Josh Madry earned the nickname Black Prez as a middle school student in Aurora, long before he adopted it as his rap moniker.
"That's a funny story, actually," says Madry, laughing. He spent the first five years of his life in Germany before his family moved to Colorado. "I was in a speech and debate class, because I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. But every time I had to go to the bathroom, I walked past an aeronautics class, and they were building planes and listening to music, and it looked way more fun. I asked my teacher if I could switch, and she said, 'Do one more assignment: Give a speech convincing the class why you should leave, and the class will decide.'"
"So I gave them my argument, and people started clapping. Keep in mind this was before Obama, so people were like, 'Dude, you remind me of a president, but like a Black president!' It was a joke, but when I started rapping, I thought back to that time and thought, why don't I just use that nickname?"
Many years later, the name bestowed by his peers still fits, and Madry is now preparing to drop his fourth full-length studio album as Black Prez, titled BERLA.
Madry started dabbling in rap while attending Smoky Hill High School in Aurora. Still aspiring to be a lawyer at the time, he had no intentions of pursuing a career in music.
"I started off doing, like, I don't want to call them parodies, but every time a song came over the radio or people were playing music, I would freestyle funny lyrics over them, just to make people laugh," he recalls. But when he began to see other young musicians post self-recorded tracks in online forums and chatrooms, he was pleasantly surprised to find out that he didn't need a record label backing him to make music. He just needed basic recording software and a microphone.
With a free program downloaded off the internet and the microphone from his Playstation, Madry recorded his first-ever song, and played it for a group of his friends. Without divulging that it was a song he'd made himself, Madry asked his friends for feedback. After learning the truth, his friends were stunned, and they encouraged him to keep making music.
"Word got around school that I was rapping, and people started asking me, 'Hey, man, when's the next track coming?' I don't want to say I got pressured, but people were asking for it, so I made two or three more songs. I accidentally fell into it, but I really did enjoy doing it. I didn't have a plan to be a rapper, but I tried it, it worked, I liked it, and I was like, 'Cool. I'm going to keep doing this.'"
While in college in South Dakota, Madry started releasing music on a regular basis, mostly out of sheer boredom.
"It was kind of a blessing, because I was already rapping in high school, but when I got to South Dakota, there was nothing to do," he recalls. "So I really started releasing music all the time because I was bored and didn't know what else to do. And then when I transferred to Colorado State University, I had already decided I'm a rapper, this is what I want to do, and that's when I started doing a lot of live shows."
Black Prez lit up Colorado with performances during his college years, then bounced between L.A. and Las Vegas after graduating. But for the past seven years, he's been living in Berlin, Germany, which he considers his second home. "My mom is German, my grandpa's from Berlin, and all my family lives here," he explains, "so it's not a foreign country to me. It's home to me. I say I have two homes: my L.A. and Colorado home, and my German home."
If you're relatively new to Colorado, you may have never even heard of Black Prez, especially not as a Colorado-based artist. However, if you've played Call of Duty or Tony Hawk's Pro Skater or seen HBO's Ballers or the Fast & Furious movies or any number of shows on Netflix, BET or MTV, you've probably heard Black Prez's music. With his upcoming album, he intends to introduce himself to the new population in the city where he once lived.
The idea of being a global citizen, constantly traveling between two countries, two continents and two homes is one of the main themes explored on Black Prez's new album. Even the title, BERLA, reflects this, as a reminder of where and how the album was recorded: half in Berlin, and half in L.A.
It all stemmed from a house party on New Year's Eve a few years ago hosted by Madry's friend Joey Barba, better known in the music world as the producer and artist Barbasauce. The two met back in 2012 while on tour together in Europe, and at one point had collaborated on a song called "Issues." Late that night, after the clock had struck midnight and most of the guests had dispersed, Barba took Madry into his home studio to show him some of his latest beats.
"That's when he showed me the beat for 'Häagen Dazs,' which is the first single. I was like, 'Holy shit, this is sick,' and he told me I could take it and rap on it if I wanted," says Madry. "We came up with the hook right there, and the next day I came back and laid a verse down, and a week later we did 'Not Enough.'''
After those few studio sessions together, Madry had to return to Berlin. Then COVID-19 emerged, putting his jet-setting life on pause. Barba,who was in the same boat, decided to pass the time by making and sending more beats to Madry.
"Next thing we knew, we had five or six songs, and I was like, 'Dude, why don't we just do a full album?,'" Madry says. And so, through virtual studio sessions across oceans and time zones, BERLA was born.
While BERLA is Madry's fourth studio album, he considers it his first "real" album. "It's different," he says of his latest project. "Code Red was a collab album, then Play This at a Party was more like an EP, with a lot of influence from the guy producing it. Then The Opposite of Quiet is more like a compilation album, like the music I had in Tony Hawk or Call of Duty. But this is the first album where I was really like, I want to do an album, just me. A few features, but from the same guy who produced the album. It feels like my first."
But listening to BERLA, it's clear that Madry is no rookie. In fact, he's the whole package. He can do cheery pop rap (like on the album's second single, "What It Is") just as well as he smokes a trap instrumental ("Zoo"), then switch up the flow for a gut-wrenching condemnation of racist cops in America ("You Did It") — all without missing a beat. There are no skips on this album, but the standout by far is "Real Me," an anthemic celebration of self-love refreshingly devoid of clichés. Madry proudly declares on the hook, "There ain't a goddamn thing like the real me" — and he's right.
After showing off his German flow on his song "Riding the Wave," (a must-listen for anyone who thinks the rapper is just a tourist in Berlin), Madry is considering doing a full German-language project. "I've been thinking of doing a German EP. I have a few guys in mind here in Berlin I want to work with. I don't know if that will be next, but I'm considering it."
"Officially, what I'm doing next, I have no idea," he admits. "I want to get this album out, play some shows, maybe do a little tour. I was talking to Barbasauce like, 'What if this blows up?' And then I was immediately like, 'What if it doesn't? What if it flops, and it's just trash?' And he said, 'If it flops, we'll just make another one. And if it's hot, we'll make another one. Either way, we'll just do it again.'"
Black Prez's new album, BERLA, drops Friday, August 13, along with two new music videos.