[Interview] Bas talks finding his sound, “Last Winter,” and how a mushroom trip led to signing with J. Cole

J.Cole What Dreams May Come Tour 2014 @ London Music Hall

Interview by: Martin Bauman

If Jamaica, Queens rapper Bas has his way, 2014 will be his last winter. The newest addition to J. Cole’s Dreamville Records team has his sights set on a transformative year, one that will see him and the rest of the Dreamville team make the jump from being known only as J. Cole’s crew to becoming fully-established acts in their own right. After three years of honing his craft and performing across the world, Bas believes he’s ready for the next step.

It’s been an interesting path to get to where he is. Growing up with two brothers in the music business (one a deejay and the other the President of Dreamville), it wasn’t until May 27th, 2010 that Bas tried his hand at rapping after being pushed by a friend. Fast forward nearly four years, and he sounds like he’s been rapping for much longer. His stage presence — cultivated after studying his Dreamville labelmates on tour — is equally polished. While there’s still plenty of room for growth, Bas has proved that he belongs.

We caught up with Bas to talk about finding his sound, his upcoming project Last Winter, how a mushroom trip led to signing with J. Cole, and much more. Read the full interview below.

TCUS: To get things started, I thought we could go way back. Tell me about the first rap song you ever memorized.

Bas: Man… That’s a crazy question; I’ve never thought about that. It was probably some 50 [Cent] shit, honestly. 50 was like the first big artist that… I was a freshman in high school, so before then, you know a lot of shit, but you don’t even know enough about yourself to know what you like. 50 came and had such a crazy wave that… everything was memorized. You can go to a bunch, but I’m gonna go with “Poor Lil’ Rich N—a.”

J.Cole What Dreams May Come Tour 2014 @ London Music Hall

TCUS: So that was during 50’s peak when you were getting into high school.

Bas: Yeah, for sure.

TCUS: I understand that a lot of your musical influence comes from your older brother, DJ mOma. What kind of music was he putting you onto as a kid growing up?

Bas: A lot of different sounds. He lived 18 years of his life in Europe, so he’s got a real Eurocentric sound – just a lot of things that you don’t necessarily hear here. Even up to now, he had a mixtape he put out in 2001, and so far I’ve rapped on like four of those beats, you know? Because naturally, you go back to the things that [influenced you]. Those songs that you played for a decade, you know there’s something special about this.

So I’ve been revisiting a lot of his old mixtapes, and yeah, he’s always been a huge influence. Whenever he got new records, he’d be like, “yo, come check this song out.” And you might not know it at the time, but that’s kind of how you build your musical library, in a sense, and [they become] the things that inspire you and the sounds you try to pursue once you go to create your own.

TCUS: You mentioned that you’ve rapped on some of those songs from his mixtapes. Are any of those songs on Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. I or II?

Bas: The intro on QWRM Vol. I is a track from Jamiroquai which DJ mOma put me on, and it’s just the instrumental record – it’s didgeridoo-based, which is this cool Australian aboriginal instrument – and I ended up rapping on that. There’s a couple more that I never put out, but that I plan on putting out, that all stem from this one mixtape he put out.

I remember it like yesterday, because it was my freshman year in high school, and I used to bump this tape all the time, you know? And I remember this one girl, she came and she was like, “what are you listening to?” And I gave her my headphones to hear it, and she was like, “yo, this is some weird ass shit” [laughs].

Those are the vibes, but I’m learning that everything that’s weird as a kid is [what] sets you apart when you become an artist. You have those niche little genres that you’re into that are a bit alternative, but if you have those hip-hop roots, you can mould it into something that you know people will understand and gravitate towards.

TCUS: It becomes your sound.

Bas: Exactly. So yeah man, shout out to DJ mOma. He definitely played a huge, huge role in my sound.

TCUS: Speaking of influences, if there’s a pantheon for hip-hop albums that have influenced you in your lifetime, and you can only choose five, which albums make the cut?

