I had a new idea for the track we were talking about,” says Joey Bada$$’s manager as he shuts us in an office next to the insanely fancy studio where Pro Era, Joey’s crew, are hanging out eating sticky chicken wings in between photoshoots. Joey nods at him. “Third-eye shit.”
Third-eye shit? “That’s everything,” Joey says. “How we live, how we communicate. It’s a spiritual thing.” At 17, Jo-Vaughn Scott has just trumped A$AP Rocky to become the most hyped hip-hop act to emerge from New York this year. Since the video for ‘Survival Tactics’ went up on YouTube in February, Joey has put out an album, ‘1999’. He’s also released a mixtape of outtakes, ‘Rejex’; trailed round his high school in Brooklyn for the New York Times; earned comparisons to Nas and rapped over tracks by MF Doom.
But as he sits listening to the 12 other members of Pro Era (the ‘pro’ is short for ‘progressive’) freestyling into camera lenses under glass chandeliers, Joey is humble about his place within the crew. “I’m pretty quiet,” he says. “I’m a leader among leaders.”
Likewise, his lyrics are smart and, thankfully, devoid of the meaningless swagger that infects other rappers of his generation. ‘Hardknock’ is a ballad-tempo indictment of gang life that sees Joey turn away from violence because “one day I’m tryna have a wife and kids”, while ‘Survival Tactics’ – featuring another Pro Era artist, Capital STEEZ – cranks up the tempo for a brassy, pun-riddled poke at the glorification of gun culture. Joey signs off the track’s video by shooting a bright orange water gun at the camera.
Both feature on ‘1999’, which was named for its allusions to Y2K and the apocalypse. “People said that the world was ending in 1999, and then people said that the world is going to end in 2012,” Joey explains. The next Pro Era EP, ‘PEEP The Apocalypse’, is out in December this year – precisely the time when Nostradamus devotees think it’s all going to be over for the human race. Not that Joey is worried. “We’re about to enter the age of Aquarius,” he says, “and I’m a Capricorn-Aquarius.” Not since Wu-Tang has hip-hop been so mystical. Even without the third-eye shit, the future for Joey Badda$$ looks… progressive. Words: Hazel Sheffield
Need To Know
For Fans Of: Nas, MF Doom
Buy It Now: '1999' is out now. 'Rejex' is available as a free download
See Him Live: He'll be back in the UK in early 2013
Believe It Or Not: Joey went to the same school that Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch attended