The last few years have been rough for fans of New York rap who have been in search of NY’s next defining voice. Long gone are the days where the city’s five boroughs would regularly spew out a slew of MCs that had dope bars, fresh flows and quality music. Due to this bleak reality, many fans have grown accustom to seeing many of the newcomers coming out of hip hop’s birthplace stumble for a variety of reasons, but mainly, because either they’re trying too hard to bring New York back or they’re being too quick to ditch the New York aesthetic altogether and adopt the styles of other regions like the South and Midwest in hopes of obtaining mainstream success. One young rapper hailing from New York who seems to be more focused on making the music he wants to make and perfecting his craft than on restoring New York to its glory days or keeping up with current trends is Joey Bada$$. “It’s about figuring out what I really want to do and identifying with what my main sole purpose is,” he says.
Over the course of the last three years, he’s gain notoriety by consistently showcasing his above-standard lyrical abilities, releasing a series of critically-acclaimed mixtapes and staying clear of gimmicks. “I guess it’s me just following my heart. I always listen to my heart and hear what it has to say,” says Joey without hesitation when asked why he’s chosen to avoid the habits of other new NY rappers. “All that other shit ain’t a part of my agenda.”
His debut album, B4.DA.$$ is finally in stores, and according to the early sales projections for the long-awaited project, Joey definitely made the right decision in following his heart and not compromising his vision. On his twentieth birthday, Joey chopped it up with Life + Times. Here, we discuss his debut album, his love for reading and what he actually said about seeing the picture of Malia Obama wearing a Pro Era shirt.
Life + Times: How are you feeling now that your debut album has finally been released?
Joey Bada$$: It feels really good bro. It’s a blessing. I’m so glad to be here. I’m so glad to be alive for twenty years. You feel me? Everything is just going my way today. It’s like it’s my day and people are identifying with that and that’s crazy.
L+T: Why did you feel B4.DA.$$ (before the money) would be the perfect title for your debut album?
JB: Besides the fact that it spells my name within the title, it was like my whole story and everything that I’m about. My mission with this album was to put people in my mindset and that’s a before the money mindset. That means that no matter where you’re at in life, whether you’re at the top or the bottom, that you stick with that initial passion that you had when you first realized what it was that you wanted to do in life. Once you realize that, there’s this drive that follows. The B4.DA.$$ mindset is all about keeping that drive no matter what and the music is pretty much the motivation behind that.
L+T: You’ve previously released projects like 1999 and Summer Knights, but those were mixtapes, whereas B4.DA.$$ is your first official album. Creatively, did your approach to B4.DA.$$ differ from your approach to 1999 and Summer Knights?
JB: I definitely had a different approach, but I’m always in my zone. The title “album” as oppose to “mixtape” alone made me work and think in a different way. But what was really different with this experience was that I kind of had to set a deadline for my creativity, which was something that was new for me, you know? I’m not really use to doing that. With a mixtape I’d be able to take as much time as I wanted to and basically put it out whenever I wanted, but with B4.DA.$$ there was strategy and planning involved.
L+T: You’ve toured a lot over the years. Do you feel as if your travels has helped to shape you as an artist?
JB: It’s helped me a lot. I’ve gotten to experience the world, move freely, travel, see a lot of different places and faces and really channel a lot of different energies, you know? It definitely has helped.
L+T: What are some of your influences outside of music?
JB: Man, I love reading. I find often that my reads definitely bring me to different places. I’m currently reading JAY Z’s Decoded and the knowledge I’m getting from that is crazy.
L+T: In the past, you’ve expressed your frustrations with media outlets, who have put you in a box by saying that musically you’re stuck in a ‘90s era. Did you feel a need to showcase your diversity with B4.DA.$$ to silence critics?
JB: The people who say that are the people who generalize the shit and just want to marginalize. They aren’t opening their ears loud enough to hear what I actually got to say. I don’t have much to say about that, but one day they are going to realize.
L+T: I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this a lot before, but many people see you as one of the most promising young acts to come out of New York in a long time. While recording B4.DA.$$, was it ever challenging trying to deliver an album that would live up to the high expectations?
JB: No, it was never a pressure. I’ve always felt obligated that that was my role anyway, so it was just reassuring that people were confirming it for me.
L+T: You will participate in this year’s Dilla Day Weekend festivities alongside legends like Pete Rock and Talib Kweli. For you, what does it feel like knowing that you’ll be sharing a stage with legends that have embraced you and your craft?
JB: It makes me feel great, man. It makes me feel really inspired to just keep going and to never stop, so that’s exactly what I’m going to continue to do.
L+T: You recently raised $10,000 and used the money to purchase musical instruments for your former high school’s music program. In your opinion, what does seeing someone who is young and successful like yourself giving back show young kids?
JB: It shows that it’s good to give. I like to live by a quote “You got to give to get and then you give back.” You feel me? I think it shows them a positive outlook on things. And that’s just what it is.
L+T: Now that you know that that was the president’s daughter rocking the Pro Era shirt, are you surprised that she’s familiar with you and your crew’s movement?
JB: Listen, the thing with the media is that they always want to twist your words. Never did I say that I didn’t know who Malia Obama was. Like come on, are they really serious? You think Joey Bada$$ doesn’t know who the President’s daughters are?
L+T: Yeah, I was surprised when I came across headlines like “Joey Bada$$ says he didn’t know who Malia Obama was when he saw her in a Pro Era Shirt.”
JB: And you should be surprised. You should never believe some shit like that. Just know you got gaffed. That shit is really annoying. Being a part of this fucking industry now and seeing how the media tries to tarnish your image is really disgusting, but it’s all good. It’s all love. That’s what I like to spread. Just know any time you see something like that that they’re checking you and that you should check yourself before you believe that shit. But it was bonkers when I first saw the pictures. I couldn’t believe that it was her, but it wasn’t that I didn’t know it was her.
L+T: What’s next for Joey Bada$$?
JB: So much, man. If I shared it with you it wouldn’t be special.