ARTIST PROFILE: JOEY BADA$$

I've decided to write about the artists that I know. When I say I know, I mean we're friends and have worked closely together. I am not commenting on their place in the hip hop canon nor their music itself, I'll leave that that to the musicologists and journalists. I want to talk about the person.

I met Joey Bada$$ in 2013. We were introduced by my dear friend CJ Fly, 2nd eldest of the Pro Era collective. Joey and I stood face to face, uninterrupted, in the crowded basement of SOBs. I shared some of my managerial experience with him and he drank it all up. He was only 18 but I could tell immediately that he was an old soul who had a probing and analytical mind. After I'd finished talking to him CJ looked at him and said "See? I told you: she's like Yoda!" I'm hoping that was a reference to my wisdom and not my wrinkles.

Joey and I became fast friends and I had the privilege of working with him recently. In that time I learned more about him and only grew to love and respect him more deeply. He is many things in addition to a skilled MC. This young multi-hyphenate counts among his occupations:

  • CO-FOUNDER of Pro Era crew 
  • PRESIDENT of Pro Era Records 
  • FOUNDER and CREATIVE DIRECTOR of Pro Era merchandise
  • ACTOR (watch his stellar turn in "Mr. Robot")
  • PUBLIC SPEAKER (lectured at 21 at Harvard and NYU)
  • PHILANTHROPIST (he threw a holiday party at the Flatbush Y for his community and in addition to providing food, games, music, and wrapped gifts, also brought in a bunch of unworn gear that he'd been given, many of the pieces collector's items)
  • MODEL (featured in the star studded Calvin Klein campaign)

Joey was discovered on YouTube. He had submitted his freestyle video countless times to Hot New Hip Hop only to be declined every time. He then had the brilliant idea to change the title of the video from "15 year old freestyles" to "15 year old freestyles for World Star Hip Hop." And that tipped the scales. He even had people telling him they'd seen his video on HNHH. That was a genius marketing move. He was 15.

When I suggested to Joey that he start lecturing he didn't hesitate to accept the challenge. He was nervous but delivered and wowed the crowd. He didn't take the easy Q&A route. He thought about what he wanted to say and actually wrote the lecture, working on it until the moment he stepped up to the podium. He didn't do it for the money or the glory, rather for the experience of educating and uplifting people his own age.

So that's Joey from the outside. Now let me tell you about what I know of the internal engine that drives him. Joey is a second generation immigrant, his parents hailing from St. Lucia and Jamaica. He was raised in the West Indian part of East Flatbush and rocks his heritage like his locks: with pride. He has a song entitled "Curry Chicken" and wanted to shoot a video of his mother cooking the signature dish for him. When he's with his largely Caribbean crew they will break into patois with ease. For his 21st birthday party it was critical that the DJ knew how to spin the reggae classics that had animated his childhood.

Joey studied acting at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn but fell into rapping. I am convinced that in the next couple years he will be faced with scheduling conflicts split between his music and acting careers. I worked with and accompanied him on his auditions for "Mr. Robot" and the Netflix film "Barry." He landed both roles but had to decline the latter due to prior commitments. He is a natural. He is as telegenic as anyone I've ever met and his charisma and confidence leap through the screen. He has the requisite humility that an actor needs to subjugate his own identity in order to assume that of another. And trust me, that's not easy for an artist, especially a rapper.

Then there's the brain that is constantly whirring. He is intellectually curious and is always looking to expand his understanding of civics and culture. When I first bought Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Between the World and Me" I would take pictures of certain passages and send them to Joey. He would devour them so I bought him his own copy. 

As a thinker and a poet, he is very dedicated to bolstering his vocabulary. When we worked together he engaged me in a challenge. He would periodically send me a list of words that we would study then have to use in conversation. One of the words was "stelliferous." I laughed to myself thinking no one would ever have occasion to speak the word. Then, one day, we were in a meeting and Joey said casually and in flawless context: "Yeah, it was a stelliferous night," slyly leaning back his chair towards me to punctuate the point.

And finally, there's the heart. It's big and embracing and loyal. His profound love of family, friends, and community impassions him and informs his art. In addition to rejoicing in the success of his people, he suffers their losses alongside them. On his latest album he has a song entitled "For My People" in which he says "Who will take a stand and be our hero?"

Simple, Joey: you.

 

MOTHERHOOD: PT. 1

I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's the hardest and most important and most rewarding job I've ever had. My kids are my everything. If you've never met my kids and seen me mother then you only know half of me. My moments of greatest joy, innermost fear, and deepest shame stem from motherhood.

Becoming a mother changes you forever. The moment my first was born I knew I would die for my children and kill for them without hesitation. If you threatened my kids I would summon my 20 years of Shaolin kung fu training and obliterate you. I would grab the nearest anything as a weapon: I would fucking asphyxiate you with a bagel, eviscerate you with a chopstick, slice your jugular with a Metrocard. 

