When Joey Bada$$ debuted with his “Survival Tactics” video last February, people were blown away by the sharp, agile rhymes and the clip’s grimy cinematography and location scouting. But it was more than that—Joey was just 16 when he recorded it. To hear rhymes that fiery, from a kid that was still in high school? You couldn’t help but imagine how much better Joey would spit when he grew up. Well, wait no more: Joey is officially an adult now. Today, January 20, the Brooklyn rapper marks his 18th birthday. And judging from his most recent work, “Unorthodox,” produced by DJ Premier, his rhyme skills are undeniably sharpening with adulthood. Either way, XXL is helping him celebrate. A couple days before his birthday, we sat down with Joey to talk about his big day, growing up, working with Primo and even kangaroos. —Alex Gale (@apexdujeous)
You’re turning 18. Congratulations! How does it feel?
I feel like one thing this game has definitely done to me, it’s made me age like two over years over the past six months. So it’s no big whoop anymore—I already feel like I’m about 20 or whatever. I already feel like I went through that change.
What happened over the past six months to make you feel that?
Just the reality checks of life. The way everything’s actually happened. The hard work paying off.
How do you plan on celebrating?
I’m actually having a party and shit, a little private party. Family and friends. I’m sure I’ll just get trippy as fuck, honestly. That kind of thing.
How is this birthday party going to be different than the previous ones you’ve had? You’re definitely at a different point in life.
I don’t know, ’cause last time I had a party was when I was 13. So I’m looking forward to this one. My first cousin, Quan, our birthdays are five days apart so wed always celebrate them together.
What do you want for a birthday present?
I want a car, man!
Do you have your license?
I actually got my permit, but as soon as I turn 18, I’ll cop my license. I already drive pretty well. I actually want a Jeep Wrangler. No roof, no doors type shit in the summer.
What do you look forward to most about turning 18 and becoming an adult?
Shit, I can fucking buy Dutches at the store now. I got my spots where they let me buy it, but some spots still press me for my ID, like, “Fuck.”
Are you still finishing high school?
Yeah. I’m taking online courses. Just pretty much where I left off at. Regular shit. I’m way behind though, but I’m doing a lot.
Do you ever miss your old school, Edward R. Murrow in Brooklyn?
The only part I ever miss is working hard to prepare for a test. I used to like the tests. I like to be challenged.
What about the social life? Do you feel like you’re out of the loop?
Na, fuck that shit! I used to hate high-school drama. I used to hate that shit. I had to rise above that ’cause niggers be on mad bullshit like little-ass girls, talking mad dumb shit. I definitely don’t miss that part.
A lot of your old classmates are probably finalizing their college plans. What about you?
Nah. I plan on becoming very successful without it.
What are you most proud of accomplishing over the first 18 years of your life?
Just getting a strong following. I’m so blessed to have such a strong following, everybody from the radio station to the fans to the interviewers—for them to all be on my side and be supporting my movement. That’s definitely what I’m most happy and appreciative of.
What are you going to accomplish in the next 18 years?
In the next 18 years, if I’m not living comfortably somewhere on a beach, while I’m still making hella money, then something is wrong. But shit—I gotta make it through life first.
You just released “Unorthodox,” produced by DJ Premier. That’s definitely a great way to turn 18.
Definitely. I love the song. It’s exactly what I expected.
How did you first hook up with him?
When we first worked together, I wasn’t even ready yet. I’m in this situation with Green Label Sound and Mountain Dew and they just set it up. It was rushed as fuck the first time, I gotta admit. The timing just wasn’t right. They were all up in our face with the cameras and shit. We had to get out and get at it again. That’s when “Unorthodox” came out. When took the time and we built a relationship and all that, that’s when the song came out. They tried to force the relationship, force the song. They did it all wrong, so we had to do it all over. Not Green Label sound, I’m grateful for them. It was just my state of readiness. It was me not being myself. I just wasn’t ready for that.
Do you plan on working with Premier again?
Hell yeah, I’m sure. That’s what hip-hop needs, right?
Do you remember the first Primo beat you ever heard?
The first time was the first time was when I heard a Gang Starr song, “Moment of Truth. ” I fucking love that shit. But my favorite Primo beat might be “Above the Clouds.” Hot shit right there.
So now that your 18th birthday is out of the way, what projects do have coming up?
I’m working on shit right now. I’m wrapping a project up, should be out by spring, summer.
Is it a mixtape or album?
Shit, I don’t know yet. We’ll see how it comes out. I was working on a mixtape, but right now it sounds too much like a debut. Also, I’m going back on the road this March, starting from South by Southwest. I’m headed all over. I’m really excited about the Australian line up. I’m just hoping I don’t get kicked by a kangaroo.