The rapper Joey Badass is in a weird spot. He rocketed to internet fame at 17 on the strength of the song "Survival Tactics" with his Edward R. Murrow High School classmate and fellow Pro Era crew member Capital Steez and the accompanying Occupy-Wall-Street-with-an-edge music video. Later in 2012, he cemented his status as rap bloggers' latest hope for the return of the real with the release of his first mixtape 1999, which was heavily accomplished for a kid of his age but also intensely derivative of New York hip hop made right around the time he was born. Now he's 20 and preparing to embark on a world tour in support of his first studio album, B4.DA.$$. It hit number one on Billboard's rap and independent charts but got a mixed critical reception and, predictably for an album heavy on displays of lyrical prowess and light on Molly references and Chris Brown hooks, little radio play.

Tomorrow, he performs at Summer Jam on the Festival Stage, the same opening slot he snagged two years ago. In an interview with Gothamist, he was openly unhappy with not having gotten far enough fast enough, but also with the toll fame has taken. It makes sense that he's burnt out: the guy's not even drinking age and he is the face of a rap empire. He's trying his damndest to bring his high school friends along with him under the Pro Era umbrella, and he's not signed to a major label, so all the money and logistical decisions land much closer to him. He also lost two close collaborators, Capital Steez and cousin and manager Big Junior, along the way. It's hard to empathize because society teaches us to want to be where he's at, but Joey sounded truly stressed on the phone. He was also suspicious of this interviewer's motives, perhaps rightfully so given the overwhelming Caucasity of our editorial staff.

While I'm playing armchair psychologist, he could have also just been burnt up about an apparent booking snafu at last night's Trapfest, a Governors Ball after-party that he says paid him for two songs but billed him as the main performer.

You played Summer Jam the last two years, is that right? No, I played two years ago. I'm on the same stage. I've made no progression.

I was going to ask. Are you a little frustrated to not be on the big stage yet? Not at all. It's just funny to see the way my own city treats me. But you know, it's all good.

You've got a big tour coming up after this. You have 27 shows in a month and a half. When you're on the road like that how do you deal with trying to stay healthy and sane? Sometimes it gets difficult but at this point I've grown more and more used to it. You get to the point where if you have an off day, if you're really missing home that much, you can buy a ticket home on your off day and go home, see mom.

Do you have any kind of secret road food that keeps you from eating fast food every day? The trick is you just got to save your food. If you find a good spot during the day, just order a lot of food and save it. I learned the hard way because I'm from New York City. I wait till 2 am thinking that place is still gone be open, but then I'm in Nevada and there's nothing open for miles. Or in fucking Denmark. The middle of nowhere. I just conserve my food now.

So you grew up in Bed-Stuy and East Flatbush and I was wondering how you've seen the neighborhoods change over the years since you were a kid. This is a funny question. You're alluding mostly to gentrification. Yes, I've seen it change. I've seen different people coming to my neighborhood, infiltrating, kicking the old people out. It's changed.

Not to get too personal, but for instance is your mom still where she was, or how has it affected people you know directly? Luckily for me, I became a rap star so now I'm making enough money to support my family. It's funny because that may seem like the only way that I can do such a task. It's fucked up, bro.

It's fucked up that you even gotta ask me a question like that, honestly. "How did you see your neighborhood change?" Oh, yeah, I just seen a bunch of different people come in and take over my neighborhood because it's cheaper for them to live there, but it's so expensive for my people to live there. I'm actually a little offended by that question, but it's all good. That's the country we're living in.

And why are you offended? I don't mean any offense. I'm just trying to get your perspective. While you may not have meant any offense, I totally understand that, you gotta understand—well, you can't understand. That's the problem. So I don't even blame you. I just wanna let you know.

Do you see any positive side to the change? Like people being able to have access to more fresh food, or anything like that? What people? Not my people. My people are getting kicked out. That's what you're not understanding. It's so simple to the point of even little stores or Duane Reade—I went to CVS last night and I was shocked because there was nobody at the cash register. It was just one person monitoring the self-checkout system. It's like, wow, look at those jobs. Those small jobs that went to people in my community. Now they're fired because they got robots and computers taking their positions. They're losing their jobs and they're losing their homes.

That's why I said it's a fucked-up question. Because it's just like, "All right, you're a rapper. You have money. You don't gotta really worry about these problems. How do you feel about the neighborhoods changing?" I don't feel great about it bro. Because my people are losing their places all the time.

I see what you're saying. I didn't mean it that way at all because I see you as someone that's very connected to the neighborhood and to people you grew up with and trying to uplift people who you were around. Even something like giving money to Edward R. Murrow. I wanted to talk to you a little about that. Have you heard anything that the kids have made with the equipment you donated? When I was going there they had one Midi keyboard, but now the kids got MPCs, they have a SP, all kinds of synthesizers and everything, so I can't even imagine the kind of shit that's coming out of there. Unfortunately, I've been too busy to go back and connect to all the kids that's in the class.

Joey Bada$$ x J Dilla x Akomplice - Give Back Pt. 1 from Akomplice Clothing on Vimeo.

