Q&A: Joey Bada$$ On Singing Biggie At Two, Tumblr Stalkers, And Finishing High School

Joey Bada$$ is perched over a Pac-Man tabletop arcade machine at a neighborhood bar in Flatbush. With a glass of Sprite resting on the video game's screen, he confesses that he's never played Pac-Man before, gives a laugh, and says, "I probably suck at this."

Bada$$'s lack of experience at early-'80s pixel pastimes is understandable: He's 17 years old and still attends Edward R. Murrow High School. But since dropping the song "Survival Tactics" and its incendiary video earlier this year, the rapper and his oversized Progressive Era crew have been propelled to the front of a fresh wave of New York rappers who combine lyrical swank with an unabashed love of their hometown and its heritage. The peak of the hyperbole that "Survival Tactics" has cultivated has even had Bada$$ compared to a young Nas; it's a lofty comparison that's not a total over-reaction, with both rappers reciting rhymes with a slight rasp in their voice and the worldly wise visions of an older mind, although Bada$$ is also fond of enjoying flights of MF Doom-ian free word association fancy.

Next up, Joey Bada$$ is preparing his mixtape 1999, which despite a few delays should drop shortly and solidify his credentials as Flatbush's finest. Before that though, there's a show at the Knitting Factory this Friday (which will also act as the inaugural Pro Era public outing). So while he flexed his virgin skills at Pac-Man against his Pro Era pal Kirk Knight (and won), we pestered Bada$$ about the potential of a skateboard showdown with Odd Future, Pro Era's take on Lil B, and the troubles of Tumblr stalkers.

Joey Bada$$ and Capital STEEZ, "Survival Tactics"

Things have been going well for you since the "Survival Tactics" video took off, right?

Yeah, I mean, it's going well now. Since the video dropped things have been moving really well. It was perfect synchronization—everything that I wanted to happen has happened. It's weird.

Have you been surprised by the reaction to "Survival Tactics"?

I'd be lying if I said no. This is actually my least favorite track on my mixtape that I'm dropping, but I just threw that out there and there was nothing out there like it.

Whose idea was it to wear the panda ski-masks in the video?

That was me. They were from Urban Outfitters. Then the black ski-mask was from just a regular on the street seller.

"Survival Tactics" is actually a beat from an old Styles of Beyond record, right?

Yeah, [Capital] Steez had found it. That track was recorded in the summer time. He showed me the beat and I knew I had to do it, so we rapped it the next day.

Mike Shinoda, from Linkin Park, was involved in the Styles of Beyond project and has re-blogged your version of it. How did that feel?

That really psyched me out. He's like the dude from Linkin Park, and I grew up on that, and now he knows [my music]. That just hit me out of nowhere.

Have you had any sort of a response from other hip-hop artists since then?

Yeah, 9th Wonder—I was actually talking to him before I got here [today], we were direct messaging. I've been a fan of his for like the longest. When I was younger and just starting, I used to browse through a lot of instrumentals—that's how I came across 9th. Then also Mac Miller has reached out to my manager [Joey Bada$$ appears on Miller's "America"], Smoke DZA who I already knew, and Big K.R.I.T. has showed me a lot of love.

Are you a fan of Mac Miller's music?

I love Mac Miller. I don't know why people hate on him, honestly. He has fun, I can totally respect that. It's not like he's selling out, and he has like the number one indie album in 25 years. That's a huge accomplishment. If anyone doesn't recognize that then they're plain dumb.

What's the strangest thing you've read about yourself and "Survival Tactics"?

"Fuck these kids, I like Styles of Beyond's version better, I hate these kids!" That, and on YouTube some kid put it on the video that it reminded him of 25% Flavor Flav, 25% Nas, 25% Tyler, The Creator, and 25% original. Some shit like that.

Influence-wise, how would you break down the track like that?

I give it 100% me.

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