Josh Baze: Brooklyn Rapper Moves From Versace Model to Jamie Foxx Collaborator
Brooklyn rapper Josh Baze is a new breed of MC, one who takes vocal cues from Kanye West and Ne-Yo equally, has a background as a Versace model, credits Playstation's "PaRappa the Rappa" with informing his storytelling and unabashedly praises the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync in the same breath as Biggie and 'Pac.
The 21-year-old protege of former Kanye West associate Griffin Guess received a Hype Williams-directed visual for his first single, and his debut LP, Hi-Heels & Low Lifes, which hit shelves last week (March 20), features supermodel Marisa Miller on its cover artwork.
The BoomBox sat down with Baze while he prepped to shoot a segment for "Last Call with Carson Daly," which airs Thursday night (March 29), and quizzed him about his absence on XXL's 2012 Freshman Class cover, his lack of concern regarding his image as a rapper, and what his friends think about him palling around with supermodels and celebrities like Jamie Foxx.
Talk a little about your musical background. Your dad used to DJ, right?
Yeah, my dad used to spin at a spot in Harlem called Bishop Perry Hall, and different festivals and swap meets and stuff like that. He used to drag me along and have me watch him make an impact on people. To have him do that, and watch him spin tracks from "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" by Indeep, to Kurtis Blow's tracks imprinted music on me at a young age. As I got older a lotta people was coming up, like Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync.
What did your dad think of them?
He didn't really. He's more of an old school dude, so he was like, "Man what is this? This is not music!" I started to really get into them, and of course Biggie and Jay-Z and Tupac, and a lot of hip-hop heads, so that also helped me map out different lanes, and inspired me to tell different stories and have different emotions and put more of a commercial sound to my music.
How old were you at that point?
He said I was about six years old when he started his first festival, and then when I started to get into the Backstreet Boys and all of that stuff, I was probably a good 12, 13. I remember it was Britney Spears who I had a crush on. That was when she was hot, like "...Baby One More Time," and stuff like that. When I started to get into the studio, I had to be about 16, 17. I started to play around with different video games just to make music more fun. I remember playing with [Playstation game] MTV Music Generator, which was basically a producing game, I remember [Playstation's] "Parappa the Rapper," which was a game that basically taught you how to rap, but still had storytelling in it. I was also watching different TV shows, like [MTV's] "Lyricist Lounge" show, that also helped me with my storytelling, alongside Jay-Z and Biggie and Andre  and Tupac and all these other people. I basically used the studio as a scrap paper, and whatever the finished product was, that was basically my essay.
At the time I didn't really have money for the studio, it was probably like 40 bucks an hour, or something like that, I didn't have no job. I didn't have nothin'. I think I was like outta school at the time also, so I decided to go on Craigslist and do things, and at the same time stay fresh in the entertainment business. I would do like, modeling jobs and also do acting jobs, just things of that nature.
I remember I came to like, LES [in New York City] -- you know LES is more of a hippy area -- I remember I came to LES, it was around like 12 at night, and the guy was like, "Hey man, we have a few boxes that we need you to move in. Can you help us?" I tagged my friend along, and it wasn't a few boxes. It was probably like a good hundred boxes in there. And the people that was tellin' me to do it, they were more like strung out, crazy looking. So I was like, "Oh no, I don't think I should do this." But I ended up doing the job, and then I think I got paid real low, I think I got paid like 200 bucks or whatever, for like 12 hours. I was real tight. I think that was probably the weirdest, most upsetting thing I ever did as far as Craigslist, straight up.
So you get the money, you start putting together your studio...
I started up with just the mic, hooking it up from USB to the computer. It gave it a wack sound, but like I said, I used it as scrap paper. My father had equipment, and he was bringing stuff for me from other people, from his setup to mines, and that's how I learned to build my sound. It was just so good to roll over and record your feelings, or whatever you experienced the night before or that morning. It felt good.
And what did he think about the music you were making, was he encouraging?
When I first started, being from Brooklyn, New York, and having the people around me that I did, it was more of a "shoot 'em up, bang bang" music, it was more gritty, hardcore. I was basically following the leader, because that's what I thought people was into, and I thought that's what people wanted to hear. As I started to experience different things, going out to SoHo, New York and being in the city, I learned how to be more commercial, and at the same time, more raw. SoHo is a place where different people go to be inspired, because New York is like a rat race, so experiencing things like that was crazy.
So someone on the street says "Hey, do you want to be a model?" and next you're in a Versace ad. Now that you're a rapper, do you feel like that hurts your credibility?
No. I'm all about entertainment and building art overall, so I don't feel no type of way. I think everything will clash together and make a beautiful impact, not just on music, but in the entertainment business itself. On my behalf it looks wonderful, because it shows people that I'm unique, and I can do different things.
So your rap credibility isn't a concern?
I mean, image-wise? No. I'm an artist, you know? Thats why I tell people I'm a recording artist or I'm an artist, instead of just being a rapper or a hip-hop artist. That's one thing I separated myself from being when I started making commercial music.
Watch Josh Baze's "We Made It" Video
So it doesn't matter to you that you're not included in XXL's 2012 Freshmen cover?
No, not at all. I mean, honestly I would rather make the cover by myself. I would rather make the cover as an artist, instead of me just being a hip-hop artist. I think art is a beautiful thing and being close-minded is just so boring.
How did you meet Marisa Miller and how did you get her on your album cover?
That's my manager Griffon Guess's wife.
Yeah. But she definitely showed support and came to my sessions, and loved my music, so she decided to jump on board. She was like, "Yo man, I really want to help you out and support you. I'm right behind you on this," and I said "OK, cool!" and next thing you know, she was all for it to shoot the album cover, which was photographed by Ben Watts. I worked with him before too, during the Versace shoot, so we all connected at one point.
Did he remember you?
Now he does! I shot that when I was 17. I'm 21 now. So I'm pretty sure he did a lot more things since then. That was weird, I was like [to Griffin] "Hey man, you know Ben?" He was like [drops voice] "Yeah man, I know Ben, how do you know him?" "He shot my Versace shoot!" But yeah, like I said, Marisa was definitely a great supporter behind this all, and she still is, and I'm really excited to see what the future holds for her, and I think we make a great team.
On your song "Where I Am," you say "I sacrificed so much to get where I am." What were you thinking about when you said that?
You know, at that time I didn't stay in school.
High school. I pushed everything out the way. I lost a lot of friends, I kicked them to the side. It wasn't because of this, of what was happening, but they wasn't supporting me musically, and I felt like I needed that support behind me. It was just a lotta things I sacrificed and pushed aside to go forward and help me be who I am today.
What do your friends think about you hanging out with Marisa Miller and working with deamau5, the people that you started making music with?
A lot of people are stuck on the old school music, or the old school flow, or how raw the old school people were, but I feel like if I present that on tracks by deadmau5, and show people my ability and clash it with different genres, people would support that.
In the past you talked about collaborating with Lady Antebellum and Jamie Foxx, neither of whom made your album. What are your plans for those collaborations?
I didn't get a chance to work with Lady Antebellum, but I'm pretty sure in the near future we'll be able to cook up something. I think it'd be amazing to clash hip-hop with artists like them. I did have the pleasure to work with Jamie Foxx. I went to his house, we cooked up a lot of different things. It was amazing for him to bring me inside of his home, and create something together. I'm pretty sure in the near future you'll hear more, or see more of me and him.
Watch Josh Baze's Behind the Scenes Video for "We Made It"