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Joey Bada$$ on Jay Z, J Dilla, and Malia Obama Wearing a Pro Era Shirt

The Brooklyn rapper dropped his debut album on the same day he turned 20.
January 21, 2015, 6:06am

Photo Credit: Benjamin Thomson

This story originally appeared on Noisey Australia.

Earlier this week, Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott—better known as Joey Bada$$—had one hell of a “fuck off” party. Not only did the young rapper from Bed-Stuy drop his debut studio album B4.DA.$$ (Before Da Money) yesterday, but it was also his 20th birthday. Those are some reasons to celebrate.

Before a recent sold-out show in Melbourne, Australia, we caught up with J for a chat over some chamomile tea. The chilled discussion drifted from the power of Jigga, the genius of J Dilla, Pro Era’s plans for world fashion domination, and his penchant for amethyst crystals.

Noisey: Two hot stories surrounding you recently was your post-show arrest in Byron Bay [Australia] and Malia Obama selfie reppin’ Pro Era. Did you know the first daughter was a fan?
Joey: No. I woke up one morning, and I’ve seen my whole Instagram feed posted with the same picture. I’m like ‘who is this girl with the shirt and why is it such a big deal?’ Then I was like ‘holy shit’, and I posted it up too. It’s the best because at some point this week, I was the topic of discussion in the White House. My name probably came out of the President’s mouth at least five times. Maybe more. Maybe seven.

It was covered from the Guardian to TMZ. Even my mom was like, ‘who is this Joey Bada$$? I want one of his shirts.’
(laughs) I love that. It’s like I slowly creeped inside everybody’s household. Back home it was on every channel of the news.

Pro Era merchandise is so far beyond typical band tees with some corny screenprint. The world "merch" is almost a disservice because it’s essentially a brand.
I don’t like calling it merch either. It’s definitely a brand; that’s exactly what we’re collectively thinking.

Is there a single minded person in the rap game, like say Jay Z or 50 Cent, you look to and study both musically and in business?
Let’s put it this way, if there’s "a guy" I study, I study to the point where it doesn’t matter any more, if you know what I mean. Like Jay and 50 Cent are definitely two people like that where I’ve studied them so much, to the point where they don’t matter to me any more because I have the plans to excel them.

Have you met either of those guys?
I’ve met Jay.

How was that?
It was great. It was amazing. It was very surreal. I only met him once and it was crazy; I was in his world for a minute.

I walked in on him once backstage at a show when he was eating dinner. He was eating fish with Freeway and [Memphis] Bleek. It was a ten second interaction and I felt exactly the same as you. How did the two of you meet?
I met Jay because he called me into his office when I was 17 and he wanted to sign me. I walked into the office, and my intention was, as soon as I walk in there, just say "yes," to anything, to whatever...

But you said no to the deal?
Well it wasn’t a "no." That was the biggest misconception about the whole situation. It was more of a mutual understanding. I believe that Jay Z’s seen in me the next generation, I believe he has seen exactly what I’m going to do and exactly what I’m destined to do. Even reading his book Decoded, it kind of gives you a view of his mind, and as time goes on it keeps making more sense to me. I got the call from Jay Z when I was 17 and I instantly had a feeling that I could do it all, you feel me? That was everything I was working for, for the recognition of Jay Z, to be signed by Jay Z. And the fact that it came [_snaps fingers_] like this at a young age showed me that there bigger and better things out there that I’m destined to do.

So Jay, Nas, MF Doom, Biggie are obviously very influential on you and your sound but what where you listening to when you grew up?
I’ll just tell you this, whatever was popping, I knew about it. Because you know being an eight-year-old kid, you know all the mainstream shit. On the car rides home and back and forth from school and shit, whatever was playing on the radio, whatever you’re seeing on the TV. Of course in 2003, things were way different, everything still came through broader channels, the internet hadn’t completely changed the game.

Were you into Dipset and Murder Inc. and the quintessential New York crews of that era?
Ja Rule at one point was one of my favorites. When I was about seven or eight, I took a marker and I went and wrote on my closet Bow Wow, Ja Rule, and Lil Romeo. That was my top three at the time [_laughs_]. Bow Wow and Lil Romeo were the same height as me, I could relate.

Congratulations on B4.DA.$$. It's coming out on your birthday. Are you going to have a massive "fuck off" party?
Yeah, absolutely. I hope I don’t get arrested. [_Laughs._] I shouldn’t have said that!

Ha, the arrest story has been everywhere. I feel at this point it’s an overplayed story anyway.
Exactly, I know I brought it up but let’s not talk about all that.

The J Dilla Foundation gifted you the Dilla beat on the album because the charity record that you previously did with them was so successful. Did they give you a folder of beats to choose from or were they like, "Have this one?"
That Dilla moment was phase two of my life, so first I meet this guy [_points at the Jay Z t-shirt I'm wearing_] my favorite rapper, and then I get to have a spiritual session with my favourite producer. Now there’s nothing you could tell me... post those experiences, I’m gonna do anything I want.

I’m really feeling those amethyst stones around your neck. You had those glowing amethyst crystals in one of your videos right?
Thanks, yeah in the "Christ Conscious" clip amethyst is a sort of motif.

B4.DA.$$ is out now on Cinematic/Pro Era.

Courtney DeWitt is a Melbourne based writer. Follow her @thisiscourtneyd