From our photoshoot to interview, Joey Bada$$ literally counted the days between. No joke. Read Sarah J. Edwards' in-depth conversation with the cover star on hip hop 101, growing up, his first mixtape and how he'd like to see the future.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 3 Nø 5 print edition in 2015, this is an edited version.
Introduction and Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
Styling by Sally A. Edwards and Sarah J. Edwards
Location: Hotel Cafe Royal, London.
It’s an overcast day in London, outside Hotel Cafe Royal on Regent’s Street and at bang on midday, Pro Era’s Joey Bada$$ and Kirk Knight are walking towards me. Strikingly, Joey is hidden beneath a skeleton face mask and BAPE hoodie, which is complimented with black trench and waxed black jeans, Kirk is in a marl grey hoodie, black jeans and flashing his winning smile.
Fresh out of Brooklyn, our London streets are familiar territory for these much loved talents, yet this is our first ever meeting. Right away Joey and Kirk are friendly and inquisitive, grateful and humble. Confident. Stepping inside, we take a lift up to the top, wind our way through crazy and beautiful long corridors to the Dome Suite. It’s one of London’s most elegant hotels and the suite is unlike any other, it features a sound and light system fit for the classiest of parties, a huge stand alone marble bath tub and two terraces that present far reaching views of London and it’s juxtaposed roof tops of old and new, grimey and shiny. One terrace overlooks the Piccadilly Lights aka The Curve - the iconic and flashy ad-board which backlights our pictures.
It’s kind of magical what the small equation of a few words and rapport can do and within moments we all click brilliantly. We spend the day talking hip hop stories, photography, magazines, morals and fashion.
Fresh out of his teen years, Joey has already delivered a catalogue of work that has put him on the same path as his role models. He’s added value to the meaning of being a young MC, hip hop and the culture in the 2010’s: authenticity and perspective. This Bed Stuy baby knew from childhood he wanted to succeed in music, embracing words, concisely gathering knowledge and the necessary essentials to embark on his journey. He co-founded his Pro Era collective in a classroom at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn. Joey surrounds himself with talents, MCs, producers, designers, a comedian and photographer make up his crew. He has released a series of memorable mixtapes from 1999, Rejex and Summer Knights with production from DJ Premiere, The Alchemist, MF Doom, Statik Selektah, Kirk Knight and Chuck Strangers. He collaborated with Mac Miller, appeared on A$AP Rocky’s 1 Train alongside Kendrick Lamar, Action Bronson, Yelawolf, Big K.R.I.T and Danny Brown and made his first official release Enter The Void with TDE’s Ab-Soul. He has reached over seven million YouTube views each on his already future classic cuts Survival Tactics, Christ Conscious and ‘95 Til Infinity – for which he’s take a leading role in the creative process and has already donated $10,000 back to his high school to fund music equipment. Joey doesn’t have a major record label to thank - he has his smarts and the ability to dream big, a host of skills, a super sharp mind, talent to deliver and a dedicated management team helmed by Jonny Shipes. On Joey’s 20th Birthday, a few weeks after we first meet he dropped his debut album proper, B4.DA.$$, reaching number one in the rap and indie charts week of release and he’s only just begun.
57 days later we meet Joey again to talk. Here’s what happened.
HIP HOP 101
Sarah: Shall we do a little Hip Hop 101, first?
Joey: [Sitting upright] Um, 101 I guess.
Sarah: Ok. [Smiling] You’re super tired today.
Joey: Yeah, but I had a great night’s sleep.
Sarah: It’s like a different Joey. [Smiling]
Joey: [Turns to me and smiles] Yeah? You think so?
Sally: This is successful Joey.
Sarah: [Laughing] Yeah, this is Joey at number one. Don’t be like that with me!
Joey: No! You know what it is? [Laughs] It’s that I haven’t left my hotel. Like, if I had’ve left and gone somewhere else then...
Sally: Fresh air.
Sarah: [To Joey’s Publicist, laughing] You know now for the agenda.
Joey: [Laughing] I just rolled out of bed.
Sarah: [Laughs] Can you give me a sentence...the first thing that springs to mind when I say J. Dilla?
Joey: Soul. [Laughs] Wait, not one word.
Sarah: You know this is where my infamous Slum Village shoot happened. In this very building.
Joey: Are you serious?
Sarah: The one I was telling you about, where I was squashed in a bathtub so I could get their pictures.
