Joey Bada$$ has been the future for a solid three years now. His mixtape 1999 shook New York Hip Hop to its foundations as, it seems, everyone forgot about what a soulful, New York sound actually looked and felt like. High school kids immediately found themselves revisiting classic New York influences through Pete Rock, DJ Premiere and more, but Joey’s sound wasn’t a rehash so much as a revelation.
Now, after his debut album hit shelves in January, the under 21 star has been handling his career while being on the front lines of marches in New York against corrupt city police officers and startlingly consistent abuses by them happening around the country. Joey’s first album was also an achievement, as he managed to pin down a sound mainly driven by vibes and spiritual leanings.
The de facto Pro Era leader is slim and introverted, and we find him at DX HQ taking to Thai food like he hadn’t eaten in days. We banter back and forth about the significance of being under 21 and growing up in the game: “I didn’t want anybody to listen to my shit and be like, “Yo, he sounds like this.” No, I want people to be like, “Yo, he sounds like Joey” or, “This guy sounds like Joey.” You know?
Joey Speaks To His Growth An Emcee & Representing His Sound, Not NY’s
HipHopDX: D&D studios has closed. Could you talk about the tracks you made there and the history behind that studio?
Joey Badas$$: First off, thankful, honored, blessed to have been a part of that history. I worked with Premo a couple of times there and every session there, you know, was… really special and golden. ‘Cause that place just has history. Like it has this energy, like this spiritual energy there. The first time I went there I felt like Big L was just looking at me, or some shit like, “Look at this nigga recording in my booth.” [Laughs] Like, “What you finna do on this Premo beat?” [Laughs] You know what I’m saying? It was a great place, just like everybody else, sad to see it go but… “Paper Trail$,” “Unorthodox,” couple of tracks you guys never heard. Maybe one day…
DX: The new album is a direct cut away from the stuff that you’ve done in the past. It feels like you came into your own with your philosophy as well as your voice. Can you talk about what that record means to you?
Joey Bada$$: That record right there, it means the whole first quarter of my life. I’m glad you caught that ‘cause I really wanted to solidify myself as an artist, as an emcee, with this record. Because when I first came onto the scene — when I was 17, when I made 1999 — I was getting a lot of comparisons, and the comparisons were cool, like, it was an honor to be compared to Nas, or somebody. I really wanted to focus on sounding like myself. I didn’t want anybody to listen to my shit and be like, “Yo, he sounds like this.” No, I want people to be like, “Yo, he sounds like Joey” or, “This guy sounds like Joey.” You know? Yea man I feel really great about the record. I feel like, mission accomplished.
DX: The sounds on the album are really intricate and you didn’t use a lot of sampling on the records. I just want to talk about a few. I want to talk about the Kirk record, “Big Dusty,” that’s one of my favorite records on the album. Can you talk about the making of that?
Joey Bada$$: Pretty much like how we make most of our records. Kirk was just in the crib one day and he was chilling in a dark room. Like, he was on some whole other shit. [Laughs] Just producing… And I got him this light for his room so it was just like when the lights go off it’s just this colorful light and it changes with the beat. So each bass thump it would be like red-green-yellow-blue, you know, trippy shit. So I basically walk in to him just playing what is the chords of “Big Dusty,” and I was like… [Laughs] I pretty much just walked into the vibe, I’m like, “Yo what is this?” He’s like, “I don’t know, some beat I was making.” And I was like, “Alright I got some bars wussup.”
DX: And it’s as easy as that, no doubt. There’s an idea of you in New York and what this album means and represents. And it kinda means and represents that New York is kind of being creative again. Can you talk about what it means to be at the forefront of that?
Joey Bada$$: I feel like New York was always being creative.
DX: There’s like, for example, all the reunions that are happening right now is almost like a older generation. And then there’s a younger generation of people like Ratking doing dope shit, you guys are doing dope shit, A$AP…
Joey Bada$$: I really think the older generation of New York needs to connect to the younger generation. I don’t think that happens on our side enough. What I really admire about the West side is their unity. I really think that they’re definitely more unified than the East Coast and, you know, we definitely need to do something about that…
DX: Any collaboration in the works?
