The following feature appears in the March 2017 issue of NYLON Guys.
November 9, 2016: It’s the wee hours of the morning and Joey Bada$$ is holed up at Los Angeles’ Truth Studios, attempting to lay down vocals. He cannot concentrate. With news outlets reporting Donald Trump’s unassailable lead in the presidential election, Joey is overwhelmed by conflicting emotions. As the electoral map turns red, his thoughts get fuzzier. He needs to meditate. He isolates himself, closes his eyes, and begins a series of deep breathing patterns to clear the thoughts clogging up his head.
Then the words of one of his counterparts—“Yo, I don’t know how to feel right now”—jolt Joey from his reverie, and he comes to an epiphany: Not knowing how to feel is a feeling, one worthy of being unpacked. The moment of clarity sparks a change in the ambit of the album he’s recording—what will eventually become his sophomore record, A.A.B.A.—and he decides to take it in a worldly direction, like a state-of-the-union address to his followers.
A month later, with Trump confirmed as president-elect, the 22-year-old rapper/actor is lounging inside the Chinatown, Manhattan offices of his label, Cinematic Music Group, clad in an olive green bubble vest and black sweatpants bearing the red and green logo of his Pro Era collective. He reclines in his chair, rolls a pink rose quartz crystal around in the palm of his hand, and speaks determinedly as he describes A.A.B.A., due out later this spring, placing its position in the post-electoral cultural landscape of which so many of us are attempting to make sense.
“If people are looking for me to talk about myself, this is not that album,” he says candidly. “This one is about the temperature of the world right now and what’s been happening to us as a people over the last couple of years.” After referencing lectures by notable black activists such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Dr. Claud Anderson, and Dr. Umar Johnson as the record’s influences—or “flavor”—Joey leans forward and gets to the heart of his message: “It’s my take on this country as a young black man, and the relationship we have—what’s really going on.”