Joey: Yeah, wow, it was here. That’s crazy. Well, J. Dilla. To me, he’s my favourite producer of all time. Any time I hear one of his beats, it’s just like, musical soul food, you know? It just feeds me and vibrates. I can’t even explain it. It just so golden. The sound of the fat chords. The dreamy synths.
Sarah: I was telling you about that day I had with them, when they were in the car. Making beats using the car, winding the windows up and down.
Joey: [Smiling] Yeah, yeah, yeah, like out of nowhere!
Sarah: [Smiling] Yeah, yeah. It was amazing. [pointing in a line] Baatin, Jay Dee, T3 just going for it. I was like, [whispers] ‘This is amazing!’ It was like being in the middle of the beats. Really good.
Joey: I can imagine.
Sarah: Ok, next one. Pete Rock.
Joey: I think of Soul Brother #1. Of course. [Smiles] When I think of Pete Rock, I think of classical. That’d be the first word that comes into my head. Classical, traditional hip hop. One of the best to do it.
Sarah: And They reminisce Over You, becomes everybodies favourite hip hop track, somewhere [on their journey].
Joey: Yeah. They Reminisce.
Joey: Q-Tip. Ill vibe! [Laughs] That’s what I think right away. [Smiling] It’s crazy, all the three producers you named are in my top five favourite producer list. When I think about Q-Tip...when I listen to Tribe, there’s like a bounce to it. It’s different from Pete Rock and it’s different from J. Dilla. I don’t really know the word for it. It’s definitely like a midnight bounce. You know?
Sarah: Yeah. Well he did a different kind of cutting. Sampling. He cut off of three elements of four beats and then looped it. Which you probably know.
Joey: I do, he’s amazing, he’s a genius.
Sarah: Yes. He is and his live show. That’s incredible. He opened for Kanye in Hyde Park, 80,000 people. It was crazy. He totally engaged the crowd. Ok, can you guess who I’m going to say next, now that I have pretty much nailed your top five producers?
Sarah: Premo [laughs]
Joey: Premo. [Laughs] DJ Premier, alright. So, I think about, with Premier he mixed the soul with just like the dirty underground street feel. His drums are just so hard. They knock so hard. He mixed it in with soul stuff...just really smooth. It became this funky sound.
Sarah: And a really aggressive scratch.
Sarah: Still really soulful.
Joey: Yeah [demos] Chh-chh! [Laughs] The way he throws that in there is crazy.
Sarah: I want to listen to it all again now! Ok, Public Enemy.
Joey: I think Don’t Believe The Hype, right away. Fight The Power. I see a lot of propaganda, not in them, just thinking of them. It kind of just opens my eyes.
Sarah: Cool. Mos Def.
Joey: First song that plays in my head is Ms Fat Booty, [laughs and sings] ‘I know, I can’t afford to stop.’ Mos Def is just so soulful and he’s just a wordsmith. The way that he blends it all together is very spectacular because flow... [rhymes] ‘...in she came with the same type game / the type of girl givin’ out the fake cell phone and name / big fame...’ but that’s just him rapping cool stuff, he really gets down and gets creative.
Sarah: Yes! We became really close friends with him because he spent a lot of time in London. We took him to another show at Hyde Park actually, we took him to meet James Brown and it was brilliant seeing them greet each other.
Sarah: James Brown was kind of like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ to all of us. Mos was just so excited.
Joey: I met Mos Def last time I was out here, actually the night of the day we did our photo shoot.
Sarah: Oh cool! Very nice! Ok, Biggie.
Joey: B.I.G. Brooklyn. Pretty much one of my earliest role models. [Laughs] It was Big! Word. The hardest flow.
Joey: Ever! Ever. Yeah.
Sarah: And really crazy to listen to it now and think that he was...well, your age. To me, that’s so crazy to have that much in there.
Joey: Yeah, the energy was so powerful, his voice just cuts through.
Sarah: Yes. Energy, content, humour.
Joey: Yeah, it cuts through.
Sarah: Exactly, I was saying to Sally the other day if you want to really listen to his flow, just put a few different remixes on and see how his voices carries over so many different beats. I love it. Ok, Statik Selektah.
Joey: [Laughs] Statik Selektah, my brother. My mentor. My uncle. [Laughs] When I think of Statik I think of the new renaissance hip hop, you know?
Joey: Because it’s like...with Statik, he’s mastered the craft. This is the person who’s put in those 10,000 hours – listening, creating or just vibing, you know? Vibing out with people. He’s definitely someone I go to for advice. He’s a musical heir that I always like to refer to when there’s something new that I make or when there’s something new I want someone to hear. He’s one of the first people I’ll play it for.
