January 21, 2014

School of Hard Knocks

Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott has charisma that belies his age. At only 18, the hip hop artist, who raps under the guise Joey Bada$$, has already accomplished more than most emerging musicians can hope to achieve in their entire career. He admits, “I don’t feel 18. Well, I never really felt my age ever. But I got more wiser, I got more smarter. I’m way more experienced.” But it’s not just a rapid rise to success that has given Joey the wise-beyond-his-years attitude—his sound and flow reference a style of old school hip hop that garners comparisons to some of the greatest in the genre, like Biggie and Jay Z.

Joey Badass interview WILD YOUTH

Though disparate in age, these MCs all called one place home: Brooklyn, New York. Perhaps it’s this place that informs their identity and aesthetic as lyricists. Joey confesses, “Growing up in Brooklyn influenced everything about my career. It’s hard to be from Brooklyn and not be Brooklyn.” There must be something in the borough’s water because, apart from his sound, the lofty goals he’s set for himself closely mimic the legacies of those great East Coast rappers that he feels both blessed and burdened to represent.

As he puts it, “New York artists are just the best. That’s a fact. What’s important to me about holding that title is I got to be one of the best.”

Scott’s young career has proven that he has a fighting chance at retaining the prestige of that moniker. He sees himself poised not only to live up to the hype of his predecessors, but to far surpass it. “I’m going to be bigger than Jay Z. I’ll own every basketball team, I’ll own the NBA!” Joey says with a laugh. “But the thing is, every generation that comes, the generation after has a chance to do greater. Jay Z is 40 and he’s achieved all he has—I think in ten years I could probably do half of what he’s done. Not probably.”

Joey Badass interview WILD YOUTH

This self-assurance and mature level-headedness has safely steered Joey through, not only his recent surge in popularity, but also more turbulent times, like the passing of his best friend and Pro Era member, Capital Steez—it’s an issue that still causes him to visibly shut down. But it’s also this friendship and his relationship with the Pro Era team, a group of young rappers that he grew up performing with, that has driven his music to new heights. “It’s definitely some destined shit,” he says of the group’s meeting. “You know that thing they say that the friends you keep are based upon the goals you have in common? That’s what the relationship was. But it was always a friendship before it was music, so that’s what solidifies the rap.”

From the beginning, Joey’s musical trajectory seems to have been driven by something bigger than himself. As a young kid, hanging out at his mom’s job after school, listening to Kanye’s Late Registration, he never dreamed that his love for rap would one day have him moving in the same elite circles as his idols. Though Scott has reached a whole new level of recognition in his professional life, he isn’t totally settled into this world yet. “It’s like I’m in and I’m still not at home. I still feel like I’m on the outside looking in,” he says. “I didn’t think it would still be like this, I didn’t think this would all feel the same.”

He’s also quick to assert, however, that from his perspective, “I’m still trying to make it.” A modest statement from a young man who just finished opening up sold out stadium shows for Wiz Khalifa all over the world, and is on the verge of releasing his debut album, B4.Da.$$, after a string of hugely popular mixtapes.

For Scott, the formula to the success that still eludes him is simple: “I just try to never stop having fun. I just keep it me.”

Joey Badass interview WILD YOUTH

This ability to remain authentic and true to his musical lineage that has garnered the excitement of top rappers and producers in the industry. But hype aside, Scott says, “I just want to be a good artist. I want to unleash my full potential. I always want to be in a comfortable place musically. I just want to be happy.”

Apart from his personal goals, he also recognizes the newfound responsibilities that come along with his rapidly increasing number of fans. “I’ve been starting to think about what it is I choose to say to people,” he acknowledges, “because what I say could hit a whole bunch of people and I would really like for that message to be something they could take and learn from, or something to improve on themselves, or improve the world.” Joey, though underage, isn’t unwise to the ever-growing power and influence he has at his disposal. He’s actively directing it towards making positive changes in his own life and the lives of those around him.

So, what could a much-loved rapper receiving major accolades at what is surely only the beginning of his career possibly consider to be a WILD Wish? “To take over the world…Insert evil laugh.” Only time will tell.

See the full cover shoot

text by: Emily Kirkpatrick

photography by: Armen Djerrahian

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