Joey Bada$$, born Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, exploded out of East Flatbush, Brooklyn, on February 23, 2012, when the video for “Survival Tactics” was uploaded to YouTube. In the visual, Joey and his late friend and rhyme partner Capital Steez swipe through the Church Avenue train station turnstiles, obscure their faces with panda masks, and march on Wall Street like a youthful paramilitary movement. The duo fire off incendiary brags and boasts: Joey cockily introduces himself as “a Martian with an army of Spartans sparring with a knife in a missile fight,” while Capital Steez raps in front of an American flag and warns of an impending doomsday that’s got him “investing in a few guns, new gats, booby traps, and bazooka straps.” The battle cry is rallied over a rousing beat that’s infused with wailing sirens and spiked with gunshots and broken-bottle sound effects.
“Survival Tactics” went viral. Not just sort of viral—properly viral to the point where Joey, then only 17 years old, was cast as a leading character in a new wave of music that would prove the vitality of rap’s birthplace, even as trending faces such as Drake, Rick Ross, and Odd Future had shifted focus elsewhere. A$AP Rocky, who emerged out of Harlem shortly before Joey, was another future star of the scene. He remembers how Joey’s “youthful and energetic” vibe caused him to play “one of the largest roles” in the resurgence of New York City hip-hop.
“Joey’s responsible for a lot of this shit that’s going [on],” Rocky says. “He encouraged people to be courageous and step up their lyrical abilities.”