It’s a cold, grey, November afternoon in Old Street and Clash is waiting for New York’s latest, biggest and perhaps youngest, offering to the gods of underground hip-hop, Joey Bada$$.
The seventeen-year-old Flatbush native made some serious noise in 2012, along with his Pro Era cronies, and is quickly becoming a poster boy for New York’s “Beast Coast” movement. New York has always been, and perhaps always will be, at the forefront of underground hip-hop, and the recent influx of interesting and solidly talented MCs has carved out one of the most genuinely exciting scenes that hip-hop and The Big Apple has seen in almost two decades.
After releasing two solo mixtapes in 2012 (‘1999’ and ‘Rejex’) to critical acclaim, JB and Pro Era have once again delivered the goods with their first collective effort ‘Peep: The aPROcalypse’ (available now for nada). The tape dropped in the wake of the tragic passing of PE member Capital Steez (who allegedly took his life on Christmas Eve, just three days after the release date), which puts a massive blotch of anguish on a hugely successful year for PE.
An hour behind schedule a dismissive but strangely curious group of teenagers arrive at the Clash offices demanding to be fed by a distraught tour manager, who looks like he’s spent three days babysitting young offenders. After a few deadpan stares and borderline diva-ish demands for pizza, we agreed the interview would go ahead simultaneously with the photo shoot in the twenty-five minutes we had before they had to be packed off to see jarring, Antipodean super fan, Zane Lowe.
It’s quite easy to pigeonhole a group like PE and bunch them together with acts such as Ratking and Odd Future purely based on age and the fact that they rap, but in pigeonholes you find pigeon shit. “I mean they don’t annoy me, like I don’t give a fuck,” Joey explains. “There’s always gonna be a category people are gonna throw you in, you just gotta do what you can to be the best in that category, y’know?”
What really seems to differentiate PE from their peers is their tight grasp on all things boom bap. Their sound is distinctly reminiscent of a better time in hip-hop, more DITC than Drake. They encapsulate a sound that is arguably way before their time. “I feel like I’m bringin’, although it’s not really new, that balance hip-hop used to have,” he goes on. “I mean there’s gonna be cats that do their stuff for the radio or for the paper but there’s always gonna be cats that do their shit because they’re really into it.”
PE’s nostalgic sound has not gone unnoticed by pioneers of the era they emulate. The fact that they have already worked with Lord Finesse and Pete Rock and are set to release work with DJ Premier speaks volumes about the sustenance PE has to offer. “I feel humble every time I meet cats, like I’m working with Premo and he schools us to the game,” he recounts. “Me and CJ we go over there and just work and he gives us speeches about stuff.”
There is a sense of nobility in the fact that in a time where hip-hop seems to have become more appealing to the residents of The Hamptons than to the residents of the Bronx, that there is still a passion within people to approach hip-hop in this way even when surrounded by brain dead materialistic drivel that is the populous in modern hip-hop. Not in a corny, ageing B-boy ‘I aint never gonna’ sell out, I’mma always be broke’ way, but in an intelligent, considered way. Mastering one’s art and being rewarded for it instead of the constant pursuit of currency. “I mean, money affects the pursuit of everybody with any type of skill,” Joey admits. “I mean, after a while your skill or talent starts making you a profit. I’m not gonna say no to the money it’s making me, I’mma eat.”
Words: Eric Thorp
Photography: Liam MF Warwick
This is an excerpt from the January 2013 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.
Catch Joey Bada$$ performing at this summer's Parklife Weekender - details here.