Paris-born, Queens-bred rapper Bas had no intentions of becoming a rapper. The first time he spit a rhyme was as a joke during a late-night liquor session in 2010. With the encouragement of a few friends—J. Cole included—Bas eventually turned his focus to music. He soon released his first mixtape Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. I in 2011 and following that up with Vol. II in 2013. After that, he opened for Cole on the "What Dreams May Come" tour and accumulated a grassroots gang of fans he refers to as Fiends.
All the hard work paid off. Earlier this year, Bas became the first artist signed to Cole's Dreamville/Interscope imprint. Not more than a few months after his chaining day, Bas released his debut album Last Winter on April 29. The rapper says this is the project that will take him to the next step in his music career.
Following the release of Last Winter, Complex spoke with Bas about his major label debut, and how Cole and main collaborator, producer Cedric Brown played a pivotal role in shaping his sound. Bas also talks about working with fellow Queens rapper 50 Cent, as well as what’s going on with the possible collaborative project between Cole and Kendrick Lamar.
Next month, Bas will be headlining his own tour, fittingly named after his new album. For show dates and ticket purchase, visit his official website here.
Interview by Edwin Ortiz (@iTunesEra)
Complex: Before we get into the music, I wanted to ask about your upcoming 30 for 30 documentary.
Bas: [Laughs.] Right.
That’s a hilarious skit. Where did that idea come from?
You know what it was? Originally, Last Winter was a mixtape that was probably seventy percent done going into the [Interscope] deal. And then the people at Interscope were like, “We like the music, let’s give it a commercial release. Do an iTunes run, a Best Buy run.” A good lead up to grow my fan base.
We had it done and people kept asking me, “What is it, a mixtape? Is it an EP? Is it an album?” And me and Cole were just having a conversation like, there’s no freestyles on it, so it’s not a mixtape. It’s all original content. It’s too long to be an EP, so let’s just call it what it is—an album from a nigga who doesn’t have a lot of fans yet.
We just kept running with that as a joke, and then it was Ibrahim "IB" Hamad, Cole, and Adam—who are pretty much the brain trust of Dreamville—they had the idea to turn it into a 30 for 30.
I thought you really got your point across in a tongue-in-cheek way, but it was still entertaining.
Yeah, exactly. At the end of the day, I think a large part of my brand and who I am and why I’ve been endearing to a lot of my fans is that I have a pretty lighthearted way of going about things. I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m not going to pretend to be some super mysterious cloaked figure, on some superstar shit, you know what I mean? I’m a new artist, and I’ve been blessed to put out an album and get tremendous support from Dreamville and Interscope.
Being the first artist signed to Dreamville, and also the first artist to release a project, did you feel any pressure?
Nah, man. Mainly because I had a lot of confidence in the project. So much of it just came naturally this past year on the road. So when I got the green light I was geeked because I was like, now I know the music I have is actually going to get the push I feel it deserves. I had nothing but confidence in it, so I was excited from the jump to be the first at bat and try to knock one out the park.
You’ve described Last Winter as a conceptual album where you’re telling yourself, “This is my last winter living through the struggles of life.” When did you begin working on this project?
Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. II came out last May. At that time, I might’ve had like two or three of the songs that made Last Winter as rough references. A lot of it was all based off of once Vol. II came out, and I got to go out and tour with Cole. That was kind of the beginning of Last Winter in a sense. But most of it came between 2012 and 2013, those two winters when Cedric Brown was living with me, who’s a really good friend of mine and a longtime collaborator. He’s also a childhood friend of Cole’s.
We actually met in 2011. Cole took us both out on his tour when he went to Europe for his first album. It was on some, "‘Oh, you smoke?' Yeah I smoke. ‘Alright.’" And then it was like, “‘You rap?’ Yeah. You make beats? ‘Yeah.’” It naturally progressed from that to me and him starting to work a lot. And then when we came home off tour—this was winter 2011—Cedric at the time was living in Alabama and he was getting ready to go home. I was like, “You know what? Just stick around in New York. The crew is forming, we’re building something here. You can live with me in my parent’s basement, and we’ll just make music and see this thing through.”
