Joey Bada$$ (aka Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott) has been hailed as a hip-hop saviour, the MC from fabled Brooklyn, New York summoning the ’90s conscious lyrics and classic boom-bap. It’s impossible not to warm to him personally. He’s ready for this interview call with Music Feeds and cheerfully chats on a mobile while negotiating an elevator and well-wishers. “I’m sorry about that,” Scott says, after breaking off to acknowledge a fan. “I’m just walking a busy street and people are noticing who I am!”
The 20-year-old’s ascendance has been rapid. He formed the collective Pro(gressive) Era in school and established his rep with buzz mixtapes. Scott turned down a deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation, determined to stay indie. “Yo, I can do anything that I want to do and I don’t need anyone,” he says of his manifesto. In January Scott unveiled his highly anticipated debut, B4.DA.$$ (Before Da Money), with beats from the likes of longtime champion DJ Premier (the recent single Paper Trail$).
Yet the album surprised with its unusually diverse guests – Jamaica’s rising roots reggae star Chronixx, psych-urban singer Raury, and, on the swinging Janelle Monáe-meets-Rudimental style Teach Me, Canadian house divette Kiesza. “I was on some more like, Instead of getting people that are well known, I wanna introduce the world, or my fanbase, to some people that I think are dope.”
Scott had decided to “randomly tweet” Kiesza on viewing her Brooklyn-shot Hideaway video, its choreography and pop sensibilities reminding him of his adored Michael Jackson. He didn’t realise that his management had declined Kiesza’s earlier overture for a collab (Bad Thing on 2014’s Sound Of A Woman). Kiesza invited Scott to her crib. “Kiesza’s such a sweet, kind-hearted, beautiful soul.”
Lately Scott contributed the track What About The Rest Of Us with buddy Action Bronson to the Southpaw OST – but he’s otherwise keeping details of upcoming solo projects on the downlow. The MC has had setbacks. Following a performance at last summer’s Falls Festival in Byron Bay, he was charged for allegedly assaulting a security guard who’d stopped him – “a misunderstanding,” according to his rep. Nonetheless, Scott is now headlining Listen Out.
Listen: Action Bronson ft. Joey Bada$$ – What About The Rest of Us
Music Feeds: You’re returning to Australia for Listen Out – the start of our festival season. We’re excited.
Joey Bada$$: Yeah, I’m so excited, too. I love that place.
MF: Fans were worried you might not want to come back to us after that Falls drama. Did that resolve itself okay?
JB: Yeah, it did – everything is good. I’ll be back.
MF: Listen Out is traditionally an underground dance music festival. But Childish Gambino is performing – so are Rae Sremmurd. Do you know those guys – will you be hanging out?
JB: Yeah, we’re definitely gonna be hanging out. Childish Gambino is my friend and Rae Sremmurd – those guys are cool, too. We’ll be having lots of fun.
MF: You are a world traveller now. How has that experience changed your outlook generally?
JB: Yeah, I’d say my travels have affected my life in a positive way, because I’m way more open minded to things – because I’ve seen so much. I’ve seen so many different cultures, different people, and the way that they go about their days and their lives. So travelling abroad has definitely made me a better person.
MF: We’ve all been following what’s happening in the US with police brutality. Are things better outside the States? Or are things fucked up everywhere?
JB: I think things are fucked up on this whole entire planet, you know? Listen – there’s one simple quote that’s simply the formula for making this world a better place. Let me tell you what that quote [attributed to Jimi Hendrix] is – and I quote: ‘When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know true peace.’ End quote. So that’s pretty much what I live by – I like to promote peace. And that’s just how it is.
Falls Festival 2014 @ Lorne, Victoria / Photos: Nikki Williams
Joey Bada$$ Talks To Us About Bringing Peace To A F**ked Up World & Listen Out 2015 - Music Feeds
MF: You released B4.DA.$$ earlier this year. Have you had any thoughts about what you’d like to do next?
JB: Yeah, of course, man – I’m thinking about my second record, my third record, my fourth record… I’m trying to do as much as I’m supposed to do and then some in the certain amount of time that I have here on this planet. So, hey, I’m always active.
And, by the way, I’m not just thinking about music, either. I’m thinking about greater things than music. I’m thinking about just making my city a better place. I’m finding a lot of things that I’m doing just for the betterment of my city and kids that come from where I come from. I don’t wanna just be known as a musician or artist who delivers this album and that album – I really wanna be known as someone who had a positive impact and helped influence and change the world for the better.
MF: You were acting in school…
JB: Yeah, I was actually in theatre class when I was in high school – it was actually what I got accepted into school for. It’s funny because, when I was in middle school, when I was about 12 or 13, I had wanted to become a musician. But, by the time I went to high school, I got accepted there for acting so my life had took a new path.
But, when I got there now, I met everyone who’s in my inner-circle today – and you’re just like, “Wow, they are all making music as well:. It’s like, damn, music really can lead my life. So I really believe that music chose me – because even when I tried to go a different path and pursue something else, music still showed me that it was the thing that I was supposed to take on.
MF: You’re seen as someone who upholds old school hip-hop values, but you’re also very much a contemporary artist. How are you evolving?
JB: Me, I love the way that I’m evolving as an artist because there’s even things that people say to me now that they used to say to me before – three years ago, when I was 17 – and they used to bother me and affect me in a different way. Now it’s like, Yo, I don’t really care what you have to say about me. I don’t really care what anyone has to say about me.
If they don’t like my style, they don’t like my music, if they don’t wanna play me on the radio, it’s totally fine. I’m at the point where I’m just doing me. I’m in the independent artist space officially now, so I just feel content delivering my true sound to my true fans and to my core.
Watch: Joey Bada$$ – Paper Trail$
MF: You’ve got a fan in the White House in Barack Obama’s daughter Malia, who was photographed wearing a Pro Era T-shirt earlier this year. How did you feel when you saw that?
JB: I felt incredible. It’s funny because, when that happened, it was around the same time that the Falls [incident] happened. So it was basically like one really bad thing and one really good thing happening at the same exact time (laughs), you know what I’m saying?
It was definitely a little golden moment for me, especially [due] to the fact that we didn’t really have a marketing plan for the album, because we’re just independent – like there’s no way we’re giving this a whole bunch of money and shit. So we were just like, Yo… Everything kinda played its part.
MF: Hip-hop is so compelling right now – the Straight Outta Compton film is blowing up everywhere, Drake and Meek Mill sparring… What’s exciting you?
JB: Yeah, I feel pretty much the same way about everything that’s happening right now. Everything inspires me. I love when an artist that I like drops an album – I mean, I love anyone, any critically-acclaimed artist… ’cause, before I’m an artist, I’m a fan first. I wasn’t just born ‘Joey Bada$$’. I became this person – I evolved into this person.
So, before all of that, I’m just listening as a fan, as just an innocent bystander, just like everyone else, you know? So it’s very exciting – and the same way it inspires other people, it inspires me.
MF: What can we look forward to at Listen Out from you?
JB: I always tell people, don’t expect anything from me – just accept whatever I give you (laughs).
Listen Out kicks off at the end of the month, head here for all the dates and ticket deets.
Watch: Joey Bada$$ – Christ Conscious