Joey: He’s like one of the hardest producers as well. His beats knock! Knock! On some next level! I don’t know, he got his own style. He definitely has his own style. I’mma get him on my next album. [Laughs]
Sarah: Good. That’d be lovely, because you’ve worked with him already, haven’t you?
Sarah: Ok, I’m going to throw a little curve ball at you, just to see what you think because I think he’s got something up his sleeve. Will.I.Am.
Joey: Will.I.Am? I think he’s a musical genius.
Sarah: He did a surprise performance of Joints and Jam with The Roots for their Annual Jam Session and just wowed everybody. Ok, Missy.
Joey: [Smiling] Oh! Missy’s my big sis. I love Missy. Word. We’re going to work on a song very soon.
Sarah: [Smiling] Gooood. Does anybody know that?
Joey: [Shakes his head]
Sarah: [Laughs, raises hand and whispers] Yeah! Exclusive!
PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE
Sarah: Ok, ready to talk about you?
Joey: Yeah. [Laughs]
Sarah: [Laughs] Yeah! All day!
Joey: I thought you said ‘Did Drake talk about me?’
Sarah: [Laughing] No! Why are we bringing Drake up?
Joey: [Laughing] I don’t know! You said you were throwing curveballs!
Sarah: He’s not on my list.
Joey: That was a splitter. That actually hit me in the chest.
Sarah: [Laughing] You thought I said Drake? [Laughs] Ok, alright, can you tell me a little story about...I really want to get into understanding a bit more about your childhood, your growing up and how you’ve sort of developed out with so much more content. You’re probably getting this all the time – and I’m really sorry if you are – that you’ve put out way more intelligence through your music.
Joey: I mean, I’ll say, what I like to tell people....when I was younger, first off my Mom told me a lot of things from a young age, as far as how to just look out for myself and how to support myself. I was her only child, it was just me and my Mom living together since I was five years old. To support both of us, she used to work two jobs. So as early as about five, six, seven, eight, I had to take public transportation by myself. I learnt how to do things like that. Come home from school, prepare some food and things like that. It wasn’t anything I necessarily liked, I don’t necessarily like being alone and when I went into the outside world, I was actually extremely extroverted, because I knew when I got home it was going to be quiet [laughs]. There’s no friends there so. On the outside world, I had so many friends. Long story short, all that idle time, all that alone time it really gave me the space to branch out and create. To even explore my inner self. At an early age, I discovered what it is I wanted to do, with all that idle time, I was started saying, ‘Alright, how am I going to use this?’ So I started writing, then from writing came recording. By the time I got to the recording stage, I used to love when my Mom wasn’t home! Because I wanted to record, you know? [Smiling] It was weird to record while she was in the house, [laughing] me screaming. I didn’t know, was she going to be looking for me or if she needed something. It was weird, I needed to be in that vibe. So, now, when I got older it’s like, ‘Yes! Nobody’s home!’ When I was younger it was, ‘the bogeyman’s going to find me.’ [Laughing]
Sarah: You were writing poetry and songs from 11, weren’t you?
Joey: I don’t know...
Sarah: [Smiling] Is that right? Is this true?
Joey: ...where did that came from?
Sarah: [Laughing] You didn’t tell me!
Joey: [Laughing] I didn’t!
Sarah: It came from the world...wide...web.
Joey: [Laughs] I don’t know where they got that on the w...w...w.
Joey: I’ve been doing it way before that, since as early as five. Four or five years old. I mean I was pretty much born just wanting to make music.
Sarah: Born with a pen and a mic. [Smiles]
Joey: [Smiling] Oh yeah! Born with it right in my hands.
Sarah: The first thing you did publicly that got Jonny’s attention was a freestyle video on YouTube?
Joey: Yes. It was my first YouTube freestyle. It wasn’t my first YouTube video. [Laughs] It was definitely my first freestyle.
Sarah: I want to know how you distributed and got your mixtapes out there. Immediately I’m thinking, Joey’s going to have two tape decks and just be recording them. [Laughs] What’s your Wu- Tang story? Did you have the trunk of a car? [Laughing].
Joey: [Laughing] Because of the age and times that we’re in, it wasn’t the trunk of a car.
Sarah: Exactly, [I was joking.]
