17-year-old rapper Joey Bada$$ was walking down Broadway in Manhattan recently when he witnessed a vision in the flesh: Jay-Z, perched regally in a Maybach. “It’s crazy—he looked at me like he knew who I was and what I was going to be,” Bada$$ proclaims. The Jigga sighting was just one more omen signifying Bada$$’s rapid ascent: A charismatic talent from Brooklyn discovered via a rough, amateur video that exposed his awe-inspiring flow, the high school senior has been tapped as one of the premiere MCs to emerge from the recent wellspring of hip-hop hopefuls pouring out of the greater New York City area. When the video made the social media rounds in 2010, it sent the music blogosphere into a tizzy—”The kid is hotter than magma,” as Bada$$ spits memorably on his autobiographical track, “Waves.”
Bada$$’s blazing, gritty lyrical skills have, in fact, driven bloggers to draw lofty comparisons to the likes of Jay-Z, as well as Biggie and Nas in their classic eras—an idea reinforced by Bada$$ himself in the title of his recent mix tape, 1999. “It refers to the ’90s golden age of hip hop, as well as the Y2K concept,” Bada$$ explains. “It’s like I’m the last hope for rap and the end of the world!” Youthful exuberance aside, Bada$$ is no wide-eyed teen: He has arranged to retain creative control over his music and co-founded the Pro Era crew, a collective of producers, rappers, and designers that is vying to dominate the pop culture conversation the way Odd Future did last year. “I won’t dilute my vision—but my goal is to be #1 on the radio and the charts,” he says. “We want all the good stuff, all the glamour and gold, but our main mission is to change the world.” His ambitions also extend beyond music world domination. “I’m going to be the next Will Smith,” he says. “I know I can be.”
PHOTO: JOEY BADA$$ IN NEW YORK, JULY 2012. JACKET: J BRAND. T-SHIRT AND SHOES: Y-3. JEANS: A.P.C. HAT: BLACK SCALE. JEWELRY: BADA$$’S OWN. STYLING: SARAH ELLISON/STREETERS. GROOMING: WESLEY O’MEARA/THE WALL GROUP. SPECIAL THANKS: FAST ASHLEYS.