Dreamville Records has become one of the most consistent rap labels, and Bas has played an integral role in that happening. The Queens rapper spent the beginning of his career grinding out the process and picking up game from J. Cole, a concept that was well-established on his 2014 release, Last Winter. His time since has been more fruitful, with Bas expanding his fan base off the strength of his music and extensive touring.
His life experiences on the road shine through on Too High to Riot, where Bas attempts to find a balance between his newfound fame and how that's affected his personal life in the process. In one moment, he's finding out about the death of his aunt while out on the road on "Live For." The next, he's playing it cool for the ladies. "My best pick up line is young nigga with money," he raps on "Clouds Never Get Old." It all makes for a compelling narrative that listeners can relate to.
Earlier this week, Bas stopped by the Complex office to talk about his latest offering, what Dreamville has in store for 2016, and also shared his thoughts on Donald Trump's recent success on the presidential campaign trail. Hint: He's not a fan of it. Check out our Q&A and stream Too High to Riot below.
In a recent interview, you described [Too High to Riot] as more about "things lost than things gained." Can you expand on that?
It’s really about just those sobering moments. I think we live in almost a fantasy world. You’re traveling the world, getting all this love from your fans, getting all this support from people, making money. You’re living this fantasy lifestyle, and then you can get snapped out of it in a phone call. You know, just get some bad news you weren’t around for—-someone you care about passing away, someone going to jail, your girlfriend tripping. It’s about all of those things, as opposed to Last Winter, which was me starting to live that fantasy life and being like, “This is the coolest shit ever,” and not seeing that there are some side effects [and] sacrifices you’re going to have to make. Those two years since Last Winter have taught me that. I put all those lessons into that album.
You talked about being on the road and that seems to be a recurring theme throughout the project.
That's where I've spent the last two years, just out on the road working. Out with Cole, out with Ab-Soul, out by myself [playing] college shows and festivals. Building my team, for myself and as the Fiends, building our brand and really trying to fulfill all these goals we have. But like I said, it’s very easy to be in this one-track state, and all of a sudden, you’re whole train just getting fucking derailed and you’re like, “Holy shit, there are things I’ve been neglecting on a personal level.”
I feel like that’s something that takes place on “Live For” where you talk about your aunt, who died of cancer. It's this moment of reality.
The part that sucks about those things is that you’ll know someone’s sick and you won’t even realize [it]. First of all, time’s just flying by. A week feels like a day now. You might get the word that someone’s sick and you’ll barely even process the gravity of it. The next thing you know, they’re gone, and you’re like, “Damn, if I could do it again, I’d go say goodbye, go see her one more time.” When you don’t, you’ve just got to live with it—that’s why I put it in a song. It was just something that’s weighing heavily on my mind.
It’s not 'Too High' in a drug sense, it’s being intoxicated off this life, off these dreams, off these goals.
The album has those serious, somber moments, but there are also light-hearted moments, too.
That’s the concept, the "Too High" part. Obviously, there are some drug references in it, but that’s just part of the lifestyle I live. It’s not “Too High” in a drug sense, it’s being intoxicated off this life, off these dreams, off these goals. They’ll consume you; everything will be about the next tour, the next show, the next album. Then you’re changing in ways that might not be who you want to be, you’re compromising yourself in ways that you probably told yourself you wouldn’t.
At the same time, there’s that feeling that you’ve got to keep pushing.
Exactly, that’s why a song like “Clouds Never Get Old” comes after “Live For.” You got through that moment and then the next day you’re back on the road. You hit that stage and you’re getting all that fan energy, it’ll put you back in that fantasy world. It’ll put you right back in this lifestyle where you’re so far removed from those sobering moments that could have happened just a couple of days ago. That’s why there are songs like “Clouds Never Get Old” that purposely take that ride because I’m just trying to take people through my mindset as the album progresses.
And you feel that tug and pull of the past, where Last Winter is like, “OK, I’m getting out of this.” Too High to Riot is "I'm arriving." It reminds me of the track, "Penthouse,” where you rap, "I don't want to feel the bottom."
Exactly. It also speaks to not wanting to go back to that, seeing yourself in a free fall motion and knowing that you have a certain amount of time to catch yourself before you hit the ground. It’s knowing that I might be living in a way where I have to really snap out of it or at least become aware of these things within myself before it consumes me. That song is about a lot of that and knowing that it’s not cool to not have made that trip when I could have. You don’t want to be that guy that becomes so consumed with your dreams and goals that you compromise things like family and loved ones. I’ve lost family members since, I’ve lost friends to bullshit, insecurities, misconceptions of where I am in life and things I could be doing for people. They remind me that you have a dream, you want to be this respected artist and have a catalog and a long career, but you can’t compromise everything about your personally.
