Written by Calvin Stovall (@CalvinStovall)
Approximately two years ago, Jonny Shipes, President of Cinematic Music Group and manager to Big K.R.I.T. and Smoke DZA, stumbled upon web footage of a 15-year-old kid named JayOhVEE spitting advanced-placement rhymes. Impressed, Shipes contacted the young teenager via Twitter and began developing him as an artist. Two years later, with cosigns from visual artist Va$htie and Pittsburgh’s Mac Miller under his belt, the online community is buzzing about this kid named Joey BadA$$.
Those who’ve heard the 17-year-old Brooklyn native spit can attest that Joey (born Jo-Vaughn Scott) was blessed with the gift of gab. But while his age and mic skills make him unique, there is an added dimension to the lanky high school junior’s presence that has some convinced that he’s hip-hop’s next torchbearer.
“I’m telling you man, [Joey] can change the course of time,” exclaimed producer 9th Wonder in a recent interview with XXL. “If he’s 17, there are no boundaries of how he can influence a 14-year-old. (What) Tribe and Public Enemy and Brand Nubian did for me as a 15-year-old, he can do the same thing.”
That “thing” that 9th believes Joey can offer is consciousness, or lack there-of, depending on your perspective. The fact that an artist as young as Joey is completely unaware of what’s on mainstream radio gives hip-hop purists like 9th, whose work with Little Brother received similar praise from the likes of DJ Evil Dee and ?uestlove last decade, hope for the future of the culture. “If it’s one of him, that means he has friends and there’s a whole legion and generation of kids that’s just like him,” said 9th.
But while he’d be flattered to know that his “Survival Tactics” video reminded 9th Wonder of a young MF DOOM (one of Joey’s favorite MCs), the precocious lyricist is quick to remind anyone looking to label him as the next “anything” that he’s still evolving into the artist he will ultimately become.
“That’s not my style anymore,” said Joey of the Creative Control-directed “Survival Tactics” video, which features Pro. Era teammate Capital STEEZ and has become Joey’s most-viewed video to date. “That’s probably the oldest song on the tape right now—we did that shit last summer,” he said. “What people fail to realize is that I’m not only into boom bap, this is just how I felt at the time.”
While his rhyme skills certainly set him apart from other MCs his age, it’s his deep interest in philosophy and consciousness that puts him over the head of some of the adult rappers he tunes out by ignoring radio airwaves. When asked to name his influences, Joey mentions “Gandhi,” as Capital STEEZ, sitting next to him, chuckles and adds Confucius to the list. “Nah, I don’t like Confucius,” snaps Joey. “He was all for like, listening to your parents and shit.”
His rebellious spirit flies freely in the music, and his increasingly complicated existence is kept grounded by his mom. The fact that he had to miss last month’s SXSW festival under mom’s orders frustrated him, but he understands the position his talent puts her in.
“School is really making it hard for me to really do what I want to do as far as the music goes,” says Joey of his predicament. “It sucks that like I’m being pushed out there right now—there’s like pros and cons to it. (SXSW) would have been a really good move.”
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