At the start of the year, 17-year-old rapper Joey Bada$$ was sitting around a Pac-Man arcade-machine in a Flatbush bar with some of his Pro Era entourage talking about the 10 rappers who’d been selected as XXL freshmen for the 2012 season. After cracking jokes about some of the less-renowned picks, he came up with his own list, which included Danny Brown (who was included in XXL’s squad), Schoolboy Q and Smoke DZA. Then, after musing on the industry games involved in securing a spot on the cover, he confidently declared, “Next year I’m definitely shooting to make that cut — it’s a goal of mine.”
Six months later, the Flatbush, Brooklyn native’s goal is within reach: Joey is looking like a shoe-in to graduate with 2013 freshmen honors. He caught a batch of Internet hype back in February when his incendiary “Survival Tactics” video went viral. Clad in panda ski-masks, the flick showcased Bada$$ and his Pro Era rhyme partner Capital Steez marching on Wall Street as they dropped smart and amped rhymes (not to mention an ear-grabbing Lil B dis by Steez). Since then, Joey’s become ensconced within the Smoker’s Club collective, copped a compliment from Odd Future‘s Earl Sweatshirt, and released his 1999 mixtape to critical acclaim last month. Now the swift rise of Joey Bada$$ continues as he joins Juicy J and Smoke DZA on a month-long Smoker’s Club tour (it pulls into Seattle, Wash. on Saturday). So ahead of his stint on the road, Hive got the scoop on Joey’s world domination plans, the influence of MF Doom on his music, and why he’s willing to challenge A$AP Rocky for a shot at Rita Ora‘s heart.
You’ve received a lot of attention after dropping the 1999 mixtape. How are you feeling about it all?
Phillip, I don’t know, man, they’re trying to suck me into the Illuminati. You sound like the Illuminati. What’s up with that?
Do you believe in the Illuminati?
I’m not sure there’s much to believe in. I believe in secret societies, yep, and I feel like the Illuminati is just the masking of the secret societies; like that’s not the real name, it’s just the name for the public.
What’s your favorite secret society?
Their name is just cool. I have really no reason, their name is just cool.
If Pro Era was a secret society, what would the main goal be?
World domination, like most of them.
How would you go about achieving world domination?
Well the first target would be Switzerland.
‘Cause they have cheese and bombs.
And what song would chose to soundtrack the attempt?
Why, “World Domination” by yours truly, Joey Bada$$.
That’s the song where you’re rhyming over an MF Doom beat, right?
Yeah, the ["Datura] Stramonium” beat.
“If A$AP Rocky touches her, it’s war, ’cause he’s been getting all the industry chicks that I’ve been crushing on.”
Can you remember the first time you heard Doom’s music?
Yes, I was actually just talking about that: the first Doom song I heard was “Jasmine Blossoms” a.k.a. “Hoe Cakes” and when I heard it I had an eargasm. My homie Capital Steez put me on to it, and it was the first time I ever even heard of MF Doom and when I heard the style of rap I was like, “Yo, I didn’t even know people rhymed like this.” I was used to the mainstream radio rap but the MF Doom style was so amazing to me to experience.
Did you understand what Doom was rapping about the first time you heard his rhymes?
Nah, definitely not. It’s just amazing though to listen to.
Did you ever hear Doom’s old group, K.M.D.?
Yeah, my favorite K.M.D. song is “Peach Fuzz.”
You’re the age where you can probably really relate to that song, right?
Definitely, ’cause now I’m starting to grow a little facial hair. Every time my mom sees me she’s like, “I see you with your little peach fuzz, growing into a little man.” It reminds me of that song a lot.
Did you know that Doom lived in Flatbush for a couple of years?
Doom? I didn’t know that! In the ’90s?
It was before he moved to Atlanta.
Oh, wow, I didn’t even know that! I heard that he lives in Long Island right now.
For the song “Hardknock” you rhyme over a production by UK rapper Lewis Parker. How did you come across his music?
I was in Virginia and just like doing the usual when I try and write and get into my zone, which is I go on YouTube and look for beats. This was before people would give me beats for free, so my daily routine was just hunting on YouTube for unused beats and old beats that people from my generation are not really fond of and it would sound new to them. That’s how I discovered Lewis Parker.
Going back to the song “World Domination,” you talk about smoking Chem strain. What’s the strangest experience you’ve had while smoking it?
Oh my gosh, one time I was blazing in a staircase with this girl and I don’t know if I was really bugging but we heard cops and we started running. I ran for like 30 minutes straight! I was scared. It was like, don’t get caught; I was running for my life!
On your Twitter feed you ranted about rappers who are suddenly approaching you to collaborate now you’ve gotten a bit of hype.
Yeah, because when I was doing my thing and I was just another kid from Brooklyn who supposedly rapped, I was never begging anyone to get on my tracks. I always thought it was best for me to do a track on my own. Then they started to ask me to do a track [with them], and the first time it was just so annoying. I ignore people and they will continuously hit me up. It makes me so mad. I’m not obligated to work with any of them. It’s even some people I used to want to work with when I was a nobody, but you didn’t want to work with me before and I don’t have to work with you now. It pisses me off.
Is it hard to work out which artists approaching you are sincere or not?
No, it’s not hard at all. At all. You just know with the kind of attitude or approach the person uses. Number one, I’m not gonna work with someone unless they have something to offer me and they’re at a higher position than I am, like at a higher position and more popular than I am. If it’s like that, then why not? But if you’re not offering anything to the table and we’re not friends, no. I have a group of 16 rappers — why should I collaborate with any other rappers? Time is running out and I’m trying to dominate the world so I can’t be stopping for people who didn’t stop for me in the first place.
Have you also had lots more approaches from labels?
Have I had more approaches for sex?
Record labels, but you can answer both if you want!
[Laughing.] Sorry, I got that mixed up. Yeah, I turned them all down ’cause they’re just offering me 360 deals. I have to own my own publishing, otherwise it’s not worth it. Independent is the route for me.
On Twitter you mention having a crush on Rita Ora…
Hell yeah, I’m gonna, like, lick her face off when I see her! If A$AP Rocky touches her, it’s war, ’cause he’s been getting all the industry chicks that I’ve been crushing on and shit, so it’s war if he goes after her.
Why would Rita Ora pick you over A$AP Rocky?
Because I’m Joey BAda$$, I’m Joey!
If you met Rita Ora tonight, what would you say to her?
If I ran into her tonight I’d probably rap to her; honestly, I’d probably just kick a freestyle on how I feel about her.
What would you do if she turned you down?
She can’t turn me down! I rap too good!
After the hype from 1999 dies down, what’s next on your agenda, music-wise?
A Pro Era album, Pro Era music, non-stop Pro Era tour, Pro Era store, Pro Era clothing, Pro Era bitches.
What would a Pro Era groupie be like?
The groupies would be … Well, we haven’t really been having any Pro Era groupies lately ’cause you know [Capital] Steez is a virgin, so it’s just been a lot of bad-ass groupies thus far. But when we get to those Pro Era groupies, I’ll let you know.
Joey Bada$$’s 1999 mixtape is out now. Stream it here.