Joey Bada$$, All-American
As his new album drops, the artist talks about a love song he never recorded, LeBron and Kyrie, and his favorite New York things
The art for Joey Bada$$’s new album, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, features a modest reminiscence of 1969’s Easy Rider. He’s hanging from the front window of a pale blue rusted-out car. A bandanna-style American flag is tied to the car’s antenna, flying in a liberal push of wind. The clean sky in the background graduates from light blue to white, teasing with nostalgic, counterculture Americana.
And the album’s first single, “Devastated,” has all the idealism of the classic American dream. I used to feel so devastated/ At times I’d thought we’d never make it / But now we on our way to greatness/ And all that ever took was patience. Even the music video teeters back and forth between a uniquely American set of images. A grassy high school football stadium in one scene, the New York City skyline glittering in the next. Imagery to watch with interest in these times. On the day before his sophomore album was released, the man also known as Jo-Vaughn Scott talks music, where he eats in New York City and the moment he realized he was famous.
Who was your musical hero when you were growing up?
Had to be Jay Z because I grew up in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, and the block I grew up on was right around the corner from [Jay Z’s] Marcy projects. I always felt superclose to him as an artist because he’s from Brooklyn.
What’s the last book you read?
It’s been a little bit. I think it was The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel [Ruiz].
What’s the best food spot in New York?
What’s your favorite pair of shoes — that you own?
These all-white Raf Simons, just because they’re so simple. But they’re a little uppity, so that’s kinda cool.
Favorite New York athlete of all time?
When did you realize you were famous?
I blew up when I was 17, the summer going from junior to senior year. When I went back to school, that’s when I realized I was famous, because all the kids were trying to take pictures of me. It was kinda hard for me to focus.
One place you’re dying to perform?
Madison Square Garden. I definitely want to perform there.
What can we expect from your new album?
We can expect great music. I literally hate people having expectations. Just accept. We can expect to accept this body of work.
What is the first song you ever wrote?
Probably this song called “Old Girl.” I wrote that s— [when] I was like 13 or 14. That was the first full song I wrote. It’s never coming out. It was never recorded either.
What was it about?
About a girl. Some young love, some puppy love.
What is your definition of a classic album?
An album that you can listen to front to back, no problem. You can also break it up and listen to it in any order you wish and it just sounds good. Something that just resonates with your mind, body and spirit.
Are there any that come to mind to you as classic albums?
Oh, yeah, All-Amerikkkan Bada$$. That s— is a f—ing classic album for sure. (Laughs.)
What would you tell your 15-year-old self?
I’d tell him that the world is in his hands, so take it day by day, be patient and keep doing what you’re doing.
What is the most creative thing you’ve ever done?
Making music is when I’m most creative, so I’d have to say that. Or probably when I made a makeshift studio in my house and jump-started my career.
Why do you think “Temptation” is the best song on your new album?
It’s a different type of vibe. When I made the song, it was my favorite right away. It’s a universal vibe. It be like the epitome of where I want to go with my music.
Do you think it’s a different sound than what you normally create?
Not too different, you know? Like you’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, this is not Joey.’ Never. But it is definitely an evolution of the sound you’ve heard from me. It’s a genre-bending, genre-crossing song. I can’t really call it straight-up hip-hop. An element about it to me is pop, but in a very good way. Like I never thought that I’d make a song that I consider pop.
Aside from yourself, who do you think has the best song of 2017 so far?
Well, I wouldn’t say I put out the best song of 2017. I think Lil Uzi [Vert] put out the best song so far. It’s called “XO TOUR Llif3.”
Why do you like it?
It’s just an escape for me. It’s one of those songs you’ve got to play at high volume.
Who do you think is going to win the NBA championship?
I’m Team LeBron and Team Kyrie Irving. It’s just a coincidence that two of my favorite players are on the same team. I’m also rooting for [Russell] Westbrook. It’s going to be really hard for him to pull the Thunder on his own, but Westbrook is killing it this year. It would be crazy to see if he could even make it to the Finals and just like put up a fight. That would be f—ing insane.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.