Joey: It was more out of the hub of your laptop! So, I linked up with Shipes probably two years before my first mixtape. Watching the way he works, learning from him and everything, he kind of hit me up on how the game was and how you roll out a proper project and things like that. So, it was with his method of introducing an artist. So, it’s just like, you come out with the song, whatever song it is. In our case it’s Survival Tactics, came out with that, then we came out with the video. The video started going viral, people started picking us up. ‘Who are these kids? Joey Bada$$, Capital Steez? Pro Era? What is this?’ You know, people started to get interested, then we drop another video [smiles] and it’s like, ‘Oh! Shit! I can’t believe this.’ And that was the Hardknock joint, Joey Bada$$, CJ Fly and then you know, people really started getting into it and then... Bam! We hit ‘em with the mixtape. So you know, we just kind of captivated them and then gave them what they wanted.
Sarah: Yeah! What do you think it is that made you get the audience you’ve got by having so much content? At the moment, if I look...who do we know who’s out there within your demographic and your success range?
Joey: I mean, I say that there’s still people like... [Pauses and faces me] I say, I still have work to do. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yes, but, you’ve obviously done [smiling] alright because you’ve got a number one album. [Laughs] So, you can’t deny that.
Joey: [Laughs] I do. I tend to forget that.
Sarah: Do you? [Laughs] You’re like, [blasé] ‘Yeah, I’ve done that. What’s next?’
Joey: [Smiles] Pretty much. Yeah, pretty much onto the next one.
Sarah: So part of that plan with Jonny was it his, or your idea just not to go with signing a regular deal?
Joey: Um, it was a mutual thing, but since [I was] a young kid, I always had a vision and a dream, that I could just make it independently and I wouldn’t have to sign to anyone.
Sarah: That’s brilliant.
Joey: ...except for Jonny Shipes of course. [Laughs].
Sarah: So, it wasn’t a massive deal for you to quit school early?
Joey: Nah, when we were working and everything, I was still in school. 1999 came out June, it literally came out the last day of school. My debut mixtape came out the last day of school and I went on tour that summer. That was my junior year going into my senior year, so when I got back... My senior year? School was just crazy. I was like, ‘Ma, you gotta get me out.’ I’d be in the halls, sitting in class, people taking pictures of me, stuff like that. It was just weird.
Sarah: How did it feel within yourself to have that change?
Joey: It felt good, I mean, I just wasn’t used to people in my school, like ‘Yo! Can I get a picture?’ and acting weird and stuff like, that you know?
Joey: It was just a little strange. It was definitely good. Things were on the upside.
Sarah: So, I covered all your past questions now. Tell me if I’ve got this right as well, because I have to know I’ve got the facts [laughs]. You attribute success to faith, belief and optimism.
Joey: ...and hard work.
Sarah: Yeah, of course. Looking back and up to today, what have been three most life shaping events and tipping points for motivation?
Joey: For motivation? I lost two people who were very close to me and now they’re part of the main reason why I still do what I do. I push hard for them. That’s probably the most powerful one.
Sarah: [Pause] How does it feel now, because you do forget that you’ve got a number one album...because even from when we met, which was what, two months ago?
Joey: Yeah. About a month and a half ago. Two months now.
Sarah: You’ve been to Australia...
Sally: ...Aw, have you been counting the days?
Sarah: You’ve been counting the days? Joey’s very excited that he was seeing us! [Laughs]
Joey: [Laughing and raising his voice] It’s been about 57 days.
Sarah: [Laughing] And you thought you were going to see us on the 59th day, that’s why you’re a bit thrown off today.
Sarah: [Laughing] Right?
Joey: [Gestures a small amount with his fingers] Just a little bit. I thought I was going to see you on the 58th, so it’s just... you know!
Sarah: I did too actually, I thought it was going to be tomorrow. [Laughs]
Joey: [Smiling] Word.
Sarah: So, how do you feel today? Do you let your achievements sink in? I suppose it’s kind of weird isn’t it? You have to keep motivated as well.
Was that a goal that you expected to hit?
Joey: Yeah, I mean...
Sarah: Did it mean much to you, or do you feel it’s just numbers and you want to kind of move on and get more creative?
Joey: Yeah, I had a goal and I only obtained half of my goal. So to me, of course it was definitely a great moment. But. To me. The inside person, the hardworker, it was like, it’s not good enough. Ever since then, I’ve just been trying to create more and just working on the next one, so I can obtain an even higher goal.
Sarah: Yeah, that’s what I’ve been like all my life.
