Blocboy JB’s got everyone shooting at Philadelphia’s Jay-Z-founded, industry all-star “Made In America” festival.
As a roaring sea of TIDAL stage crowd goers break into violently swinging legs and arms for his viral “shoot” dance, the Memphis-raised rapper matches their energy from the stage. Most of them probably have no idea that he spawned the leg-arm coordinating dance just fooling around in a mirror back in his hometown. The elders must be slapping their hands to their foreheads when thinking about how something as simple as pumping a leg back and forth could catapult one of those darned millennials into hip-hop super stardom. Back in their day, it took real creativity. Not some knuckle-headed kid jerking and dancing around North Memphis when he should have his head somewhere in a textbook. And certainly not one ganging with the Grape Street Watts Crips, busting into homes with BB guns.
Yet here James Baker is, known famously by fans as Blocboy JB, defying their odds and proving their generational scrunities wrong.
The Blocboy I approached sitting quietly among the boisterous clamor of Made In America isn’t the same one I watched from the audience just moments prior. His listless expression did everything but invite me into his space, let alone the chair right next to him I was instructed to sit in for our conversation. I quickly learned after reaching for a handshake and receiving a friendly hug instead that the 22-year-old’s nonchalance came from a place of humility rather than hauteur. He’s transformed from a jumpy, vivacious performer sending “shoot” dance contagion over an untamed festival crowd, into a cool and collected TIDAL stage artist popping open a bag of chips. It was perhaps another reminder that hype and humility are not mutually exclusive for the new wave of rap sensations inundating hip-hop’s stage.
BET Digital: So far at every performance I’ve seen here at Made In America, I’m watching the crowd burst into your “shoot dance" for every single turn-up song. What’s it like knowing you’ve had that much influence without a whole year in the game and off of a simple dance you came up with just fooling around in the mirror?
Blocboy JB: To be honest, I never just thought of if like that, you're making me feel some type of way really [Laughs.] But, I just push it out of the way. It goes through one ear and out of the other.
When was the moment you realized it would go crazy and have this much impact to where the whole hip hop world is dancing your dance to their songs?
When I hit a million views on YouTube. At the time, no one in the city [Memphis] had hit a million views yet, and I was grinding. Everybody else was hitting the 100,000s while I was getting like 100 a month. It just kept growing, and eventually when I hit that million, I knew I was doing something right.
I know you and your family had it pretty rough growing up in Memphis. Even though you’re a successful, sought after rap talent topping billboard charts and traveling places you never thought you’d end up, do you ever miss home?
Yeah. I still go home every time I get a chance.
They show you big love there, huh?
Yeah. I already got the "I'm so proud of yous" once they saw me doing my thing and I wasn’t getting in trouble no more and shit.
You carry yourself very humbly, which is commendable because I recall you saying how many people slept on you in the beginning. Does that humility just come naturally, or is it something you always promised yourself you’d have once you made it big?
It's really just natural because I don't really feel no type of way. I don't feel like I'm bigger than nobody. I'm just doing my job...well, not my job. But, just what I've always wanted to do. It's just a milestone.
As a fresh industry talent, what’s your favorite thing you’ve learned thus far about the music industry? Is there anything you hate about Hollywood?
I like seeing new and different things and being able to actually interact with my fans and the people who listen to my music, and those who are the reason I'm here. What I don't like is that it's a lot of word-twisting. You can say one thing, and that'll just bring it to a whole nother thing. I can say someone's shoes is ugly or I didn't like the clothes they had on, and someone will say I disrespected them. Like, bloggers. Social media.
Upon the success of “Look Alive” and your growing relationship with Drake, there was some buzz around that you were signing to OVO. Back in Feb. you said you were just trying to find your next move. Have you found that yet?
I was going to do it, but I'm still working on a lot. I might just do an album with a record label, like, if they want it.
So, like a distribution type of thing?
Yeah, like that.
I read that you’d always been a Drake fan before working with him and even sung a little Marvin’s Room in your days. Any R&B artists you want to collaborate with?
Ella Mai. Rihanna. And you already know I'd hop on a track with Beyoncé.
Instead of completely signing over as an artist?
Nah, I gotta just work on my own because I don't want nobody telling me what to do and when to do it.
(Photos: Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Roc Nation)