Happy to go over your head.

If you don't dig his music, 20-year-old Joey Bada$$ says he's fine with it. Bada$$ is one of the most traditional rappers in the game; his dense rhymes, infused with verse-long metaphors and commentary on his Brooklyn youth, alternate over smooth or boom-bap beats. Before you dismiss that as too old-school, consider: Why shouldn't current hiphop retain that '90s sound?

When Bada$$, born in 1995, turned 10 years old, the defining record of East Coast '90s-era hiphop was Nas's Illmatic—already more than a decade old. In 2010, at age 15, Joey was battle-rapping about sex, drugs, and the police over a friend's beatbox in front of a graffiti-covered doorway in Brooklyn—a scene that could have been stripped straight out of 1985, when Nas was nearly the same age. Fast-forward to today: Bada$$ dropped a critically acclaimed album, B4.DA.$$, in January. The country, including New York City, remains rife with wealth and racial inequality. Since America hasn't fundamentally changed in the past couple decades (no, we are not post-racial), why should a young rapper out of Brooklyn tackle the genre any differently than Nas?

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We talked to Bada$$ about his music, the Black Lives Matter movement (this question pissed him off), Genius annotations, and what's next for him and Pro Era, the Brooklyn-based hiphop collective he cofounded. 

For somebody who's new to your music, how would you describe yourself and your musical style? Really, very idiosyncratic. And I use that word specifically because that word refers to things that are different, in the sense of otherworldly different. Totally different, like, a different universe from everything that you're hearing.

How would you differentiate yourself from some of the other big names out there right now? What would you say makes you unique? Just the way I do my shit different from everybody in the game. Like, it's just me, direct to consumer, direct to fan, do-it-yourself. We do everything on our own, in-house. There are no major labels involved. There are no music corporations involved, you know?

There were some headlines that came out recently from an interview where you said, "I'm the new face of hiphop." Can you expand on that a bit? There's nothing to say. I'm not going to defend a point that the media tried to portray about me. They misunderstood, and they tried to maximize it to something else. It makes no sense. Let's just go to the next question.

I wondered whether people were taking that phrase out of context a little bit. Yeah, 189 percent.

Obviously you're from New York, and you've got a strong East Coast sound. For someone from Seattle, why should they get introduced or reintroduced to that sound? I mean, it's different for them, because I'm not directly from there. But it's still relatable. We're still living in America. We still have things that we can relate to each other. We're still living in a corrupt system together. You know what I'm saying? New York is just a little more congested.

Any Seattle artists in particular on your radar? Macklemore.

What's your relationship like with him? Any collaborations in the works? We should be making music soon. One day.

Your music is full of double entendres and creative metaphors. Do you ever worry it'll go over people's heads? I know that I'm always going over people's heads. But it kind of makes me happy, you know? Because when people say they don't like my music or they hate it, it makes me laugh because I know that they just don't understand. And it's all good. That's just the way it is. But I know when they do understand it, one day, in the future, they'll be like, "Yo, this dude was way ahead of me." That actually inspires me to keep going over people's heads.

And we have things like Genius now, where people can go online... But the thing is, I even go over Rap Genius's head. Which is interesting.

Are those things even right? Those annotations? Not if I didn't approve 'em. All the obvious shit that you could point out just by knowing me as an artist, well of course. But the other complicated shit that you're not sure about—don't take it for what it is if you don't see that green check next to it.

Capital STEEZ's posthumous album, King Capital, is that still coming out this year? [Editor's note: Capital STEEZ, another founding member of Pro Era, committed suicide in late 2012.] It was never slated to come out this year. It's coming out though. People got to be patient and understand that we're trying to do the best we can for that project. It's easy to just put songs out, but why would we do that when these are the last songs he had?

I saw recently you were out in New York in the streets with some Black Lives Matter protesters. Do you identify with that movement at all? It's not a movement. It's just a fuckin' like—what? The fact that you could even ask me the question like that, bro, I'm offended. Like, "What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement?" Like, what are my thoughts on the whole racial issues in America since 400 years ago? Like c'mon, bro.

I'm genuinely curious. The "Like Me" video touches on issues of police brutality, and then I saw an article on Okayplayer.com where you were out in the streets. That's what I have to say about it. Take the art for what it is. You already know where it's at. You already know it's corrupt. "What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement?" It doesn't make any sense to ask me that question. I'm sure you can understand that that shit aggravates me. It frustrates me. To just be asked what you think about it. It's like yo, we've been dealing with the same problems for mad years. And people are trying to simplify it and make it a hashtag. 

What's next for you career-wise? Where are you going from here? For me, the next step is continuing to grow as an artist. But for Pro Era, the next thing is Kirk Knight. His project is coming out. That's where I'm focusing my energy as well. I got some features on there, and I pretty much executive produced it.

I heard a coworker of mine say he's not into your music because it's more old-school. Do you hear that very often? What's your take on that line of thought? It's like yo, the music is not old-school. You know that I'm not trying to be old-school or trying to be '90s. That's just the essence or the spirit that's behind it. When people say shit like that, I just know they can't understand.

And it's all good. Because everyone is not supposed to. And I'm not here to force my opinion on people. If he doesn't like it, that's totally cool with me. Me and him could still be friends. I don't give a fuck. recommended