Even though I’ve never had a number one anything.
Joey: I’m sure you’ve had a number one something.
Sarah: No...no, I don’t think so [laughs] but even when we do our magazine or our clothing, I get really excited and then I see it, I kind of... Like, we had our clothing up in Selfridges, all across a wall and I got in there and was like, ‘Ok. I should do something new now.’ It’s a weird feeling, you put so much energy into something and then it kind of drops down a little bit and you want to build up again.
Sarah: I know this might seem like a funny question, but what do you think have been your best discoveries that you’ve made abroad that you’d want to take back and put on record? That would influence your rhymes or your production on projects going forward?
Joey: Well, with this album specifically it was one of the trips that I made out here to London that inspired me in a crazy way, because I went to...you know Maverick Sabre?
Joey: He’s my brother, so I went to his studio and we’re just vibing out. But just the way that he was working and the energy that was there just inspired me so much that as soon as I came home, I recorded like seven songs. Just in one day.
Joey: That’s how inspired I was, so definitely things that I find and it might just be energy, or just a spark. Or just love, you know? [Laughs] That just sparks my...tickles my fancies or whatever. Just because you’re really inspired.
Sarah: Yes, for sure. So, I would describe you as having an eclectic but centred style. Like I’ll know it’s your track even if you got a double time beat or a different vibed beat.
Sarah: Is that ok?
Joey: Ummhuh! [Laughs]
Sarah: What standout things have you witnessed that you think are going to make your rhymes grow and your music grow? I know that I’ve kind of asked you that just now, but just in terms of that fact that you have sort of got a centre. Is there anything you want to add, that you might surprise yourself by or you wouldn’t have expected?
Joey: I’m sure there’s many things. You know, I’m a very...I like to experiment and I’m very spontaneous. So, as soon as I think about some weird shit, [laughs] I’ll do some weird shit. [Laughs] Word.
Sarah: Ok, how do you really want to see the world. How would you like to see things level out? Anything that you think is really unfair like violence.
Joey: There’s this quote that I always like to repeat and speak into the Universe, it’s by Sri Chinmoy it says, ‘When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.’ That’s how I’d like to see the world.
Sarah: Yes. That’s very cool. Now, my last question is based on some of your tweets.
Joey: Ok. [Laughs]
Joey: [Laughing] Oh god!
Sarah: [Laughing] You wrote. On. I don’t know what day it was, something like 14th December.
Sally: 57 days ago. [Laughs]
Joey: [Raising voice] This is crazy, because anytime I tweet I feel like nobody sees it.
Sarah: [Laughing] Really? Really?
Joey: Yeah, I feel like nobody’s seen this shit! [Laughs]
Sarah: Do you know what? I took a screengrab of it and saved it in my phone and thought I must speak to Joey about that. You said, ‘I want to see more female leaders and the extinction of the bad bitch.’
Joey: Uh huh.
Sarah: And I really wanted you to talk more about that.
Sarah: You also said, ‘It’s not an occupation and Instagram is a bare illusion.’
Sarah: I’ve got to tell you that I was so pleased. I took a screengrab of it because my self esteem is getting crushed every time I hit the explore page. [Laughs]
Joey: Mmm. You know what? It makes you see things that like, naturally we’re not supposed to see.
Joey: Like, I could be in a relationship and then I could pick up my phone, hit that explore page and see all these other girls and it’s just like, ‘Why do I got to see those?!’ ‘Why do I gotta see this shit?’ It’s not like I’m naturally meeting them outside on the street and like, me, I’m one of those types of people that when I talk to a girl, I don’t communicate to her through social networks. I like to meet you in person and you know, form a relationship that way, by speaking to you. So when it’s like that, I see that it’s just an illusion. You could just fall into that. Anyway, as far as the bad bitch part and that shit being an occupation, yeah, I’m not feeling that!
Sarah: [Laughs] That’s all you need to say isn’t it!
Joey: [Laughs] I’m not, I’m not feeling that. At all. I want to see these young females come out more and just really lead, you know? Instead of following and try[ing] to succumb to these trends and just doing all of these things, exposing themselves just for attention. Then say that they’re not doing it for attention, but you know it really is. I just want to see them use their voice more instead of their body’s and shit. You know, use their minds.
Sarah: So that was it. Thanks!
Joey: No problem [smiles] It’s always good being with you guys, being in your presence. You know? The twins!
Sarah: Thanks Joey, likewise.