Bodega Bamz Talks ‘Sidewalk Exec’ Album, Has-Been Rappers and Heading to Hollywood [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Cher isn't the first artist you'd expect to pop up on Bodega Bamz's playlist, but there she is in all her "If I Could Turn Back Time" glory. The Harlem, N.Y.-bred rapper also rocks out to the Goo Goo Dolls, Pat Benatar, Phil Collins and everyone's favorite, Sade. For the hip-hop loving set, these aren't the typical artists you'd think of when it comes to an MC's mood music. Bamz, whose debut album, Sidewalk Exec, was released this week, likes to stroll off the beaten path when it comes to his sonic vibes. He's a rapper who "hates rap" -- seriously. At least in these times, Bamz feels it's difficult to find inspiration in hip-hop when many of the rhymers out now are cookie cutter versions of the next.
Since releasing his first mixtape, Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z., in 2012, Bamz has honed his craft, traveled around the country to command the stage with his Dominican and Puerto Rican flags waving proudly and proved the Tanboys takeover is a very real thing. He's moved from the feel-good sounds of "Don Francisco," one of his earlier songs, to the darker narrative of "Raw Deal," which sits on Sidewalk Exec. The 12-track project is cohesive from start to finish, with production elements created solely by V'Don and guest appearances from some of his New New York brethren like the Flatbush Zombies.
The takeaway from listening to his new album is the fact that Bamz just wants the listener to understand where he's coming from. “I hope you feel every word that I speak / I went to church as a youngin' now rapping is how I preach," he rhymes on "I'm Ready," a track featuring the late A$AP Yams. For those not in the know, the A$AP Mob leader played an instrumental part in Bamz's career, sitting in on studio sessions and giving him advice to maneuver through the vicious jungle that is the music industry. His dreams are finally being realized, but unfortunately he must share the momentous occasion with his fallen brother in spirit.
Read on as Bodega Bamz opens up about his new album, has-been rappers, the evolution of the New New York, his Hollywood acting goals and more. Whether it's the East Coast or West, wherever he ends up, it will likely be with a Newport in hand.
The Boombox: How does it feel to now have an official first album out? I know it's been a long time coming.
Bodega Bamz: It's a mixture of a lot of emotions. It's nerve-racking because you want s--- to be perfect. Excited 'cause I'm from the hood, grew up on welfare and to have the opportunity to have an actual CD of mine, that's a huge accomplishment from where I'm from. Sad too 'cause there's a lot of people you wish was here to see this moment with you.
What song are you excited for people to hear on the album that you haven't released yet?
The song with A$AP Yams. "I'm Ready." A lot of people like my music because they feel it touches them. I speak on certain s--- and it touches a certain part of their body and that particular record people are gonna really feel. It's so strong and it's so heartfelt and the fact that he passed and he was a very good friend of mine. He's a very huge part of my success thus far and we were in the beginning stages of him executive producing this album so that's why I give him the credit as executive producer on the album because he was supposed to. That song is the most personal, heartfelt song that I have thus far.
The song features Yams but in which way is he on it? He's not rapping is he?
Nah, I wish he was. That would've been fire [laughs]. Nah, he's not rapping. The last full conversation we had for some reason we recorded it. It was weird 'cause we would talk often but for some reason [my brother] Ohla recorded the last conversation we had. It was 30 minutes just talking about everything, laughing. So when he died, a few days passed after the burial, I went to the studio, looking through all the pictures we had with him and those conversations popped up. So I thought that would be fire that we could incorporate him talking into the song. So basically we put the phone conversation in the record.
Watch Bodega Bamz's "Bring Em Out" Feat. Flatbush Zombies
Is there a track on the album that you feel will really surprise people with the lyrics or production once they hear it?
Yeah. There's a song called "Raw Deal." It's about a drug deal gone bad and it has a funny twist at the end. I think people are gonna be surprised of my storytelling. I just think the lyrical content on this album people will be surprised by. Up to this point, people just pay attention to the records that I have that are the big records. The "Don Francisco," the "P.A.P.I," the "My Name Is."
N----s don't pay attention to the records where I'm actually rapping. The records like "Don Francisco" that was on the radio, these were simple records because I knew that's what the climate wanted. I knew how the game works. People don't really want to digest rhymes so make it as simple as possible. So what's f---ed up is that when you do s--- like that people think you're a simple rapper and you don't have bars and lyrical content. This album is gonna showcase, "Aight, well damn, that motherf---er can really rap. I didn't really realize. I thought he was just that Don Francisco n----." Just the storytelling in it too. The content in it is very strong.
The whole album in itself is just the story of my life -- first person view or third person view. Either or, it's the truth. It's not far from it. It's not a lie at all. Nothing I do is a lie. The first line on the whole album [on "Down These Mean Streets"] is one of the most strongest lines you're gonna hear on the whole album because it's just that powerful. You're gonna feel connected. People don't realize the importance of an intro or they don't realize the importance of an outro. People can really get turned off by your music in abut 10 seconds. I know I'ma grab everybody off that first 10 seconds.