Bas: Jay-Z’s Blueprint, [50 Cent’s] Get Rich Or Die Tryin’… I’m gonna say Stillmatic – I’m sure a lot of Nas fans would probably go with Illmatic or It Was Written, but just the age where I came up, Stillmatic was a huge album for me. It made me appreciate more of Nas’ older work; it made me dig deeper. It’s crazy that it was called Stillmatic, because it’s almost like how Star Wars will come out every generation and all the kids that didn’t grow up on Star Wars will go back and be like, “oh, this is the shit!” That’s kind of what Stillmatic did to me; it’s like, man, this is really dope, and I really need to delve deeper into all the things that I was too young to understand or appreciate [before].

I’m gonna say Born Sinner, just personally. That’s just on a whole other level. Those other albums, there’s nothing personal about them for me, but Born Sinner was huge for me and for our whole set. I mean, we’re here because of that album, you know, so how could I not say that? And [for my] fifth album… Young Dro, Best Thang Smokin’, man – that’s one of my favourite albums; how could I forget it? That album still bumps to me.

When I moved down to Virginia for college, it was like my real introduction to the South, and I had my homie DJ Tay James – who’s actually killing it now; he’s on the road with Justin Bieber every night – and he would always sling me these mixtapes. He’s from Baltimore, so he knew the Southern records. I’m coming from New York, so my first year in college, I don’t know nothin’ about the South; it’s all a culture shock, you know? But he had a couple Dro tracks on this one mixtape, and I was like, I gotta go get that album. And that just never left rotation.

J.Cole What Dreams May Come Tour 2014 @ London Music Hall

But damn, there’s more, man: Tha Carter II, Tha Carter I, both Dedications… there’s a lot. Lupe’s Fahrenheit 1/15 was crazy. That was around my freshman year in college when I was bumping a lot of Wayne and Lupe – which is a crazy contrast – but those were the two dudes that I was mainly bumpin’. I wish I could only pick five, but there’s a lot, man. Even Take Care. I still love that album. I think that’s a real influential album, and it’s a dope sound as well. Yeah man, I’m just generally a fan of a lot of shit.

TCUS: You mentioned Lil Wayne. Tell me about something which I understand is very important to your beginning, the Carter House and Kanye West’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out.”

Bas: Oh man, you really did your research, bro! That’s dope. Yeah, man. My homies used to play basketball for NYU, and I knew them through the basketball team manager, my homie Oakshades – who’s actually my manager now. I went to high school with him, so he put me on with them. I had this intermediary time in my life where I was trying to figure shit out, and my brother DJ mOma gave me his laptop and was like, “you should start deejaying. You always had a good ear, just f—k with it; it’ll give you something productive and positive to do.”

I started doing that with him, and sooner or later, I just started deejaying a bunch of NYU parties. There was this one crib down in the West Village of New York City, and we used to call it the Carter, because we would get up there and Tha Carter was all we would listen to back then. It was Carter I, Carter II, Dedication, Da Drought… that was during Wayne’s epic run.

But it was also the Carter because a bunch of random fiends would come through and do drugs there and vibe out. Whether we were smoking all day or going out to the clubs, that was always the headquarters. We would throw rooftop barbecues where we’d bring like 70 people out on this roof that had like no railings, and we’d just get f—ked up, play music, and barbecue.

One night, I actually deejayed my own birthday party. We got back to the Carter at like six in the morning, and my homie was like, “man, let’s rap.” And I was like, “bro, I ain’t no f—kin’ rapper, what are you talking about?” He was like, “let’s just do it!” Everyone else was passed out, and he kept egging at me, so I was like, “alright, let’s just do it, f—k it.” We’re drinking Svedka at six in the morning like we’ve got nothing better to do.

So we’re going through some instrumentals and “Breathe In, Breathe Out” was the first one where I was like, “yeah, let’s do this!” So we rapped on that. That’s like the first time I ever put pen to pad – or really finger to phone I guess, because I wrote it in my phone. It was like the first time I ever tried to even be creative, as far as an art form, and my homie goaded me into it.

We got on [Waka Flocka’s] “O Let’s Do It” and then that whole summer, it just became our thing. We’d get up at the Carter, we’d smoke, and we’d just cut records over other people’s shit. It was a huge developmental stage in my life. I caught a bug. It could’ve completely passed me if my homie wasn’t egging me on, like “let’s just do it.” That next year, ever since then, it’s been nonstop. It’s just been a passion.

