“My father moved from the Sudan to the Bordeaux region of France when he was a young man. And he worked hard to make the move stick. So whenever I’m on some lazy shit, he yells at me like: ‘What’s wrong with you? I used to crush grapes with my bare feet when I was in school! I was getting my PhD, taking care of your mother, and crushing grapes!’”
Not the typical motivational charge or coming-of-age story. Then again, there’s very little typical about Parisian export turned Queens expert Bas, the first artist signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville imprint, a label partnership with Interscope Records. The multilingual Bas, who’s been ably accompanying Cole on tour, fires his first official shot across the bow with Last Winter—what began as a mixtape but morphed into a full-length collection on Interscope.
Though Bas’ foray into the limelight might seem sudden, the rapper’s ascent has been admirably deliberate and methodical. He’s held his own alongside Cole and 50 Cent on the sizzler “New York Times.” He burnished his own image with the Quarter Water Raised Me mixtape series—the most recent installment of which made Source Magazine’s 2013 list of Top 20 tapes. But it’s behind the scenes where Bas has done his best work: building a brand – The Super Mookin Fiends – and also the infrastructure to ensure longevity.
This structure starts, unsurprisingly, in the home. Bas, who left Paris for Queens at age 8, is the brother of Dreamville president Ibrahim Hamad. Together, the brothers and J. Cole have burnt the midnight oil for years, plotting, and traveling, planting seeds: “It’s like a campaign trail,” Bas notes. “No one will vote you President if you don’t stomp all these cities. We knew what kind of numbers Cole was going do despite any conservative predictions for his album. We touched all those fans in all those cities. We’re taking the same approach with Last Winter—making people feel part of an experience that’s larger than themselves.”
Last Winter is in itself an ambitious experience, what Bas calls “a sound that attempts to shift the culture.” The aural mélange reflects Bas’ left-of-center musical leanings, shaped in part by another brother, noteworthy NYC nightlife stalwart DJ MOMA. Now secure in himself and his sonics, Bas chuckles about the apparently steep learning curve: “It was my freshman year of high school and I was listening to one of my brother’s mixtapes—all U.K. soul and garage. I was bumping it in my headphones, really getting into it when the prettiest girl in the school walks up to me, like ‘What are you listening to?’ She rips the headphones off my head and says, ‘This shit is weird.’ She just dropped them and left. And I’m like, ‘Damn, yo, I’m a frikkin’ loser.’ And now, ten years later, my taste is the biggest thing that distinguishes my music.”
To his credit, Bas’ music is both distinguished and distinct. The Last Winter title is an homage to perseverance, to eschewing cold Queens basements in favor of glamorous LA nights and major-label budgets. The opening track “New World Order (N.W.O.)” continues the theme of out with the old, in with the new. From there, “Mook in New Mexico” hints at Bas’ sense of humor and cosmic sensibilities. His stinging, staccato flow duels with a fluid, sparse, spacey beat. The video shot on location features Bas as Fiendiana Jones. No more needs be said.
At the other end of the spectrum is block scorcher “Golden Goals,” a singular rap clinic backdropped by snow-laden NYC apartment buildings. Look also for “Your World” featuring actor-turned-crooner Mack Wilds and “My Nigga Just Made Bail” featuring J. Cole, a charged narrative about misfortune, ingratitude, and fleeting redemption. Meanwhile, “Building Blocks” is an interlude in name only, as liquid production meets uncompromising lyricism. Finally, listeners can take the edge off with Last Winter’s “Charles de Gaulle to JFK;” Bas reflects on internationality over sample-based smoothness and rollicking boombap from the able hands of producer Ron Gilmore. In more ways than one, the interminable winter of 2013-2014 is behind us. With Last Winter, Bas is set to ensure we never suffer in his absence again.
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