You might not think of Pro Era frontman Joey Bada$$ and a college professor as having much in common, but you’d be wrong. This past Friday in a New York University auditorium full of eager students he gave his first ever lecture to tell the completely badass story of how he got to where he is today.
“I feel like Malcolm X” were his first words to the audience. Even though it wasn't explicitly meant to be a Black History Month affair, his talk was the perfect way to head into the final days of February's celebration of black excellence.
The speech, which gave a detailed breakdown of how the Brooklyn rapper and producer went from attending high school to touring the world, was full of gems of wisdom about the music business. Like why he choose to go independent: to have more control over his music. "You know, I follow my heart,” Bada$$ told the room. “I follow the path that I'm supposed to be on. Stay independent if you're pursuing music."
But there was also time for funny anecdotes, like the time he tricked the internet. “I was trying to create a viral video for myself get on WorldStar HipHop,” he said. But when the site rejected his 80th submission, he simply renamed it "15-year Old Freestyles for WorldStar HipHop” and fooled everyone into thinking it had come from the site, which gave him a huge boost in views.
The only sign that Bada$$ wasn’t already on the NYU pay roll was every so often losing his place in his notes. But even in those moments, the audience waited patiently for the next insight while members of the Pro Era collective sat right up front as an anchor of what it’s all about for him—following your dreams with your friends.
The talk ended with an impromptu verse for his fans, and a call to any other schools who may be looking for a guest lecturer. Afterwards, Bada$$ sat down for a quick catch up with The FADER.
How do you think it went?
JOEY BADA$$: I think it went pretty good you know. I got some really good feedback.
Did you want it to coincide with Black History Month?
Not really, it just ended up that way. I've been wanting to do lectures. Eventually, you know, I wanna do a TED Talk and stuff like that but, you know, my team just thought it would be a good start—Black History Month—a good platform to stand on.
What do you want the audience to take away from your lecture?
Follow your heart. You know, follow your dreams. Listen to your inner voice. I know they can really relate with that message because I know a lot of them are not here by choice. You what I'm saying, they're here because they feel like they have to be here. You know how the whole college system is. You gotta pay for your education and you gotta pay for an education that won't even support your life, you know what I'm saying? It won't even support your living. I think they can really relate to that message. Just follow your heart. Follow what it is you want to do because this is a very important time—from 18 to 24 is probably one of the most critical moments in your life where you can make something happen. So if you're wasting it, if you're occupying that space doing something you don't necessarily love, you could be making the biggest mistake of all time.
“If you’re doing something you don’t necessarily love, you could be making the biggest mistake of all time.”—Joey Bada$$
Could you have seen yourself going to college?
Nah, at a point I did. You know what, it's funny. I'll tell you a funny story. When I was 8, I remember I was with my grandmom and I was having a conversation and I was like—I call my grandmom "BoBo"—I was like, "BoBo, did my dad go to college?" She was like no, but you must finish school. I said, well I'ma follow in his footsteps and not go to college. But as I got older I was always that smart kid who was the cool kid at the same time, so school was definitely an important thing for me but when I got to high school I just realized school wasn't everything I thought it was.
What’s your motivation? What gets you up in the morning?
Just the fact that I have so much on my shoulders. So much people that are counting on me, and I have my brothers in the heavens who are looking down and, you know, giving me the additional strength that I need to keep going. That's really what keeps me going, you know what I'm saying? I'm not trying to let anybody down, [or] let myself down for that matter.
What’s your current obsession?
My current obsession is with Joe and The Juice. Have you ever heard of that store? Oh my god, I love their sandwiches. I just had one before I came over here. I have an obsession with music obviously, you know being in the studio. I have an obsession with smoking at the end of my work days and feeling relaxed, yeah. That's just a few.