But when I have some free time I definitely will do that just to see the progress that they're making and just to make sure my school is going about it the right way. Because even though I did such a great task, things in my school were still fucked up, don't get it twisted.

The Q train shows up a lot in your videos and in your raps, and I was wondering what specific connection you have to the Q. The Q train is the train I used to always take to school in the morning. And I used to take it to the city to meet with [manager Johnny] Shipes and meetings and stuff. It's really symbolic to me. It's part of my whole journey, my whole path.

Do you think that if you were to have grown up in LA that you would be doing videos with you sitting in traffic or sitting in a backyard with a barbecue or going to the 7-11? Your music is so rooted in the city and I wonder if you imagine what it might be like to have grown up in a totally different environment. I always do. I always think about what it would be like to see New York City for the first time, being an adult who's never been there. To come here and see this city of opportunity, the city that never sleeps, to look up and see the skyscrapers. Because for me, somebody who was born and raised here, it's almost like it doesn't mean as much to me as it does to a foreigner. I go to New York City and sometimes I don't even look up at the skyscrapers or the architecture.

New York definitely plays a huge part in who I am today. It gives me that, "I need it now" attitude, that do-it-yourself attitude. That hustler's ambition, that fast speed, the whole attitude of no sleep.

Totally. I was looking at an interview where you were talking about the song "Teach Me" being influenced by growing up doing shotta dancing. I was wondering if you could explain shotta dancing. Shotta dancing is kinda something us kids took to the next level. It comes from reggae dancehall, and growing up in Brooklyn it's like a melting pot of the whole West Indies. Jamaica's probably the most dominant island as far as influence goes, as far as music and dancing and culture. Us kids, we picked that up at a early age and we used it to stay out of trouble. When we were younger we were heavily involved in that, my cousins, my family.

So when you're doing it, did you have a crew, were you battling other people? Yeah we had a crew and we used to battle a whole bunch of other people. [In a mock interviewer voice] What was the crew's name?

Yeah. [Joey laughs] You've done a fair amount of interviews it seems like. I won't share what the name was. I don't want that to come out in the world. Because interviewers, they look at other interviews. And they bring that shit up and spread it around and the next thing I know I'm at a show and I'm sitting next to a fan and he's like, "Yo, so what's up with [crew name]?" Oh, shit, I just told you the name. Fuck!

I respect that. I can keep it out if you don't want it in. So what time would you show up at a spot, where? You showed up when everybody was headed there. Yo, we used to have the shit hot. We used to go to a park and you'd see a whole bunch of kids just gathered around, and you would probably wonder why are they all here, you'd probably think it's some negative shit. But we was really organized to the point where the older kids were the ones who really structured it. The younger kids were in crews under the older kids. It was really a positive thing. It was about peace and love and the brotherhood, and crews coming together. You're only as strong as your weakest link so you've got to make sure everybody in your crew is on point.

In a way it was early practice for me and Pro Era. I already knew what it was like to be in a team, to be working with a group of people who share the same interests as me. So it was pretty dope.

And is there a judge or someone who declares a winner, or is it just for the fun of having the battle in the first place? Yeah, the audience, the crowd [decides]. You kind of knew who the winner was.

So as far as the album, how did you link up with the Soul Rebels? They reached out and when we met up it was just a instant connection. When you come across like-minded individuals it's hard to not create an immediate natural bond. That's what happened with the Soul Rebels. We linked up and hit that stage and that's what happened.

You also worked with the Roots on the album. Is live instrumentation a direction you want to go more? After this tour I'll probably use live bands for the rest of my life. I'm a person who likes to develop. I like for people to see me grow. With this tour specifically I'm giving something different with my live show. It's not a live band, but you should come and watch and see what I'm offering.

Saying that you're going to do that for the rest of your life is a pretty big statement. Does that mean no more DJ Premier collabs? Nah, I'm just talking about my live show.

I got it. On "Christ Conscious" I was wondering if you had any concern that the line "give me that beat and I'll put you next to DIlla" would come across as disrespectful. I was very aware that it might be sensitive and obviously if it was I would have no choice but to understand that. But I just felt like that everyone knows my love for J. Dilla is out of this world, so they would know I wasn't trying to disrespect him at all. It was actually a clever line because I actually have a J. Dilla beat on the album. So all right, whoever's beat this is that I'm clearly destroying, all right fuck with me. I may destroy it to the point where your beat might be next to Dilla's. And that's exactly what happened. On the album credits production list, [producer Basquiat's] name is right next to Dilla's. I killed the beat so the beat is now in heaven, with Dilla.

There's a couple TDE references on the album [Joey said the line "All my life I been around Crips and Bloods" off of "Belly of the Beast" was not meant to be an homage to the Ab-Soul line on "Terrorist Threats."] I was wondering what your relationship is with that camp and if we're going to see any more collaborations anytime soon. I'm closest with [Ab-Soul] from that whole camp. But honestly, this whole game is a competition. They are the other side. We're all cool. We all see each other in the streets and respect each other, and we all show love. But we're all very aware it's a competition. Ain't no beef or anything, but that's how it is. We're all trying to eat. We're all trying to win. We're all trying to be on top.