Joey Bada$$: I’m working with Raekwon really soon, Meth, Ghostface, everybody… We just gotta make it happen. The thing about Cali is so open, that you can just make things connect easier. Where in New York there’s so much static, you know, there’s so much things going on. So it’s like, yeah we wanna connect, we’re tryna connect but it’s just so fast paced.
DX: It kinda got expensive to make records. Did you guys feel anything like that?
Joey Bada$$: Man, I think it’s pretty expensive everywhere. LA is expensive, the only reason I don’t really stay out here for a long time is because every day I gotta pay to fucking sleep. [Laughs] If I had some more homies out here or just somewhere I could crash then I’d be out here more. But I only have like one real friend out here, and that’s Chuck.
DX: Just move it to the tour a little bit before we go back, you went international and it was incredible. Can you just talk about your favorite venue from the tour?
Joey Bada$$: Santa Ana is definitely one of those joints right there. London… London was one of my best shows to date, the last part of the show. It was like 2,000 people, it was probably the biggest headline that I had just by myself. Paris was insane. There’s a sick video online of me performing “Christ Conscious” in Paris, literally the sickest thing ever. That’s when I started walking on the crowd. Yeah that shit was cra… crazy! It makes me feel invincible — like I could jump and do a backflip, I could do anything.
DX: Because you grew up in Hip Hop and, you know, sometimes the game is kinda weird. But when you perform like that and you get that kind of response, does it make you seem like “Yo this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Joey Bada$$: Yes because I could easily be doing some trap, which I like. I actually got like a couple… I got this one trap record that I perform at my shows and shit and I’m working on some more. But like it’s dope that I can do a Hip Hop record, you feel me, and get the same — if not more type of energy — than where everybody do the regular trap shit and everything. It’s really dope.
DX: “Christ Conscious” is a special record.
Joey Bada$$: [Laughs] We knew that when we first heard it. I made it and then I picked up the homies in the whip and I was like, “Yo, peep this shit.” I was in BK, I was just driving my uncle’s pick up truck and shit. Sound system and all that was crazy so everybody just in the whip, [really got things spinning like they’re supposed to…]
Joey Bada$$ Explains Why Pro Era Is Important & Being An Elite Emcee
DX: You guys have your own special sound. Is it tough to keep other influences out?
Joey Bada$$: Before I was really anti-everything-that-anybody-else-does, but now to me is more like making music and I’m coming to an understanding of the music game and the music world. And you know, sometimes you make records, not to adapt or change or to fit in, but you make records to connect to larger audiences. When I made “Teach Me,” for example, I wasn’t trying to make any specific type of record, it was natural. It happened just like any one of my other records.
You know, heard a beat, fell in love with it, and then the rest was just ready to settle for whatever. It comes to a point where you realize like, “Oh okay, you could do this, you could do that,” and you know that a record like this will appeal to more audiences… a bigger audience. So that’s at least what it is for me.
DX: You guys are pushing forward with something, and not only you, Kirk as well and the other numbers. You guys are pushing forward with something that is really really unique to NY. Is that important to you?
Joey Bada$$: Definitely important, definitely important. I mean, it’s not my mission to be like, “Yo I wanna represent New York or anything,” ‘cause music is an expression of one’s self… My music is gonna represent New York regardless ‘cause I’m from there but I don’t have to say, “Yo I wanna represent New York, so I’m make music like this.” Nah, I mean because I’m from New York that might be… that’s probably most likely what influenced my expression but it’s not anything that is my mission. I’m worried about putting on for Hip Hop, period. Because even me, I started getting exposure outside of New York. It was a outside then it came back in, you know? Yeah I mean, I represent New York of course but I’m not trying to, you know, I’m not trying to create a New York sound or anything.
Nah I’m trying to create my sound. And it’s gon’ keep switching up, like me I’m a spontaneous person, I like to be versatile. I don’t like creating the same song twice. So it’s a gonna be alotta different things, you know? Shit they might be mad at Joey next year. They love you, then hate you, then love you again. I mean at this point there’s a lot of different things I did on one type of style. I definitely wanna expand out more, you know, I wanna bridge out, I wanna work with different artists. You know I just wanna make good music. It’s always gonna be good music, you know, ‘cause I’m never gon’ put out anything that sounds bad to me. So if you respect Joey Bada$$ as the artist, then you should respect anything that comes from me. Don’t prejudge it or don’t have any expectations set, you know, just know that I loved this when I made it and that’s all that matters.
