Joey Bada$$ Talks ‘Summer Knights’ Mixtape And His Next Steps
On June 12, Joey Bada$$ will release his second full-length mixtape, Summer Knights. The tape’s name derives from the Chuck Strangers-produced intro from Joey's 2012 debut offering 1999, which introduced the world to the Brooklyn MC and left many flabbergasted by the maturity and depth behind his rhymes. Having only 17 years of life experience at the time, it was amazing to hear the complex and conscious content of his songs, which drew in fans to his intricate wordplay and charismatic boom bap rap. Joey swung by the XXL office yesterday (June 4th) to discuss Summer Knights and made one thing abundantly clear: his excitement.
Human beings are creatures of comfort, tending to be at peak happiness when at a familiar place. That place for the Pro Era spitta is the summer. Summer a special time for Joey and his Pro Era crew: it’s when their dreams came to fruition. And for the 2013 XXL Freshman, it was only right to package that passion into a full-length project before the release of his debut album. XXL sat down with him to discuss the significance of summer, his favorite songs from the project, who’s featured on it, and the cinematic cover art. —Emmanuel C.M. (@ECM_LP)
On the progression of Summer Knights from EP to full-length:
XXL: So Summer Knights went from mixtape, to EP, to LP?
Joey Bada$$: [Laughs] Yeah I don't know why people are calling it an album. Not like it's gonna be released in stores or anything. It’s like, live from my Twitter. That's the only place you can get it. I like to keep a lot of things just in camp, straight from me, directly from me to the people. I like people to feel like it’s straight from me.
Was it because you were making so much music?
Yeah, yeah I was making so much music, and I feel like the reason why I even decided to come out with this project is because like I feel like I wanna give people my album, but I wanna give people more of me first. I don't wanna just go straight to my album. It's more respect that I need to gain, you know, love I need to earn, there're more fans I need to gain. It’s like, before I make that decision, especially being an independent artist, I don't wanna just put out my album and [sell] 5,000 in the first week. I'm tryna go big independently so. . . [short pause] that's why I feel like I needed more.
On the tape's title and cover art:
The title. Where did that name come from?
For my first tape that I put out, called 1999, the first track is called “Summer Knights Intro.” That whole thing was about just the time I was puttin’ it out. The date June 12th is a significant date ‘cause it was the date I finished school. It’s like, that ideal day. You know, summer is coming and things like that, just the feeling and the essence of summer. And it's just my favorite time of the year.
Is that why like the cover art is like that?
Yeah, exactly. All those summer nights, that we spent the night. . . summer is a really important piece to Pro Era because after we first established Pro Era in the winter, that one summer after that, we made a lot of plans, a lot of moving, a lot of plots. And the cover art of Summer Knights, that's just Prospect Park in Brooklyn, that’s where we was at most of our time just playin, plottin, hanging out, just being kids. . . But I don't want people to think it’s just a seasonal album, ‘cause it's not. You could bump it any time of the year. I made these tracks all year 'round. But just the way it's coming together, its just gonna be like that. It’s almost like a blooming, that's what this tape feels like to me. So, Summer Knights.
On the new tracks from Summer Knights:
Give me five songs on the mixtape.
You got “Swank,” “Million Dollar Baby.” You got “47 Goons.” You got “Word is Bond,” I dropped that. What's that, four? You got “Sit and Pray.” Yeah, there's a lot of dope shit coming off this.
Well “Swank” is really on some next shit. I can't even tell you the type of shit that I was on when I made that. It’s really just me sayin, 'Yo, I gotta go, I gotta get outta here, I gotta just. . . do me.' Like, ‘I gotta put my mind to work.’ [long pause] That's what “Swank” is. That's just me sayin’, you know, what I'm tryna do, what I'm ‘bout to be, what's destined for me.
What about “47 Goons”?
That's sort of a posse cut. Not really though, ‘cause it's only like three-fourths of us on it. But that track right there is gonna be like the head nodder, the dirty joint right there. People gonna be like, 'mmm' type shit (laughs).
Is there a favorite track so far?
They're all my favorite tracks, honestly. Every last track on that is a favorite track to me, in some type of way. Like I made them all at different times, and at those different times I was like, ‘Yo, this my favorite track’ (laughs). They're like babies. Can't really pick one over another one.
How many songs are on there?