TCUS: That was 2010. Fast forward to 2011 and you go out on tour with the team on the Cole World Tour, not to perform but to work on music. What are you learning from the people around you at the time?

Bas: A lot, man. I’m learning the value of songs that a whole crowd of people can sing, and the nuances that you have to include in a song to get those effects from people. It’s hard to learn that when you’re not at a live show every night. You learn the moments that work, like, alright, I’ll build it up, and then, boom, this is for the crowd to sing. All of those things I learned on the road.

And then also, on the collaborative side, I really built great chemistry with Cedric Brown and Ron Gilmore, who are my go-to guys now as far as production goes. I remember Ced hadn’t really done music in years – like, four or five years, he was telling me – and I remember the first day, he was like, “yo, I kinda produce,” and I was like, “yo, I kinda rap” [laughs].

J.Cole What Dreams May Come Tour 2014 @ London Music Hall

Fast-forward a couple years later, and he does the bulk of my work. Same thing with Ron. He’s Cole’s keyboard player in the band, and he was making the transition from keyboard player to producer. I was just there. That’s just my homie. People you vibe with, instantly, when it comes to collaborating, it’s just that much easier, because you have an understanding for them.

So yeah, that whole tour was instrumental, man, as far as a developmental stage. Just to sit back and watch people that have done this for a decade plus, some things you just can’t learn without time – you know, the whole 10,000 hour theory. I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface of that, as far as my own shit. I know I haven’t put in 10,000 hours – at least I think I don’t think so. I might feel like that some days, but I know I’m nowhere close. And to be around people that are actually have and to soak in all that knowledge is priceless.

TCUS: I read an interesting story of yours, that last year you carried around five resolutions you had made for yourself, and you kept them in your wallet all year. What were your resolutions?

Bas: It was weird. I kinda learned when I started rapping… it might sound crazy, but you can almost rap shit into existence. One day, it was New Years, and I had a bunch of goals for the year, and I was like, you know what? Let me write them down. It was crazy what I wrote. If I could find it, I’d tell you right now. One of them was to lose like 30 to 40 pounds, and I lost 32 pounds. The other one was tour the Quarter Water Raised Me series, and I’ve been on the road since June doing that.

Honestly, one huge one is that we found a label situation for Dreamville. We found a major home [with Interscope], and that was one of the things I wrote at the beginning of the year: Dreamville getting a label situation. All these crazy things came true, even down to the range of how much weight I wanted to lose for the year. So now I make it a point; I did it again this year. I’ve got a whole set of new goals. [Looks at his friend, laughing] Mike know’s what’s up; I told him one already.

But yeah, I think there’s incredible power in knowing what you want, writing it down, and saying it out loud. I just feel like if you put that energy into the universe, it’ll find a way to make it back to you. I’m a staunch believer in that. So now I know when I really want something to make a note of it, say it, write it down, look at it every day, whatever you gotta do to get yourself closer to that goal, just do it.

TCUS: What are you working towards this year?

Bas: I’m gonna put out a project early March called Last Winter. I’d love to go on my own tour this year – that’s a major one. I don’t care how big the venues are, just somewhere I can go and find a bunch of my fans and perform for them. [I’m also trying to] set myself up to have one of the most anticipated albums of 2015. Those are my two major goals: to embark on my own tour and set myself up to release a great project next year.

TCUS: That reminds me of one of the lines of yours that stuck out to me from “Dying Fast.” You rap, “I’m on the verge of greatness, patience is the only virtue.” Tell me about this line.

Bas: I mean, It’s easy for any new artist to get frustrated or lose patience, because naturally, you see yourself and want to be way further along than you are. If you don’t have that kind of burn, that kind of desire, then you’re in the wrong game. But at the same time, you can’t get impatient, you can’t get frustrated, because that just only puts stress on your relationships with people that are doing everything in their power to bring you that success, and on top of that, it’s a negative place creatively to be.

