirit stuff, like astral planes; that's not what we're learning. We're learning about the stars and constellations. It's cosmology. NASA is wrong. It's cosmonauts. Just shit like that, it's been bothering me, because I am a true astronomer. I am an astronaut, because I travel through astroplanes.
1999 COMES OUT JUNE 12TH. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT JOEY'S FACEBOOK PAGE.