Bodega Bamz Wants to Elevate New York Hip-Hop With His New Album
Bodega Bamz sits alone in the back row of Theatre 80, a small, off-Broadway playhouse in New York City’s East Village neighborhood. While members of the Duck Down Music team and the venue’s staff run around preparing for the evening’s listening event, Bamz lounges in low-cut Nike Air Huaraches, white denim jeans, a black leather jacket and a backwards Tanboys snapback knocking out interviews with various publications. As scenes from his short film The Streets Owe Me play on the big screen, the admitted movie buff talks quickly and elaborately about Sidewalk Exec, his debut project with Duck Down.
As the night progresses and the Hennessy flows, Bamz becomes more and more animated. The laid-back Harlem rapper seen at the beginning of the night is gone and the MC is making the rounds, laughing and talking with fans, media and industry folk. Waving the flag for Latino rappers in New York City, Bamz has a lot riding on his shoulders with Sidewalk Exec as he attempts to solidify himself as one the East Coast’s premier voices. But for now, with his brother/manager Ohla, producer V-Don and members of Queens rap crew World’s Fair surrounding him, Bamz is at ease.
Three years ago, Bodega Bamz dropped his breakthrough mixtape, Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z., a trap-influenced project that featured a mix of established acts and rising MCs from around the map. The project catapulted Bodega from a relatively unknown rapper out of the Barrio section of Harlem to one of the strongest Latin voices in hip-hop. Despite not dropping an official project in the time since that re-captured that same buzz (his Slash Major-produced re-release of Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z and Sunday Service with The Martinez Brothers went largely unnoticed), Bodega managed to remain on the scene by touring extensively, building a solid fanbase and dropping strong loosies.
Backed entirely by Uptown producer V-Don, Sidewalk Exec has a much different feel than Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. With a Duck Down deal, Bamz is able to bring the “Razor-blade-under-your-tongue”-type of music he loves to his growing collection of fans. Influenced by fallen uptown rappers Big L and Big Pun, Bamz provides a gritty 12-song soundtrack that will keep NYC hip-hop purist's necks snappin’ all summer.
Before opening doors to the public at Theatre 80, Bodega Bamz discussed the project due out April 14, Latinos in hip-hop, working with Flatbush Zombies and more with XXL. —Peter Walsh
XXL: You, Flatbush Zombies, A$AP Mob and Pro Era were on the forefront of New York’s resurgence with the Beast Coast and New New York movements. Does Sidewalk Exec encompass everything that’s gone on in your career over the past three years and help define New York’s sound right now?
Bodega Bamz: I think it elevates it. Being that we broke a lot of barriers, being that New York was in a shitty place three, four years ago, then you had a bunch of young niggas fuck shit up and now everyone is paying attention, I feel like everything we do has to be an improvement from the past. Sidewalk Exec is better than Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z.. The videos that are coming out for Sidewalk Exec are better than the videos for Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. Everything I do now is to improve and push the envelope farther. I know that whether people want to pay homage or not, or if people want to say they got it from us or not, people are watching. I see a lot of people taking styles and I see a lot of people shoot videos the way we do. To me it’s a blessing, man, to be able to inspire.
You and V-Don have songs that date back to Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. and probably even before that...
We go back to the fuckin’ sandbox, we’re from the same hood. Me and V-Don went to the same school, P.S. 96. I know his family.
Is this album something you guys discussed a long time ago then?
Nah, we had no idea we would be in the position to do this right now. It literally happened organically. Somebody had brought V-Don to my studio one day about five years ago and I didn’t remember him. When he got to the studio he was like, "Y’all niggas look familiar... Y’all niggas from the East?" That’s how it happened. It wasn’t like we met in the first grade and we were like, "Yo, I’m gonna be the rapper and you’re gonna be my producer." It didn’t happen like that. But that’s what makes the story behind Sidewalk Exec that much iller. Two dudes breaking ground in two different fields and coming together from the same hood and same school, ate the same lunches as each other, drank the same milks as each other, to actually be making history together is dope. I couldn’t choose anyone better because he is super talented and his ceiling is super high and I feel like he’s just scratching the surface and so am I. I’m so happy I can be a part of his history.
The hardest songs you had on Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z were the ones you had with V-Don, too.
“Glorious” and “At Close Range.” Those records were supposed to be on Sidewalk Exec, so what we did was when we did Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z we took the best records from Sidewalk Exec we had at the time and put them on Strictly. That’s how it wound up on the mixtape. It’s good working with V-Don because he’s such a talented producer and lyrically he brings out the best in me because I want to attack tracks. When you do trappy shit, you can make songs really simple because the system calls for it, and I understand that. But when you’re rapping on some real New York, real boom-bap, you gotta come correct and V-Don challenges me with his production. Even though Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z has a different sound, songs like “Glorious” and “At Close Range” could have went on Sidewalk Exec.
Between Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. and Sidewalk Exec, you’ve toured extensively with Flatbush Zombies. From an outside perspective, it seems like your relationship with them goes way deeper than music and they are one of the few features on your album. What have they taught you about the game, touring and making music?
What’s crazy is when we’re around each other, it’s not even about music, they just teach niggas about life. That’s what I really get from them. They are so intelligent, they are so inspiring. Just being around them and talking to them is a blessing and I know they get the same from me. When they went on tour, they could have picked anybody, they could have gone by themselves and they chose me. That was amazing that they chose me. Not only did they choose me, we went on the same bus. I didn’t go separate, we were actually living with each other for a month and a half. No arguments, no fights.
[A$AP] Yams introduced us and the fact that we could connect and turn it into something more powerful—not only just music but a brotherhood. When you know people on a personal level, the music is going to be amazing. You’re going to know what kind of beats they’ll sound better on. You won’t take it personal if they don’t want to do it.
You also included fellow Latino rappers Joell Ortiz and A$ton Matthews on the album. Do you feel like the Latino voice in hip-hop is lacking?
Nah, because I’m here. Anyone who has been paying attention to what Bodega Bamz and the Tanboys have been doing can’t say it’s lacking. Since I’ve been here and got my mark in the game, people been noticing and I can’t make that any more clear. It can be lacking in the sense that there aren’t a lot and there never will be a lot. That’s just how the business is. You’re never going to see the rap game dominated by Latinos. But you will see a few make it out of the crop who will be making as much noise as everyone else and that’s what you see Bodega Bamz and the Tanboys doing.
A$ton Matthews is my dude. A lot of people didn’t know who he was in New York. When I did a record with him I raised his awareness in the East. He’s huge in Cali already but people didn’t know who he was in New York. Joell Ortiz is a legend for what he’s done and who he’s worked with. I’m just that new nigga and Joell Ortiz being the OG came to show love to the younger OG.
How much has your sound and songwriting changed since you released Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z?
You gotta understand, Sidewalk Exec was the first idea I had when I came onto the scene. In 2012 music was so different; that was the resurgence of New York. That’s when Rocky just came out. Everything was really trappy. While the idea for Sidewalk Exec was brewing, me and A$AP Ant did a record called “Told Ya.” Because of the way it took off, I was like, "Okay, this is the sound people want." And you have to feed the people what they want; that’s how the business is. You have to pay attention to what people want and give it to them. Now I’m bringing it back to Sidewalk Exec; I’m bringing it back to that New York rap. I rap better than any of you niggas, I storytell better than any of you niggas, my visuals are better, we back to that. I already gave you that trappy, bouncy shit. Now I wanna talk to you. I wanna rap to you.