Why was it important to put out The Streets Owe Me with this record? I know you and Ohla don't have an acting background but the film was believable. You guys did a good job.
Obviously I'm not a Tom Hanks [laughs], you know what I'm saying, you got to have years of experience. But as long as people say it's believable then I know I'm going on the right path. This is something I'm serious about. I want to become an actor. I want to dip into that life, into that field. Before music I wanted to be an actor, like when I was 8, 9 years old.
There was a movie in the early '90s called I Like It Like That. One of the kids in that movie was a friend of mine. He was a little older, about three years older than me. I always remember watching that movie and as a kid being so intrigued like, "Oh s---, this guy's on the movie screen!" That s--- was so inspiring to me that from that then on, I wanted to be an actor 'cause that particular movie and that particular kid that I knew. If he could make it I can make it. That's why I took so much pride in doing The Streets Owe Me because I want to show people a different talent. I'm not one-dimensional.
So that was your vision?
I got the idea from the Streets Is Watching. I specifically told [director] Guy [Blelloch] I don't want it to be one long music video. I want it to actually be a movie with a script, with a plot, with a beginning, an ending and middle. I gave him the idea because I love movies and I'm a movie buff, it's where I draw all my inspiration from mostly. So I gave him the idea and he killed it.
You put yourself in a position where you made yourself vulnerable with that role.
The director brought that up too. We were in a freezer for for seven hours, on the dirty floor. I got $300 pair of jeans on, on the floor dirty as hell. I told the director Guy, I'm like, "How many rappers would do this s---? How many rappers you think would sacrifice their body and be mad filthy?" Like we went through a lot. It was like seven hours. We didn't eat. Seven hours we was in the f---in' freezer. A cold freezer, not no studio set. It was the actual freezer in the bodega. To me that s--- was fire, 'cause it was ill, like you said, make myself vulnerable and get outside of my comfort zone to really bring you something fire 'cause I love the art so much. I wanted you to feel that pain.
Watch Bodega Bamz's The Streets Owe Me Film
Speaking of movies, if you had to choose one to describe your life, which one would it be?
Carlito's Way. Well, a. it's set in my hood, which is Spanish Harlem. So that's why I related to that movie on such a large scale because it was in my hood. [And] b. it was fire the story line of that man, like this is a dude who, if people haven't seen Carlito's Way, Al Pacino plays Carlito Brigante where he got locked up and he comes home and he's just trying to make a certain amount of money and just quit and just bounce. And he knows that the obstacles that he has to go through and people want him to go back to that life, it's very difficult just to make that certain amount of money and bounce but he's passionate about making that s---.
On my life, on some rap s---, that's the same thing as me. I love music. I just want to make a certain mark, a certain legacy and just leave, yo. I want to be remembered like that. I'm not gonna be that dude that you gonna see around eight, nine years have no place to go and just lookin' like an old n---- rapping. I'm never gonna be like that. I'm never gonna be a has-been rapper. I'm never gonna be a n---- that you're a legend already and you've done so much but you're just hanging around, there's no purpose for you. I'm gonna be one of those dudes that's gonna leave an O.D. mark, the O.D. legacy and just disappear and people gonna be like, "Wow, alright bet." That's why I can relate to that movie 'cause that's exactly what he was tryna do, just make his money and go to the Caribbean. Unfortunately, he died in the end.
Why do you think has-been rappers exist and they can't shake that stigma?
There's a lot of reasons. No. 1, rap is their only hustle. So this is how they make money. They wasn't set up that way with businesses or companies that are actually flourishing. Everybody gets opportunities. It just so happens that a lot of people s--- on opportunities and they burn bridges and they don't have smart enough people around them and they always thinking about the moment. Usually when a person becomes a has-been -- as f---ed up as it sounds -- they were living solely for the moment. They weren't thinking about five, 10 years from now. They were thinking about I'm the man right now and I'ma do whatever the f--- I want.
And usually when you see a lot these rappers that have that has-been stigma, they're jerks and they've always been jerks. And why is because when they were coming up and they were successful and they were the best rappers out or the best singers out, they were probably burning bridges. They were probably treating people like s--- and not realizing that the same hand they were shaking going up is the same hand they gonna be shaking going down. They not realizing that because they live in the moment.
Me, I look at mistakes like that I learn from that s--- from a distance. They could be one of my favorite rappers at one point in my life and I look at these n----s like y'all corny n----s. They don't realize that they're corny because this is all they know. They have nothing else set up. I'm not like that. I'm a hustler. I know what it is to be from the bottom I know what it is to struggle. I know about all that so I'll never go back to that.
What are you doing to make sure that doesn't happen to you?
Well, I'm able to eat off my merchandise. I can have a living off of my merchandise if I want to. Right now I'm all about getting money and putting it back. So I don't ever get money off of my merch. So every dollar that I make goes right back in to making new designs, new shirts, better shirts, better sweaters. 'Cause I'm not worrying about now, you dig what I'm saying.
My company, 100 Keep It Recordings, that's my label. We have artists we're developing right now and the plan is that these artists will blow up and have their own waves and be bigger than the world. My mentality is on that.
