That desire led to the song "Devastated," an energetic track with a soaring hook that he debuted at Coachella in April 2016. The song, an obvious departure from his underground aesthetic, could have alienated his core fan base; instead, "Devastated" got Joey his first national radio airplay and became his first-ever gold single. "It happened to have a bouncy, pop-type of melody," says Jonny Shipes, CEO of Cinematic, who has worked with Joey since the MC was just 15, "but when you listen to what he's saying on the song, it's real shit."
In February 2016, when Bada$$ was beginning to assemble what would become All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$, he spoke with Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. "He was like, 'If there's any advice I could give you, it would be, for your next album, just try to use just one or two producers,'" recalls Bada$$. "An hour later, [Tribe's] Phife Dawg passed away. I just couldn't explain why I got those gems from him on that day."
Bada$$ took the words of wisdom to heart. While B4.Da.$$ boasted production from DJ Premier, Hit-Boy and J Dilla, multi-instrumentalist 1-900 produced nearly all of All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$, with Pro Era's Kirk Knight handling the drums. "It's like night and day," says Shipes of the sonic leap between albums. "At this point, Joey understands how to make records, rather than just rapping really well."
During the past year Bada$$ also made his acting debut on the second season of USA's Mr. Robot alongside star Rami Malek. On the hacktivist drama, he plays Leon, a friend of Malek's Elliot Alderson with a shadowy past. Later in 2017, he'll begin filming the show's third season.
"I always loved acting, because Will Smith was one of my favorite people ever," he says. "But it was obvious that music was my calling. So I told myself, 'I'll revisit acting once I can leverage it off the music.' [Mr. Robot] was just perfect timing."
It was also the perfect role for another reason; show creator Sam Esmail wrote the character of Leon specifically for Joey after becoming enamored with his music videos. "I wrote the character as this sort of naive optimist who is trying to be uplifting to Elliot," Esmail says. "But Joey says it with such conviction that it feels like he's wise beyond his years. The guy has an on-screen presence that is very raw and honest."