Have you talked to Cole about going through that transition?
It might not be so much talks as opposed to just we're around each other all the time. I’ve seen him go through that transition, and he’s seen me go through many transitions. Obviously, I’m nowhere on his level as far as probably the stresses he deals with at that magnitude of being a hip-hop icon at this point, but he’s definitely very understanding of where I’m at in my career. It’s those talks that happen on an eight-hour bus ride, and when it’s three in the morning and you’re awake on the bus.
What’s the story behind the album cover?
It’s a picture of me that was taken in Qatar in the Middle East when I was four years old. I just loved that it defines me well as a person because it speaks to my roots as an East African Muslim, and I used to love Rambo and Delta Force and all those action movies. I had this fake assault rifle. It also speaks to misconceptions about my people in the current media climate.
I don’t really draw my inspiration from hip-hop because at the moment it’s a bit stale and repetitive. I think if you want to do something new, you shouldn't really be listening to rappers.
The album has three featured acts. Cole and Cozz are obvious choices, but then there's the Hics. How did you guys link up?
My homie Soundwavve, who produced “Housewives” on our album, was living with me in L.A. at this house called “The Champ,” where I pretty much made the whole album. We were buying groceries at one of them supermarkets in L.A., and he was playing the Hics, and I was like, “Bro, what is this?” He was like, “This band that I found on Grand Theft Auto.” I was super inspired. I don’t really draw my inspiration from hip-hop because at the moment it’s a bit stale and repetitive, and I think if you want to do something new, you shouldn't really be listening to rappers. I reached out to them on Twitter, and me and Ron Gilmore were going out there to do some work for Ella Mai. We flew out to London [in December], and I thought I’d take this time to reach out to the Hics. We had Airbnb, I hit them up, and they were like, “Before we work, I want to show you our neighborhood in East London.” We went and drank tea for three hours, and they told me about their lives and the music school that they went to. After that, we did a session in the Airbnb, which is where we did “Ricochet.” We kept in touch and when I came back the following May for the Cole tour, we linked up that weekend as well. We did some sessions and ended up doing “Matches” that week. We’ve kept in touch ever since. They’re just really cool, humble, young, super talented cats.
You guys got Revenge of the Dreamers II, Cozz’s Nothin' Personal, Too High to Riot. What else do you guys have up your sleeve 2016?
Ari Lennox, this incredible vocalist and singer-songwriter who’s very new and fresh but also has a throwback charm to her that I think people will appreciate it. Lute’s coming out with some heat with West 1996 Part II—he’s a really dope dude from Carolina. I don’t know who else I can speak on. Omen’s working on some new stuff. I haven’t heard any new songs, but his new production style is really cool, so I’m excited for Omen's next record. The whole camp is in a great place. Ron Gilmore’s got a project coming. To me, he’s the most impressive musical person I know. He’s got this EP that he put together that I’m hella impressed with.
I know you probably can't divulge that much information, but do you know what the update is with Cole and Kendrick?
I’m in the dark, just like y’all. I think that’s something that’s going to need the right timing. They’re both superstars and have a host of responsibilities and commitments. You don’t want to rush something like that. I think that’s the biggest thing: You got to find time to dig in. You can’t half ass that one. The world is waiting.
Switching gears, you recently made a comment that I can only assume is about Donald Trump. Was there something specific that triggered that reaction?
Yeah, just his success this week. I think the whole time I’ve been waiting for it to end at some point. This support of his at some point is going to hit a wall. But Super Tuesday, he cleaned house, so clearly a lot of people in this country agree with him and feel the same way as him. That worries me a little bit.
Is there someone that you’re voting for or would endorse at this stage of the race?
I like a lot of stuff Bernie was talking. I’ve never voted, though. I’m a little disillusioned with the process. I don’t know how much faith I have in it, but to see a blatant racist, xenophobe up there garnering all this support... it's not even about the political process, it’s about the social implications of what’s going on. Those are people telling you how they feel—it’s not about Trump, it’s not about Bernie, it’s not about Hillary—it’s about the populist feel. And obviously a lot of people feel like Trump, and like, this is 2016 in America and it's still how people feel.