Brooklyn rapper Joey Badass is one of hip-hop's most incisive, most politically engaged young voices. Despite being just 22 years old, Joey has been a fixture in rap circles for half a decade now. His breakthrough mixtape, the 2012-released 1999, quenched the thirst of those hoping for a return to the gritty sounds of New York in the ‘90s. His second studio album, All-Amerikkkan Badass, arrived on April 7th, and it takes aim at politicians and authority figures across the map. It's Joey's most considered and mature work to date, incorporating live instrumentation and an outward worldview that sets him apart from his peers. He's also tapped into his extensive Rolodex to work with contemporary starts like J. Cole and Schoolboy Q as well as New York legend Styles P.
We followed Joey the day before All-Amerikkkan Badass was set to be unveiled to the world. While the promotional efforts were in full force, Joey carved out time to pick out some clothes for the day, to stop in at his favorite restaurant, and to make sure the sound was just right for his performance at his Beats Presents album release party.
The show was a reunion of sorts: his parents were coming in to the city for the show, and fellow members of his Pro Era collective were constantly in touch to hear updates and offer encouragement. Together with his driver, Lex, and his manager, Blak Foks, Joey hit an insane number of locations in a short amount of time, all in the service of rolling out his album.
11:00 a.m.: Joey Meets With His Stylist to Pick Out Looks for the Day
Joey rolls to a loft in SoHo to pick out clothes for the day with the help of his stylist, Haylee Ahumada. In less than 12 hours, Joey’s album will be widely available online. Hype has reached a fever pitch among fans and observers, but for the moment, he’s making sure he stays centered, focusing on the here and now. “I don’t really like answering the question of where I’m going to be at in X amount of years, because I feel like if I answer it now, it’s not really doing myself any justice. If I say something that I want, and it doesn’t happen, then that’ll only make me miserable in the future. I look at it like, ‘Yo, right now I’m doing the best that I can in this moment.’ I used to only think about the future, but now I’m considering the moment, the now. That’s more important than everything; that ultimately shapes your future.”
1:30 p.m.: Joey Has Lunch at Sweetchick in Brooklyn
At the original Sweetchick location, on Bedford Ave in Brooklyn, Joey chops it up with John Seymour, the restaurant chain’s co-founder, CEO, and creative director. Joey’s been coming in here on a regular basis for years; the side of the restaurant is adorned with a giant mural dedicated to the album. The wait staff offers him encouragement and excited fans ask for pictures, but the vibe is quiet, and Joey is distinctly at home. Over a massive spread of chicken, waffles, mac-and-cheese, biscuits, and chicken chili, Joey reminds the table that he had his own impact on the menu: “I’m responsible for that drink y’all are drinking. They got the organic grenadine because of me. I used to always come in here and be like, ‘Yo, can I get a Shirley Temple?’ and they never had it. But you know, I’m fam, so they would always make me a cranberry with ginger ale. Then one day I came in and they were like, ‘We got your grenadine.’”
2:30 p.m.: Joey Heads Back to Manhattan to Change Before Interviews
As Joey drives back into the city, a friend FaceTimes him to show a city block full of eager fans, whose excited shouts he can hear through his BeatsX Wireless Earphones. Though his performance at The Beats Presents album listening party at Milk Studios won’t start for a handful of hours, supporters are already lined up on the street, shouting and craning their necks to get a peek at the front door. “It’s kinda crazy to see these kids. It’s something that’s kinda hard to fathom because I’m always progressing forward and always looking toward the next thing. I’m usually not looking at it like ‘I’m the new dude that the kids are for,’ you know? I just keep trying to stay on my toes to give them something exciting to look forward to. So I don’t really wrap my head around it too many times, but seeing it now, it’s a great feeling.”
4:30 p.m.: Joey Makes an Appearance at a New York Rap Radio Station
In the afternoon, Joey stops by a major New York radio station for the latest in a long line of promotional interviews. The press has been abuzz over Joey’s pointed comments about the state of rap radio in the five boroughs, but he makes it clear that he’s coming from a place of love and friendly competition: “When I talk about New York radio, I’m passionate about that topic because I’m one of those people who they put the pressure on. It’s an honor to be from the city of ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,’ and actually excel.”
5:00 p.m.: Joey Soundchecks for His Beats Presents Performance
While a team of technicians builds the stage for his performance, Joey does one final photo shoot in promotion of All-Amerikkkan Badass, on top of a muscle car in front of a classically All-American backdrop. Reflecting on the growth he showed on this LP: “I would definitely say it’s more mature. I feel like my lyrics have always been mature, but they used to be super complex. So when I say mature, it’s really clearer, sharper. On the musical side, I wanted it to be something where the people could feel the music and be like, ‘Wow, this is real music, this is a big sound, a universal sound.’ I wanted to match the lyrics to that same vibe, and I thought that it was no better way to do that than by making the message razor-sharp. You hear every single line, and even the things that are a little more complex, you can understand them, break it down if you give it a rewind or two.”
11:00 p.m.: Joey Takes the Stage
Just as his album hits the internet at large, Joey gives a raucous performance to a packed house of fans, peers, and industry observers: “When I first came out, that was Pro Era’s whole thing: We wanted to be the change that we wanted to see in the rap game. And that’s what we did. As young kids, we felt that there was nobody properly speaking for the East coast. That’s why we did what we did. We were delivering music for people over that classic New York feel that they could identify with, because we felt it was missing.”
Photography: David Cabrera
Styling: Haylee Ahumada