For all of like 2012 to 2013, Ced was staying with me. And those two winters were really a huge developmental stage for me. That’s pretty much why Vol. I came out in 2011 and Vol. II didn’t come out until last summer. I took those two years to tour with Cole. We went on Drake’s “Club Paradise” tour, and I got to kind of be a fly on the wall and just soak in a lot of the great songwriting skills that these guys have that make a crowd of 20,000 people sing your records.
So me and Ced were just cooking. We would cook on the tour bus, and when we would get back home, we would work in my basement. Whenever we made a dope record, it was just like a rallying call. We would just look at each other and be like, “Last winter.” It’s one thing to see all this stuff moving—it really inspires you to want more for yourself and for the people around you. Me and Ced just kind of put our head down and just kept trekking. We did “Lit” last January. That was one of our big Last Winter moments, especially when Cole heard it and was like, “Oh, I got to hop on this.” But yeah, it really developed with me and Ced working through a couple really cold New York winters. I’m just thankful that we had all this support around us.
What I respect about what you just said was that you put in the proper leg work. You didn’t assume that once you hooked up with J. Cole and Dreamville, or once you hooked up with Interscope, everything was going to just fall at your feet. You were focused this whole time on trying to get to that next level.
Yeah, for sure. That was always the goal, just taking the necessary steps. I saw that with Cole, too. Cole was signed for two years before his album came out, and he was just hitting the road and building a fan base. We’re taking the same approach, except that The Warm Up and Friday Night Lights were technically mixtapes that Cole put out. But especially with Friday Night Lights, we always felt like that was an album, you know? They just couldn’t really get the label to push the button on it. We’re blessed that we’re in this situation, especially the way Interscope is letting us function as Dreamville. It’s still very organic, and just rooted in touching the fans.
I want to talk about a few of the records on Last Winter. The first one, “My Nigga Just Made Bail” with J. Cole. I feel like a lot of people have gravitated toward that record because it really shows your versatility as a rapper. You’re telling a story on the record.
Right. In a sense, I’m kind of referring to myself in “My Nigga Just Made Bail.” I’m taking a feeling that a lot of people have when a friend of yours gets their freedom back, it’s a joyous occasion, right? But on the same token for me, it was just a lot of the things I was doing before I got into music—I had no direction in life in general, and I just started doing a lot of dumb street shit that is very easy to get caught up in New York City. So it’s me reflecting on that moment where your eye opens, and it’s almost like you make a mental bail, in a sense. In your brain and in your heart, you start to see things that you never saw before.
I never ever thought in a million years that I would be doing this, that I would even get paid to make music. It wasn’t even in my realm of thinking. But I’m here now. All this stuff is happening, and I was just thinking, man, there’s a lot of people that are probably still where I was, and are still stuck in that mental jail where they can’t even look up and see how wide open this world is.
That was the whole point of the record. Anytime I use my story, I like to use it in ways general enough for people to relate to while still being true and specific to me. I find that to be the funnest challenge in songwriting. So I’m really happy with how that song came out.
This project isn’t really New York centric, and I mean that in a positive way. I feel like most artists from New York receive the stigma of, “Oh, you just sound like a New York artist,” so they never really elevate to that next level.
I’m glad you said that. I always believe that for New York to truly come back and be impactful, and really reclaim a big position in hip-hop, it would take a sound that everyone could gravitate towards. Than say, “Alright, well this guy’s from New York, and this is his music,” with people chasing a ‘90s sound and claiming that that’s the only thing New York can be. I don’t think that’s true.
New York is the most diverse city anywhere in the country, and it’s one of the capitals of the world. So I take that influence and I’m just trying to mold new sounds. At the end of the day, I’m from New York, no one can take that from me, so I make New York music. But I’m not going to be sonically stuck in any box. I hope to give New York a new sound it can rally around, and hopefully the world accepts it and we can help bring the city back to the forefront of hip-hop.
