By Scott T. Sterling
In conversation, Joey Bada$$ is a lot like the persona found on his records: cool, collected and largely economical with his words.
Among the most successful young and independent rappers in the game, Joey has been putting out a steady line of mixtapes for over a decade with his Pro Era crew. But high-profile foray into the mainstream came courtesy of First Daughter, Malia Obama, who popped up on social media wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the Pro Era logo.
Bada$$’s sound is steeped in classic ’90s hip-hop, rapping over jazz samples and boom-bap beats throughout B4.DA.$$, his debut album released earlier this year that’s already being heralded by some as one of 2015’s best (and most overlooked).
“I’m from Brooklyn, New York…so I play pretty close to my roots,” is how he summarizes his sound towards the end of album track “Big Dusty.”
Talking to Radio.com by phone just moments after waking up, Joey is lucid enough to open up about summer reading material, his inherent love for dance music and making drum & bass-inspired tracks with Kiesza.
Radio.com: How did the Malia Obama t-shirt incident change your life?
Joey Bada$$: Mostly in ways that are imperceptible. Ever since that happened, people look at Pro Era in a new light.
You’re known to be a voracious big reader. What are a couple of books you would recommend that your fans check out this summer?
The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav, and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
You’ve mentioned The Four Agreements before during interviews. What did you get out of reading that book?
It’s like a type of self-help book, you know? It basically tells you not to take anything personally, to be impeccable with your word, s–t like that.
The bonus track on your album is a collaboration with Kiesza, “Teach Me,” which is the second time the two of you have worked together. What’s behind those collaborations?
We’ve just got that connection, that vibe. We just really understand each other.
What inspired the drum & bass beat on that track?
It was something (producer) Chuck Strangers cooked up, although I’d been thinking about doing a song like that. I never told him that I was looking for it, but subconsciously I’ve always loved that sound. Then out of nowhere one day he gave me the “Escape 120” beat and the “Teach Me” beat at the same time.
You’ve talked about growing up in a part of Brooklyn with a heavy dance influence that a lot of people might not know about
When I was younger, street dancing was something that we used to do a lot. Just to occupy time and stay out of trouble during the summer. Just link up with friends and keep it positive, you know.
What kind of music was being played at those parties?
It was reggae music.
Can you see yourself using more reggae-type sounds in your own music?
Hell yeah. I plan on it.
What is the significance of the number 47 to you and the Pro Era crew?
It’s the balance between the heart and the mind. Four represents the heart, seven represents the mind. To me, it means balance, truth and love.
You’re obviously proud to be an independent artists, considering what you’ve been able to achieve on your own. Do you have any desire to ever experiment with a major label release?
Yeah, I’ve definitely thought about it. Ultimately though, I’m trying to stay independent forever.
Are you already thinking about your next album?
Of course. I’ve been thinking about the next album.
So what kinds of sounds and ideas can we expect on it?
You never know, man. We shall see. I ain’t gonna let no cats out the basket. It’s way too early for that.