You know, there’s ups and downs in this. Being a new artist is a tough deal, because you’re betting your whole life on [your success]. You have to have patience. You have to know that everything isn’t going to go your way; everything isn’t gonna be perfect. If you really want to get to those great heights and reach greatness, there haven’t been any greats that haven’t had to dig through a whole muddle of shit to get there.

That bar was probably more for me than anybody else. It’s just a reminder that there’s ups, there’s down, and you just have to accept both of them the same way. [You need] to stay patient and keep working at it.

TCUS: Moving to another song of yours, I’ve heard that there’s an interesting backstory to your song “Attica” involving a mushroom tea party in Chelsea. Tell me that story.

Bas: [Laughs] My homegirl… I was born in Paris, so she’s one of my earliest friends, because her parents and my parents went to college together, and I knew her even from then. When I moved to Queens at 8 [years old], this friend of mine ended up moving to New York when she was like 17, 18.

So we linked back up and she was doing all these crazy bohemian vibe kinda parties in the west side of the city, in this neighbourhood called Chelsea. And then, one day she hit me up, like, “me and my people are doing a mushroom tea party if you want to come. It’s a really cool vibe.” So, you know, I’ve done mushrooms a couple times, [I figured,] let me go see what a mushroom tea party’s about.

I get there and it’s like bean bags and mawf—kas in Aladdin outfits, and girls giving you back rubs and talking all this deep shit to you, and this crazy Pandora shit going on. At one point, I’m laid back in this bean bag, just trippin’ balls, chillin’ – I might have been getting a shoulder rub; there were just rubs coming from all directions – and that beat came on for “Attica,” and I was listening for like the first minute and jumped up, like, if I don’t get up now and look at Pandora and find out what this song is called, I’m probably not getting up for another three hours. So I just got up and jotted down the name, and the next day I wrote the joint.

That’s actually the first joint that Ib [Bas’ brother and the president of Dreamville] played for Cole. It wasn’t the first joint I did, but as far as our team goes – because you’ve gotta understand, between Cole, Omen, and Elite, all the homies in the set have been making music for so long, so I was easily the most amateur homie – but I think that was the first joint that a lot of the homies really took seriously, like, “alright, there’s layers to this guy. He knows how to express his thoughts,” which is crucial.

That’s part of our brand as Dreamville: there’s always layers. There’s no artist in our camp that can’t give you every aspect of it. So that was a big record. And for me, just personally, it was a big record because I’m probably not that open with anybody, and learning to be open as an artist and in your writing, that was a big one for me. I’m just not used to being that open about any of my thoughts and that helped out a lot.

TCUS: With that one being the first one that was played for Cole, tell me about the reaction you got and how that unfolded.

Bas: It was dope, because you have to understand, I [was] hanging out with a bunch of homies [where] we’d just smoke every day and make these songs for each other to get a kick out of, and then you have someone like Cole, who’s separated from that whole circle, so there’s a whole different perspective.

I remember the first time he was like, “yo, this is dope,” and I was like, “word.” He was like, “I can’t imagine where you’re gonna be in six months.” I had never even thought of that, but it gave me a date. It almost gave me something to [strive] towards, because if everyone’s just telling you you’re really dope, you might be like, “shit, I’m ready.”

You need someone that knows that you’re not ready yet to be like, “yo, this is really good, but [wait another] six months to a year. If you put this out now, you’re gonna regret it.” That’s the kind of shit Cole would tell me: “You’re gonna get more confident; you’re gonna start sounding differently in the booth” – things of that nature. All of those things were true. With “Attica,” I had that for two years before I put it out.

J.Cole What Dreams May Come Tour 2014 @ London Music Hall

Cole definitely brought a different perspective, and it was from more of a guiding place, from someone who’d been there. None of my homies had been there as far as developing as an artist. He’d been there, so knew exactly where I was, and he was like, “in six months, you’re gonna evolve incredibly as an artist.” It was true. Since then, it’s night and day with the music.

TCUS: I have a story I need to ask you about. At The Come Up Show, we have friendships with a lot of different artists, and one of the stories we heard is from is a Toronto rapper by the name of John River, whom you met at A3C. He told us the story of going to Jamaica, Queens to rap for your brother. I’d like to hear your side of that story and how the events unfolded.

