Joey BADA$$: The 17-Year Old Rapper Who's Like Nas On Illmatic

Joey BADA$$ proves there is no such thing as being as "too old-school". Bored of Rihanna on hip hop tracks and autotune in rap? Then check out this young Brooklynite who rhymes with the same swagger and attitude as the greats..
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Joey BADA$$ proves there is no such thing as being as "too old-school". Bored of Rihanna on hip hop tracks and autotune in rap? Then check out this young Brooklynite who rhymes with the same swagger and attitude as the greats..

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You know something is still relatively underground when a Wikipedia search comes up blank. You also know that if word on said something can travel from Brooklyn NY to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne then it’s probably at least worth a look.

I first got the tip on Joey BADA$$ from my good friend John. We share a mutual love of hip-hop but his knowledge of the genre far exceeds my own and over time I’ve learned to  emphatically trust pretty much anything he says on the subject.

“Tupac is shit. A one man S Club 7 of gangsta rap, utterly contrived and invisibly controlled.” No arguments there John (quite literally true now that he’s holographic).

Anyway, a couple of weeks back as he’s leaving work he mentions that he was listening to some great rap by a seventeen year old kid from Brooklyn “called Joey Badass, except spelt with two dollar signs”. Immediately I started thinking about a Big Daddy Kane song called ‘Show and Prove’. A great tune (a classic ‘posse cut’) that features a then 17 year old Jay-Z, who was sort-of BDK’s hype man at the time. If you’ve never heard it, check it out.

Comparisons to Illmatic era Nas (who wasn’t even old enough to drink when his debut was released) and Biggie’s first album certainly ring true but that is surely no bad thing

“He’s like Nas before he became obsessed with the Mafia. Illmatic Nas. He’s... raw” John said.

Born Jo-Vaughn Scott in 1995, Joey has lived in Brooklyn his whole life. Early interest in poetry evolved into rapping and writing lyrics when he was in 6th grade. Joey originally started out using the name JayOhVee but, being young and therefore internet savvy, changed to Joey BADA$$ thinking it would work better on social networking sites. Social networking has played a major role in getting his name out there.

Although a lot of attention has been given to Joey he is in fact one part of a group called Pro Era (or Progressive Era). The group was founded in Edward R Murrow High School by Joey’s friends and classmates Capital STEEZ and Pow. PE has expanded from there now with over twenty members consisting of rappers, singers, producers and graphic designers.

Joey and Pro Era caught a break when Johnny Shipes saw a video of Joey free-styling on the internet. After contacting him via twitter; Shipes began managing and developing Joey as an artist. Shortly afterwards they shot the video for ‘Survival Tactics’ which now has over 900,000 views on Youtube and is one of Joey’s best known songs. And in a recent list of 25 rappers under the age of 25 on Complex.com Joey placed at 17. High accolades indeed. Although this would be far more impressive if the same list didn’t place Drake at number 1. Slightly off subject and for the record; I see no worth in what Drake does. He represents everything I hate about the state of modern hip-hop.

Joey himself cites Jay Z, Biggie and MF Doom as his favourite rappers

Early this summer Joey’s first mixtape ‘1999’ was released. It’s a great set of tracks. Reading somewhat like a list of Joey’s favourite producers the music is all stuff we’ve heard before but is well utilised and the rhymes on top flow smoothly. ‘Rejex’ released a few months later is made up of tracks that didn’t make the cut for ‘1999’ but that Joey still thought were worth a listen. A mixtape of rejects? You’d be hard pressed to tell. Both are great. What is interesting on ‘Rejex’ is the tracks Joey recorded when only 15 years old. These were included to show off the progression of his writing and rapping over the last two years. Comparisons to Illmatic era Nas (who wasn’t even old enough to drink when his debut was released) and Biggie’s first album certainly ring true but that is surely no bad thing. Joey himself cites Jay Z, Biggie and MF Doom as his favourite rappers.

‘Survival Tactics’ and ‘Killuminati’ are standout tracks for me. ‘Hardknock’ written almost by accident when Joey and CJ Fly were sat talking about friends of theirs that were currently in prison packs a lyrical punch and is rightly one of the better known tunes on ‘1999’.

Both mixtapes make for a pleasantly chilled out experience and feature some great turns by his fellow PE members Capital STEEZ, CJ Fly, Kirk Knight and Chuck Strangers. All of which bodes well for the future. Joey teased in an interview that what he’s working towards next is a Pro Era album.

But Pro Era’s members are still in school and against the grain actually think it’s important to be in school. Certainly a positive message for other Brooklyn youths. It’s unusual to be able to describe rappers as good role models. Staying in school and treating women right is certainly in stark contrast to artists like 50 Cent who got shot nine times and makes music that promotes an ethos of ‘Get Rich or Die Trying’.

 Modern hip-hop whose only recent progression is that now it’s auto-tuned and features Rihanna. Yet I’ve read much criticism over the last few weeks about how Joey is ‘too old-school’ and ‘regressive’

Pro Era and Joey BADA$$’s music is positive and dare I say it; fun. There are great videos on Youtube of the group sat around free-styling with each other over simple beats. Joey said in an interview when asked about his old-school style; “This is just the music I like to make”. It shows. Pro Era is a group of kids enjoying doing what they love, hanging out in the auditorium between lessons (sometimes instead of going to lessons one member admits) and making/writing music. For me that could never be a negative thing.

Joey BADA$$ is exactly the type of hip-hop I love. A smooth beat that you can move to, a rapper with a nice flow and lyrics that are relevant and often witty. All great rap is about great story telling. The stories Joey BADA$$ is telling are about his life. Well-trodden ground for sure but far less regressive than most modern hip-hop; stuck in a loop of ‘bitches and money’ for the last 5-7 years. Modern hip-hop whose only recent progression is that now it’s auto-tuned and features Rihanna. Yet I’ve read much criticism over the last few weeks about how Joey is ‘too old-school’ and ‘regressive’. Paul Lester at the Guardian pretty much dismissed him out of hand for using time worn tropes and old hip-hop samples (somehow forgetting in the process that ‘1999’ is a mixtape).

How could ‘too old school’ be levelled as a negative thing when compared to his peers? Old school hip-hop; which had class, self-respect, substance and a decent message. If that’s a bad thing then I’m glad that Joey is BADA$$.

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