The acting. This is something that I'm going to break into. Eventually me and Ohla we gon' start producing movies. We gon' start acting in movies, whether it be sitcoms, whether it be shows, we're gonna do something that has to do with Hollywood and acting. We need to tap into that s---. A lot of time you see rappers, they think the acting s--- ain't cool 'cause they don't want to be in a vulnerable state. I do it for the art because I know who the f--- I am.
I feel like a lot of rappers, the camera is always on them, they always gotta be cool. N----s don't know how to be regular sometimes. It's like be regular. People love that s--- and they relate to that s---. I'm not saying if you a straight man be a actor and play a gay man if you're a rapper, that's a little bit too extreme. But get dirty.
Kid Cudi did that in the film James White, which premiered at Sundance this year.
Word. But that's why people love Kid Cudi. He doesn't give a f---. He knows who he is. I'm not knocking that, just using it as an example. People think that you just not having a haircut that's the worst thing in the world. Nah bro, there's n----s out here like Kid Cudi doing gay roles. Let go of that comfortability. Even Will Smith did it. There was a movie called Six Degrees of Separation in 1993. Before Bad Boys or anything came out, he was still Fresh Prince, he played a gay guy. I can't wait to tap into that realm. The same way we killing it with the rap s--- and we pushing the envelope forward and we inspiring motherf---ers and we only getting better, I feel we could do that in the acting world as well.
What's the next step for you?
We'll be on the U.S. tour in the summer. I don't want to get into too much details of it yet. It's gonna be a big tour. We're gonna be on tour in the end of the year in Europe; we'll do a nice little run over there. We want to drop another project this year. But we also want to make sure we squeeze everything out of Sidewalk Exec. We don't want to leave it behind. We don't want to abandon it. Like I did with my project for Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z., I made sure I squeezed the s--- out of it. I squeezed every opportunity out of that motherf---er. I made X amount of dollars out of that motherf---er being a free project.
I want to make sure we can do that in a certain amount of time. You know, there's only 12 months in the year so realistically you gonna have to really go hard six months before you announce another project. I think we can do that. We work mad strategically. We work good. We give good s--- out and everything is planned. That would be dope, you know drop two projects in one year. That's not conventional for me. I only dropped one project in three years. So to drop two projects in one year, that would be very unconventional.
When you first came out, the whole New New York movement exploded with artists like yourself, Flatbush Zombies, the Underachievers and others. It's evolved since then. How do you feel about it now?
I feel like we legends, man. I feel like people that don't think that we're legends, they're not paying attention to how we really inspired a game of different people. People really undermine our reach because the New New York is some underground s---. Besides A$AP Rocky and French Montana, there's no mainstream, huge artist from New York.
People undermine that s--- and what people don't realize is that the mainstream go to the underground for inspiration. They go to the underground for creativity. We the one that created the mold. What's ill about it, everybody who was a part of it in 2012... I was kinda like the dude that was very vocal about that s---. I remember when I first came out, people thought I was Beast Coast, people thought I was A$AP. So I started saying something that everybody could be a part of, a Black Dave, a World's Fair, if you're from New York and you're pushing the culture and you're popping and you're buzzing.
Now everybody in New York doing they own thing but that's how it's supposed to be. Ideally what would be hot is the whole crop of New New York n----s on tour. N----s out here changing a whole movement. I'm not a mainstream artist yet, but I got people who tattoo my name on they body, I got people who tattoo my rhymes on they body. That's not regular rapper s---. Not even in New York. I've been to Arizona and they show me their tattoos. I go to Mexico and they show me their tattoos.
People undermine the reach of Bodega Bamz. The reach of Flatbush Zombies, the reach of A$AP Ferg. For somebody to tattoo your name on their body, that's some next level s---. People who think that's extreme. But that's how much they love you. We're really out here inspiring.
So which new artists are you paying attention to these days?
Besides my movement, I got a young boy named Canary Black. He's from Far Rockaway, [Brooklyn, N.Y.] where Stack Bundles is from. He's a rapper, an amazing talent. He's in jail right now but he'll be home in July. Another kid we have in our circle, Lil Eto. He's from Rochester, N.Y., the dirtiest slums of New York. His lyrical content is so powerful. You really got to sit back and be like, "Wow, this man can really rap." He's been out for a minute. It just so happened when I got the opportunity to be who I am and get a little name, I told Ohla we gotta scoop this n---- up. We gotta put him down with me 'cause he been out before me, he was buzzing before me. My s--- took off but I came back to that man, that's how good he is. Then I got a female artist named Bonnie B. She from New Jersey. She's like a mixture of Remy [Ma] and Foxy [Brown]. That's just my group.
There's a kid named Tekashi69. He's a Mexican kid from Brooklyn. He's on Rikers Island right now too. He's locked up. We did a video together, me and him. It just dropped like two months ago. My n---- is insane. He's like a mixture of Danny Brown and Odd Future. His s--- is crazy. I think because of the shock value that he brings, he's gonna be one of those artists that you wont be able to turn the TV off to. So yeah, Tekashi69.
Watch Bodega Bamz's "Billy Bats" Video
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