Bas: I was in the basement of my crib. I was playing 2K probably or FIFA with one of the homies, and Ib comes downstairs, like, “yo, y’all not gonna believe what happened.” I was like, “what?” He’s like, “some dude came to the crib all the way from Toronto to rap for me, yo.”

Of course, all of us, naturally, our first response is how the f—k did you get our address? My parents live here, bro. I don’t want nobody knowing where my parents live, let alone showing up uninvited just to rap for a n—a. You’re liable to get your ass whupped for that, you know what I mean? Like, real shit.

J.Cole What Dreams May Come Tour 2014 @ London Music Hall

But he’s a really good kid. He’s innocent, and he didn’t mean no harm. His ambition drove him to do that, and as a new artist, I couldn’t help but respect it, because I’ve been blessed where I’ve been in a position where I’ve never not had a direction. I’ve [never had] to do something like, yo, I’m gonna get on this bus, I’m gonna go to this dude’s crib, and I’m gonna stand out there. I remember when Cole and Ib stood out front of the studio trying to give Jay-Z CDs, so I kinda likened it to that.

You can’t hate on an artist doing that, especially if you’re in a position where you’ve never had to do that, so that’s the one thing I told him in Atlanta. I was like, “I know he told you not to do that, but honestly, you’re kinda the man for doing that, because I wouldn’t have had the balls, nor have I ever been in that position. So I can’t knock it.”

But I was like, “just for future reference, don’t just run up into somebody’s crib, because you might run into some dudes that aren’t as understanding as we are and they’ll beat the breaks off you.” But nah man, shout out to John River. He’s a good kid. He’s like any one of us trying to make it, so I can’t hate on that at all.

TCUS: You were talking about the Dreamville team before. This is a tweet of yours: “If you don’t inspire greatness out of your circle and vice versa, then you’re around the wrong people.” Can you dig into this?

Bas: It’s a give and take as far as inspiration goes, you know? Cole inspired all of us, but I can take that inspiration and go to Ced and be like, “yo, I need this beat,” or “let’s work,” and Ced’ll give me some fire. Or [I can go to] Ron, or they can come to me and be like, “yo, I just did this; you need to hear it.” And I can take it and be like, “wooh! I’m gonna do this to it.”

And that’s the constant thing that’s happening around us. It’s a lot of mutual inspiration, and it’s a lot of trust – that’s hard for artists to trust other artists, because naturally, you think you’ve got [the answer], but we’re just constantly inspiring each other, whether it’s music-wise or striving to greater heights.

Me and Ced basically developed this Last Winter concept, which is the name of my next tape. We were pretty much dead broke and cold as shit in my New York City basement making music, and every time we did some hot shit, we were like, “man, last winter. We outta here. This time next winter, it’s a different story for us,” or “we’re gonna be able to do this for our n—as.”

Shit, Cole goes on the road and it’s a company. It’s a legit company; there’s 30 employees to this shit, you know what I mean? Who wouldn’t want to be able to turn around and put another whole list of homies on and give them a career? So it’s just perpetual, you know? We’re always inspiring each other to achieve greater things.

TCUS: What can you tell me about Last Winter so far?

Bas: It’s gonna be [dropping] early March. I’m shooting for the 7th – don’t quote me on that; I gotta look at what day of the week that is. But I’m shooting for the first week or two of March. [As far as] the theme, it’s really for anybody that’s in a transformational stage in their life where they feel like they’re on the cusp of something great, and they’re on the cusp of changing their reality.

For me, personally, I don’t want to spend another winter in New York – it’s too cold. I want to go to LA; I don’t care, I’ll go to Africa; I’ll go anywhere when it’s cold and just record, work on music, whatever the case is. But obviously you need to put yourself in a position to be able to do that, and this is what this tape is for me.

I feel like all the work we’ve put in these past years is culminating in this moment, and for me and a lot of the homies in my circle – and really Dreamville in general, once people know what we’re up to; we haven’t really let people know – but I think across the board, it’s the last winter for a lot of us. We’re gonna change our lives, you know? It’s for all of us at this point.

Follow Bas on Twitter (@FiendBassy) and Instagram (@FiendBassy).