Some might describe the Brooklyn rapper Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, a.k.a. Joey Bada$$, as up-and-coming, but it seems he's already arrived. Even if his debut album, B4.DA.$$, was released just three weeks ago, the 20-year-old has already co-founded a successful hip-hop collective called Pro Era (which you may recognize from the t-shirt Malia Obama was wearing in her leaked Instagram selfie), performed for thousands on stages all over the world, and racked up millions of views on SoundCloud and YouTube.
The new album was released to critical acclaim, garnering favorable comparisons to the iconic rapper Nas, who also gained fame and respect as a teenager. That's partly by design: Bada$$ credits Nas as a source of inspiration, and, like Nas, he's using his beats and metaphors to highlight social ills. "I think music is the most powerful tool when it comes to spreading messages and getting words across," he told me over the phone. "It plays a really big part."
His latest single, "Like Me," which Bada$$ premiered last month on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, gives his take on the recent string of shootings of unarmed black men by police, and on some of the baggage that comes with being born black in America. "My way of protesting is through my music," he says. "With this newfound stature I have this voice where if I say something, a lot of people listen to it."
Bada$$ says the new video (premiered above) channels his state of mind: We see him caught up in a situation over a girl. He's accosted by a man with a gun, and even though he's unarmed, he becomes a police target. "In the video, the hot-headed guy, he gets killed by the police with a gun in his hand. And me, the cool guy, who is away from all the violence, I still end up being mixed in the loop—just being a victim because of my surroundings or where I'm from." You'll also catch some references to Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown.
Yet the song and video both end with an element of hope. Bada$$ had wanted to leave people pondering. "I pray that there is hope," he explains. "But even the fact that I have to dream like that is what's disturbing. My message is that it can happen to any one of us."