During my first MIT lecture a wonderful young Indian woman expressed frustration at the fact that her parents didn't understand why she wanted to go into music instead of medicine. I gave her the perspective of a mother and a daughter. A parent's primal and primary responsibility is the safety and well-being of your children. Happiness comes second. I asked her to empathize with her parents: they left their families, friends, country, culture, language, everything, to come to America not for themselves, but for their children. And to them, her choice seemed fundamentally unsafe. I now understand and respect why my mother, once I'd moved to New York, kept asking me to come back and get an MBA if I wanted to be in business. That was the safe path to her. And I love my parents for supporting me through all my endeavors and hustles 2500 miles away.

And don't get it twisted: being a mother is fucking hard. I ran into an old acquaintance once and we were discussing parenthood. I said how difficult it was and she said "Really? I don't find it hard at all. I think it's amazing and wonderful!" Bitch, shut the fuck up. If you don't find motherhood hard then you're not doing it right. And in that moment I remembered why her fake ass and I were never friends. It is herculean hard but the rewards are olympian.

Motherhood forces you to grow and give and love in ways that were before inconceivable. My children are my pride and joy and they taught me that the my heart is capable of insurmountable love. They are god's gift to me and in turn, I offer them humbly as my gift to the benign universe.

CHRIS LIGHTY PT. 2

Chris' birthday party. Yet another picture wherein I hug him with all my might and he grits his teeth through it.

Chris' birthday party. Yet another picture wherein I hug him with all my might and he grits his teeth through it.

I was sitting in a colleague's cubicle at Jive Records with my heart, Ali Shaheed Muhammad. I looked up and sneered as someone passed by.

"Whoa, Soph, what was that about?" he asked.

"Ugh, Chris. He's so arrogant."

A Tribe Called Quest's manager Chris Lighty had just sauntered past. It was 1992 and he was a rising star in hip hop. He was big and tall and imposing and always let his presence be known. Shaheed laughed and said "Nah, Soph, give him a chance." I've always trusted my wise friend and this time was no exception. I decided to see what this man was all about.

Shortly thereafter Chris and I were having lunch at the Shark Bar, legendary Upper West Side hip hop spot. We sat at a small round table, crowded with food, knees bumping, determined to get to know each other. We started talking and it feels like we never stopped. I asked him about his childhood and past and future. He shared things with me that I will never repeat. I remember looking at his giant eyes and freckles and understood why he was nicknamed Baby Chris.

Throughout the years we shared quiet moments filled with an almost unbearable intimacy, deepened surely by the fact that we were never lovers. When he opened up to me and showed me who he really was, I understood that he had placed in me his most precious and rarest commodity: trust.

He would have been 49 today. I know they say time heals all wounds and to be sure, this one wanes at times, but then on days like today it strangles my heart and won't let go.

I love you Chris. Always and forever.

I'M READY FOR MY CLOSEUP

A couple weeks ago Joan and I went to Bond Street for delicious Japanese food. We didn't have a reservation but were given a coveted corner booth because, well, we're BBR. We had a leisurely two and a half hour dinner during which we flirted with the cute young waiter and extolled the virtues of older women. Afterwards we strolled to our favorite gelato spot in the LES and on the way ran into Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain who, for the record, are grown and fine as fuck. And, for that matter, so are we.

Our conversation, as they have been for the last three decades, was full of wit, laughter, and expletives. But this was a distinctly mature exchange between the mothers of pre-college children. We covered a number of topics from friends to crushes to fuckboys and, most compellingly, our new careers onto which we are both about to embark.

I told Joan that I am profoundly excited about this next phase of my life. I feel like I'm standing before a vast beautiful canyon, welcoming me to dive in and explore. I have no fear that I will fall. Never that. I know I will soar. To be sure, there will be dips, veers, and turbulence, but I am ready to take flight with faith and abandon into my future.

I always heard talk of women reinventing themselves in middle age and now I get it. My kids are independent: no more planning playdates, checking homework, or booking sitters. I can schedule meetings and travel more easily. When your kids are little, you're inundated with the quotidian bullshit: pickups, drop offs and all the damn paraphernalia. You're so tired you don't even have time to imagine that one day you'll be this free. Don't get me wrong, babies and little kids are adorable and fun, but that shit is exhausting.

To be clear, I never felt trapped and always knew I had choices and agency, but this is a new frontier. Furthermore, in addition to shedding a certain level of caretaking of my children, I'm ready to turn that energy onto myself. Me, myself, and motherfucking I. Though I've had many jobs in a number of different industries, I've spent my entire career playing in supporting roles, whether as an assistant, manager, or corporate executive. But now, on the eve of my 52nd birthday, I am writing a book and doing public speaking. I am finally stepping into the limelight and goddamnit, Mr. Demille, I AM READY FOR MY CLOSEUP.