Another record I wanted to ask you about was “Your World” with Mack Wilds. It’s got a very polished feel to it, with potential to be a radio cut. Is that a record you might be pushing commercially?
Yeah, we definitely have plans for that record. There’s a couple records on there that are pretty radio-friendly. I really like how that happened too because I was still making this from almost like a mixtape standpoint, so none of those records were forced. It doesn’t feel like we went for the radio record, like it’s actually one of the more personal records I have on there as far as what I’m saying in the verses.
“Your World” is definitely one of my favorite records, because on top of it having a radio sound, the things I was able to say on there are things I really want people to know about me. So if that ends up being one of those songs that gets a lot of play, I’ll be content in the message that’s being broadcasted.
You were a part of some pretty big records last year. One of them was “New York Times,” a bonus cut off Born Sinner. That saw you linking up with another Queens guy in 50 Cent. What did that record mean to you?
Man, that was legendary. I grew up idolizing 50; everybody in Queens did. I remember taking a bus after high school and going to the terminal on Jamaica Avenue just to go to the bootleg spot and see what new G-Unit mixtapes were out. That was before we were all hip to the blogs and getting everything online. Fast forward ten years later, and to be on the record with him on Cole’s sophomore album, and it being a New York record at that, is just mind-blowing.
Another big record you contributed to was “Hell’s Kitchen” from Khaled’s album Suffering From Success. How did that come about?
Cole had that verse and hook, and he asked me to get on it. Cole’s always been super supportive, so he saw that as a way to push me out there more. I enjoyed doing that, because when me and Cole collab, it’s usually one of us pulling the other one into their world in a sense. Like “Lit” and “My Nigga Just Made Bail” are songs I made that Cole got on, and I think his fans appreciate that because they sound different from most records Cole makes.
And then you have songs like “New York Times” and “Hell’s Kitchen” that Cole made and I’m featured on, and it’s like me going into Cole’s world. He makes me think deeper. Like “Hell’s Kitchen,” if you listen to the content and what he’s saying, I have to dig into myself and use that inspiration to see what things make me feel the way Cole felt on that record so I can come with something that fits. And it’s fun to me, because I don’t think in that kind of lane when I’m writing, and it forces me to.
The biggest thing with collaborations is you want to work with people that you trust, and you also want to work with people that pull you out of your comfort zone so that the collaboration can be something new, for your fans and for their fans. And I think me and Cole have a track record of doing that. It’s always a great product that comes out of it. That comes from us trusting each other, so I feel like we’re just scratching the surface as far as our collaborations.
I know you two have your own separate things going on right now, but would you guys ever consider doing a collaborative EP?
I would love to. It’s weird though, because all the songs we’ve done were never planned. I don’t think we even ever gave it a thought—the first time I ever thought of it, was you just saying it. I’m looking now, and we actually have enough songs to put together a little mixtape or something and just have it out there floating around.
My thing is working on this major label album, and I know Cole’s working on his album. I know he’s still trying to do the Kendrick collab album. I can’t put any timetable on it, I can’t even confirm that that’s ever going to happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
You mentioned the possible Kendrick and J. Cole collaborative project. Have you been in the studio for any of that?
Nah. I mean, when we were on the “Club Paradise” tour with Drake a couple of years ago, we had a couple of days off in North Carolina. Kendrick came by and got on the studio bus and they did a couple of records. They’ve both been incredibly busy, but I know they want to get to it. I know the intentions are for it to happen, it’s just scheduling is a beast between touring and recording albums and all the responsibilities those guys have. As a fan of both of them, I hope it happens sooner than later. I’m sure all fans of Cole and Kendrick would agree: We all want it. But no, I can’t call it as far as the timetable.
Before I let you go, I have one more question. In honor of the Quarter Water Raised Me series, what’s your favorite flavor of quarter water?
Blue all day.
I love that it’s not a flavor, just a color.
Yeah, just a color. Just sugar, water, and blue.