Home Genres Hip Hop All about that Bas: Queens’ rap underdog

All about that Bas: Queens’ rap underdog

All about that Bas: Queens’ rap underdog
Image: Ollie Millington / WireImage

You may already know Bas. Or at least heard of him. No? Then crack open J Cole’s discography, because you’ll find his name everywhere. The Sudanese rapper from Queens is best known for his collaborations with the KOD rap icon—but he’s more than just a sideman.

Real name Abbas Hamad, Bas is the younger brother to both DJ Moma of Everybody Party and Ibrahim Hamad, president of Dreamville Records. The rapper debuted in 2011 with his mixtape series Quarter Water Raised Me, and has since put out three studio albums, including the praiseworthy Milky Way, which dropped in August. As Bas finally steps into the spotlight, we take a closer look at makes the wordsmith tick.

Travel inspires his music

It’s easy to tell that Bas is a well-traveled man. His songs have a certain type of finesse that can only be delivered by someone who’s ventured well beyond their comfort zone.

Just listen to his songs like “Sanufa, “Boca Raton” and “Tribe,” all off Milky Way. You’ll hear elements of Afrobeat mixed with bossa nova and tinges of Afro-Caribbean on an old-school hip hop beat. And it doesn’t just lie in his production; it’s apparent in his lyrics as well. His words present a worldly overlook that’s respected by his peers, including J Cole and Cozz (Cole even calls Bas’ perspective “crazy,” but in a good way, of course).

That’s no surprise when you consider his background. Bas’ father was a Sudanese diplomat stationed in France, which forced him and his siblings to live most of their early days out of suitcases. Born in Paris, the rapper spent most of his childhood shuttling between France and Qatar before moving to Queens, New York, and ultimately calling America home. In the summer, his family would return to their motherland, Sudan.

“I’ve been traveling my whole life since I was a kid,” Bas told Complex in a recent interview. “My father always had us moving around. [That would affect] some of the things that I was into when I was younger, whether it was Daft Punk or Artful Dodger or things on the UK garage scene. My sister would play West African music, like Keziah Jones.”

He had a close call with death

Prior to his rap career, Bas took a different path in life. Despite receiving a full pharmaceutical scholarship to Hampton University, he dropped out of college after a year and returned to Queens to make a living. He worked several odd jobs—from a part-time gig at The Container Store to hosting at Dave & Buster’s to selling big-ticket appliances—but eventually earned a modest paycheck by selling weed.

The pot business didn’t last very long. While delivering the goods to a customer one day, Bas and his partner were jumped by three gun-wielding assailants. According to the rapper, it all happened in a flash: First, he had a gun to his neck and the next thing he knew, shots were fired. Thankfully, Bas and his friend managed to escape, although the latter suffered minor bullet wounds. That ended his dreams of being the next cartel kingpin.

Today, Bas considers the fateful episode a blessing. “I dropped out of school and had no direction. I almost got killed. But it was the best thing to happen to me,” he told The Fader. “The fear of dying will make you realize how wasteful it is not to be living up to your potential.”

And true enough: Six months later, he picked up rapping and found his calling.

Being a rapper wasn’t his first choice

The near-death incident left Bas feeling listless and lost. While his brothers were musicians, he never intended on following in their footsteps. Until an old friend showed up.

Derick Okolie, an acquaintance from high school, got back in touch with Bas. Rekindling their friendship, Okolie encouraged Bas to DJ at house parties and pen rhymes. He resisted at first, but his friends kept cajoling him. So he gave in and recorded his first rap on a whim. Surprisingly, it didn’t turn out too bad.

Word quickly got around of his impressive mixtapes and beats, and they eventually found their way to none other than J Cole.

J Cole is his mentor and homie

Before J Cole became the co-founder of Dreamville Records and a Grammy-nominated artist, he was just another aspiring rapper from North Carolina who moved to New York to realize his dreams. Around the same time, Bas had been building his résumé by spinning at parties, making a name for himself on the East Coast circuit.

So if there was another way to put it, their meeting was kismet.

Through Bas’ older brother Ibrahim—Ib and Cole had linked up while they were both studying at St John’s University—the younger Hamad forged a close relationship with the would-be Roc Nation signee. Cole took Bas under his wing and molded him into the promising artist that he is today.

Since embarking on his rap career in 2010, Bas has been a frequent Cole collaborator and vice versa. Check out tracks like Born Sinner’s “New York Times” or Too High to Riot’s “Night Job,” where they’ve both lent their MC skills to each other’s works.

The 31-year-old doesn’t mind sharing the limelight, either. In fact, he’s got nothing but endless praise for his mentor and label boss. “He’s seen my growth from the beginning and saw that I had potential pretty quick,” Bas told Kyle Harvey during a 2014 interview with The Grio. “That type of feedback Cole gives is different because he’s already there at the top. He just said keep going, keep rapping. And here we are.”

He wants to send a message with his music

With fame comes responsibility—and Bas knows that well. On “Black Owned Business,” the rapper raps about racial inequality, while his song “Dopamine” shatters the relationship between drugs and happiness.

Bas believes that music speaks to youths. He has a “serious intention” of using his words to get the message across. “Meeting fans and having them tell you, ‘this touched me in this way or that,’ you really start to understand the power that you have,” he told WRG Mag. “It makes me put much more thought and effort into the content.”

Don’t pigeonhole him as an activist, or role model, or anything along those lines, though. While he wants to set a good example for his younger fans, Bas acknowledges that he lives a lifestyle he doesn’t always wish to endorse. In an interview with Billboard, the rapper admits that sometimes it can get tricky when it comes to weighing his “art against honesty, truth and reality.”

“It’s definitely a fine line I try to straddle where it’s not just belligerent drug talk ’cause that’s dangerous and irresponsible. But at the end of the day, I do do some drugs,” he laughed.

Follow Bas on Twitter and Instagram.