In this case, they have more to worry about, because we're younger. And we're already on they neck.

I imagine it feels good to hear Kendrick [Lamar] saying your name as somebody that he admires. Yeah, he stopped saying it though. I kinda know why he stopped saying it.

But you don't want to get into it. Yeah. Everybody already know Kendrick. Let's give Joey some more light.

On "Black Beetles" you have a line, "this life ain't turn out to be what it seem." What about fame is not what you expected it to be? Bro. There's so much shit, honestly, I don't want to get into that question because I deal with that shit every day. It's a lotta bullshit in the industry. There's a lot of things people don't see from the other side of the spectrum. Like, yeah, people can probably say, "Oh, he's living. He has money." But you don't know the shit I have to deal with. You don't know all the problems and headaches that come with managing this money. Or managing this career.

We show the world when we're feeling good. We don't show the world when we're mad or we're frustrated or we're banging our head into the wall. We don't show them that part. So they don't get it. You won't understand that until you actually chase the dream and capture it.

Yeah, for instance, it sounded like you were in a long meeting before [the interview]. When people think about people being famous musicians they don't think about them having to go to a corporate meeting. Exactly. That's what I mean. Between today and yesterday, bro, I've had, no exaggeration, 12 meetings. Nobody knows that. People are just waiting for me to come to the city and do a show, and take a picture with me and show it off to all of their friends. It sounds kind of harsh. You can probably tell that I'm aggravated and frustrated as fuck. But it's all good.

Honestly, I love hard work. I love taking business meetings. I never wanted to be a rapper. I always could rap, I always had the talent for it, but I was always a businessman first. The fact that I could run my own companies and take these meetings and operate like a businessman, that's honestly the part that I look forward to. I love leaving my crib with my briefcase and knowing that I'm going into the office to do work. I love that feeling, because that's what they don't expect you to do. They see you as a rapper and they just degrade you. They think all you do is smoke weed and make degrading songs about women and shit like that.

And I ain't got a point to prove to nobody. I just got a point to prove to myself. I know shit that I can do. And I'm just going to show myself that I can reach beyond any limits. Because I'm a person that lives with no limits. I am the definition of limitless.

Wow. Do you have anything coming up you want to promote? For me, I'm just working and growing my companies. I'm only 20 so I'm taking it day by day and learning as I go. As for Pro Era, next up is Kirk Knight, and I'm shifting all my energy into Kirk. I want everybody to focus on what he's about to deliver, because his shit is amazing. He's put in so much time and so much effort and I've watched him grow as an artist, so I'm excited to see everything take off for him. I feel like I've solidified myself. I've put up my pillar for Pro Era. Now it's time for the rest of the Pros to do the same thing.

And when you say companies, what kinds of companies do you mean? You know, Pro Era, and merchandising, a lot of shit. When I say Joey Badass, he's not just a rapper, he's a company.

When you say company, is that incorporated? Like is there a Joey Badass, Inc.? Yeah. Mhm. [Ed. note: He's not lying.]

One thing that occurred to me is my coworker's sister saw you perform at her college, and she was texting after your show saying "Oh my God, I touched Joey Badass." How do you deal with that kind of thing, people treating you like you're just a performer who's there to entertain them? I could do a better job dealing with it, to be completely honest. I'm still adjusting to the fact that people see me as a prized possession. It's still kinda hard for me to not be bothered when I'm walking down the street and somebody's absolutely bugging the fuck out that they see me. 'Cause to me it's like really not a big deal. I'm just a person. And I feel like if I wasn't who I was and I saw my favorite artist walking down the street, I'd just greet him and I'd keep pushing. Certain things people do when they see me, or to me, it's like why? For what? It's mad extra.

But you gotta accept it because there's nothing you could really do. You don't understand the way you affect them. I would never know how that person felt when they first heard my song. They coulda been at rock bottom and my song could have literally been the thing that saved them, but I would never know that. So when I see them, I just gotta make sure I'm my best self, and I'm accepting to it.

But sometimes it really do get hard when they can't understand. Especially when I'm an area and there's a lot of people who know me. Because if I take a picture with one person, I gotta take a picture with everybody. So in that scenario, I gotta be the asshole. I gotta tell everyone no. They're not going to understand that. They're like, "Oh, I met Joey, but all I'm going to remember him for now is turning down my picture." They don't understand my pain. They only think about themselves. Like, "Can I get this one picture? Just take this one picture, with me!" It's like, "All right, I could say yes to you, but what about these other 50 people standing around that just witnessed me do that?" Now I gotta stand here all night. People don't think about you in that sense. So it's really a balance. It's really a struggle.

That's why I said I could do better. I'm a really humble person and I'm a really on-the-go person. For me, it's never that serious. It's never that deep to see me walk on the street and just scream. To me, I'm not that big of a deal, honestly.

Well, I really appreciate it. Good luck dealing with all this stuff. No problem. Thank you so much for the time and opportunity to spread my message to another demographic.