It’s gonna be, like, a good sixteen. I’m thinking about putting some bonuses on there. But I mean, I was really aiming at following the format of 1999, like you know, 1999 was fifteen tracks, but I’m trying to give away like, two extra.
On the transition from 1999 to Summer Knights:
Describe the transition in the past year.
Well 1999 was just me making a name for myself, you know. 1999 was that tape, like everybody saw, [he’s] just this kid from Brooklyn, he’s got something to say, he’s telling some story, [or] at least he’s about to. And Summer Nights, you know, it’s kinda like a continuation. I guess you could say not exactly a sequel, it being a story behind it, but just phases through my life, like, exactly next year. It’s the year after, what happens in a year. And I’m still doing pretty much the same shit I always been doing. Just some advancements here and there, got a little name, things like that, some shows, you know.
So this is like the next level?
Yeah, that’s exactly what it is, next level. Then the album, it’s gonna come top of the year, top of next year.
On the features and production for Summer Knights:
Production wise, who’s on it?
Lee Bannon, he gonna shine the light off of this shit. He’s got some bangers on here. Chuck Strangers just got some bangers. Kirk Knight, I don’t even think any of Kirk’s beats made it to this project but his verses on this, people are gonna be extremely impressed with the progression of Kirk. People really gonna see Kirk stand out as an MC on this project—I cant wait to see the feedback. Not even just on me, what people think of the Pros and shit, just off this. Because I don’t have any outside features on this, It’s just in the camp. It’s not even that I want to keep this in house, I just fuck with my niggas. Like a lot of these other niggas be moving funny, I just really fuck with my niggas.
Do you feel like that it’s a bad thing when people just get names for features?
Nah, it’s not a bad thing at all. Because you know I wanted a Kendrick Lamar feature—I wanted things like that but, you know, it’s timing. I think things like that are really good to see, especially in hip-hop. Especially when the East and the West come together and they make bangers. That’s a beautiful thing to see. I love to see things like that.
You sure you really don’t have a favorite song on the project?
All of them bro. [Laughs] You gotta understand, all of them. I really think “Swank” is amazing. But these are like—the only reason I’m saying this is ‘cause these are like my newest, my newest stuff. All the other things are pretty older but yeah, all of them bro. I can’t wait for it to drop. It’s like, eight more days, and I’m just itching like a fucking fiend. It’s crazy, I have the music and I’m the one itching [Laughs]. I’m so excited; I just want to let this go. I’m tired of performing 1999 songs on my set. [Laughs] Not even tired of it, I’m tired of performing it like it’s new. You know, I go to shows and shit, people hear 1999, you know what they want to hear, but I got all this new shit in my head, I want to unleash it. So that’s my next move man.
On the next step:
After 1999 and now the 2013 XXL Freshmen list, what’s the next step for you?
Honestly, in this class, I feel like a freshman who got skipped, you know, as if it was a college or some shit and I’m like fifteen years old in college. That’s what this shit was to me. But honestly, the fact that I’m so young, that never hits me. Most of the time I’m not even aware of that. When I’m doing shows or even if I’m among other artists, I’m not even aware like, ‘Yo, I’m really the youngest one here.’ It never hits me like that, because I’m always thinking about, ‘I gotta be the best spitter, I gotta hold it down for my people where I’m from.’
Are you tired of people talking about your age?
I mean, let them talk about it, fuck it, it is what it is. I mean, I am young, I embrace my youth to the fullest. I love the fact I’m young and I’m doing what I do, but my mindset is just so ahead of me. So it doesn’t really bother me. I just hope that people could just really look at the art of it. And I feel like they will. Even ten years from now, they gonna be like ‘Wow, Joey was 18, or 17 when he first came out.’
In 2014, where do you want to be, where do you project yourself as, exactly a year from now?
I’m gonna be on top of the game, man. I’m trying to make history. Like I’m tryna make a really big impact as an independent artist, and the only way I won’t be there is if these people literally block me and they like, ‘Nah man, Joey can’t be doing this, he’s not signed to us, we’re not getting no pieces of him, how is he doing all of this?’ [Laughs] That’s the only way it’s not going to happen. They gonna really try to just block—but nah man, I believe my fans really going to carry it a lot for me. That’s why I fuck with them so hard.
When the fans get this LP, what’s the message you think there going to get?
I feel like they just gonna feel like, damn, Pro Era’s really coming for these heads.