DX: A lot of people look back at 1999 and they say, “Yo, that was an incredible start out the gate but then you’ve only gotten better from there.” Like, do you think that right now 2015, in the hierarchy of things, you’re up there as an elite emcee?
Joey Bada$$: Yeah, I do. I see it when I meet other artists. It’s like, I don’t know, I see that they see something in me and it’s weird. For me because I’m younger and everything and I’m just so eager to work but I see sometimes people are intimidated by my presence or something like that. I’on know it’s kinda weird. I can tell that it’s because of that like I’m the only one of the generation really holding it down as an emcee so they’re just like, “Yo respect, respect my G, you out here. And you from New York, and you from Brooklyn, and you from Bed Stuy.” [Laughs] So it’s just like, “Yo, that nigga right there, word.”
DX: What do you think the change has been in Hip Hop?
Joey Bada$$: Hip Hop over the years has really expanded and has really grown, even to like the 2000s era. That was a new time for Hip Hop right there. We had bling, we had the real South country music really starting to take over, so it was like people was hearing a different sound from the real original Hip Hop that they was hearing before. I just think over the years Hip Hop has opened itself and now it’s like this super-genre which has so many other mini-genres within it. It’s Hip Hop, then there’s club-rap, there’s trap-rap, there’s real rap-rap, you know, it’s so many different subgenres of it. There’s hip-pop, you know, which is really the dominating force now because I think that pretty much explains it. Now it’s like you got these pop songs that people are rapping over now.
So that’s what’s taking over the charts ‘cause I believe rap, Hip Hop is the biggest genre in the world right now. So they’re fusing it, rolling in these other genres… Me, I’on wanna complain, I don’t wanna be that artist that be like, “Yo I don’t feel like I’m getting enough of this…” I’m just gonna prove myself. If not this album, alright I’ll do it the next one. I know I’ll be at the Grammys one day, I know I’m a win a Grammy one day. I know whoever is not giving me my respect now is gonna give me my respect one day cause my artistry won’t permit them not to. My work ethic, my job, my dedication, it just won’t permit them not to. I’m not even tripping, like I’m 20 years old right now, I’ve accomplished so much, I’m just blessed. I’m happy to be alive, I’m happy to open my eyes everyday. I’m happy to have a team, I’m happy to be doing this shit on my own, to be independent. You feel me? Niggas ain’t in my pocket like that. I’m happy to make $6 off an album. Word up.
DX: You spoke about the team man, you guys are a really, really tight squad. You don’t see squads a lot these days. Can you talk about what having those people around do as your brothers?
Joey Bada$$: That’s another thing I’m really happy about. I’m happy about having everybody take off the ground. Kirk is next and his project is like, so fire. And I’m just so glad that he took out the time to really craft it… Me, what’s really dope is that I got to step my foot in first. All the knowledge that I’ve gained, you know, it transferred into wisdom that I can now tell them like, “Yo, there’s a fire in this room so go this way.” It makes them better and it’s just like a leapfrog effect, it’s like, “Aight now I’m here. Yo Kirk, step over.”
You feel me? That’s the dope part about it too. Like you know sometimes I trip out about like how the older artists like the Kanye’s and the Jay’s and everything, sometimes I feel like I wanna be a part of them more, I wanna be in the mix with them, but then I realize that I have my own mix. With them it’s like they’re the bosses of their little mixes and shit. With me it’s like, “Word, I’m the boss of mine.” So in like 5 years we still gon’ be here, we gon’ be the ones. It’s just tight man. It’s just patience, balance and just, you know, understanding.
DX: The balance man, it’s gotta be tough because you grew up in Hip Hop and there’s so many different influences. It’s not the best place to grow up. Is it tough to necessarily stay down and stay focused on just making music and doing amazing shit?
Joey Bada$$: I mean it’s always gon’ get tough. That’s what I’m starting to realize now like, there’s always gonna be times where I feel like I can never create a good song again. And it’s cycles that musicians go to, just like, “Damn, I feel so like… brain farts all day and shit.” But then there’s gon’ come a time where God is just gon’ be like give you the inspiration that you need again. It’s just patience man. With me, I just like to let things come to me naturally, I don’t like to force things.