We spoke with the artist about his new record and accepting the darkness of American history.
Joey Bada$$ is a modern renaissance man. At 22, he has released two albums (his most recent, ALL AMERIKKAN BADA$$ dropped on April 7) and three mixtapes, acts on the hit TV series Mr. Robot, models, runs a record label with his friends, and yet can still find time to do interviews. Dude’s a legend in New York already, and is well on his way to superstar status. We spoke with Joey about his new album, his love-hate relationship with America, and being a part of the last generation to grow up without the internet. Be sure to turn up his new record while you read.
Let’s talk about the album cover, first of all. How did you guys pick that iconic image?
The whole thing was a collaboration of myself, my team, and the universe. We didn’t plan for that to be the cover. With the ” LAND OF THE FREE” video, our goal that day was to capture an album cover, album booklet stuff, a few different things. At first it was just a photo shoot, but we put so much thought and money into it that we decided, We should do a video!’
So out of the album cover shoot, we got the lead single video, we got the cover, we got the booklet images, all in one. Then it was the universe. You can never fully plan the way things happen. I was just driving the car, and out of nowhere I just stuck my head out and put my middle fingers up. In my head it wasn’t like, “Yo, this is gonna be the cover.”
So I love this album. It’s astonishing to see such artistic vision coming from such a young artist. Is there any track you’re particularly proud of on it?
I feel proud of all of them! My albums are like my children, and then the tracks are everything that I love about them. So it’s hard to pick one that I love more, but “TEMPTATION” resonates with me just a different type of way. When I made that song, instantly it was my favorite song ever. Not just out of songs that I have made, literally my favorite song ever.
I’m so proud of myself for capturing a vibe that is genre-bending. It’s not just one style, its elements of hip hop, pop, folk. When that song comes on it just gives me this feeling. When I refer to this time, this song will be the one that stands out. With the message, the emotion, the little girl on the outro, I just feel like it’s the perfect representation of this moment, of where we are.
I’m glad you brought up “TEMPTATION,” because I wanted to ask you about that little girl. Who is that little girl? Where did that come from?
Her name is Zianna Oliphant, and she’s from Charlotte. It was just a video I saw on Instagram one day. She was addressing a group of people and it just really struck a chord in my heart. When I first saw it I didn’t even think I was going to use it in a song, but then when “TEMPTATION” got near the final stages I just had an idea that the video would go perfectly. I literally put it in Garageband and mashed it up myself, and it turned out perfect.
Have you always felt like it was your mission to educate and empower people?
I’ve always subconsciously felt that way, but now I’m activated. As young musicians, we do have the responsibility to speak for the people we know, to speak for the people that can’t be heard. It’s important to speak for the communities that we come from, for the everyday people who support us.
If there’s anything that I want people to take away from [ALL AMERIKKAN BADA$$]—this was something I was nervous about, but I thought people would only see this as an album that’s only trying to benefit black people. There are a lot of moments that are specifically for people like myself, but at the same time, it’s a microcosm of the whole message. The macro is that I want peace and love for everyone. There’s no hatred here. I’m glad people understand that this is a worldly message.
I feel like black artists sometimes feel like they have to open themselves up and make art about their trauma as black Americans.
And to that point, I want people to understand that there’s always going to be another side to people. Just because my overall message is good doesn’t mean you’re not gonna hear a song where I sound depressed. I try to always showcase that—like this album has a light and a dark side. The first six tracks are all light, and the last six are all dark. I did that to show people that everyone has different sides. As artists, we have different styles and each day is different. But overall I always try to be aware and conscious. You know the kids are listening.
A major theme that runs through the record is the wide range of emotions you can feel as a black person in America, and how we can often feel left behind, persecuted, and unloved. Are you proud to be an American in spite of the country’s history?
I accept the dark with the light. I am who I am because of the way everything is. I wouldn’t even be conveying this message if I wasn’t here in America. So how can I not be proud to be here? It’s definitely an interesting question, because we do have a love-hate relationship with this country.
Deeper than that though, America is as first-world as it gets. It can be really hard to connect to your deeper, spiritual self with all of the poisons and distractions in a place like this. We live in the Matrix here! Seriously, we straight up in the Matrix, we thought we would have flying cars, but it’s just these devices that got us locked up. Just imagine what the next 30 years will look like, babies growing up with devices in their hands already. They’ll be showing their babies their entire lives on the internet.
We’re the last generation to grow up without the internet.
Exactly, bro—it’s crazy! It’s crazy to be a part of this generation where I still have an understanding of what life was like without this shit. Now these kids are born into it. But maybe one of those kids 30 years from now will make an iller album than ALL AMERIKKAN BADA$$!
You talked about how this album is like vegetables on Beats 1 with Ebro, and how your “diet” is more than just the food that you eat, but also the things you read, watch, and listen to. What’s your “diet” consist of these days?
I must be honest—I’ve been weird with eating. Like, I’m not hungry for food. Sometimes I’ll wake up and be starving, but then I’ll do something else that nourishes me, like my work, then by the time I think about eating it’s 5 p.m.! Me saying that, though, is inspired by Saul Williams on The Breakfast Club, and lately I’ve been noticing it more. I’m eating less, but doing other things that ‘feed’ me more.
Buy Joey Bada$$’s new album, ALL AMERIKKAN BADA$$ here, or stream it below.
Joey Bada$$ Freestyles for GQ
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