From Charles De Gaulle to JFK, the Queens-bred MC is ready to expand his horizons.

Abbas “Bas” Hamad didn’t start rapping until his 23rd birthday. Most rappers pick up the pen and pad during their adolescent years, but the Paris-born, Queens-bred rapper didn’t catch the bug until adulthood. As the now 26-year-old recalls, he was DJing a party and got back to his homie’s house to chill out after a night of drinking. His friend, who would often freestyle for fun, opened up GarageBand on his MacBook and encouraged Bas to rap some rhymes. After a moment of hesitation, Bas says he laid down some vocals over Kanye West’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out.” The next day, he showed his boys the rough cut and they were pleasantly surprised at what they have heard.

Even with such a short span in the rap game, Bas has done a lot to be in the position he’s in today. His big break came off his song “Lit,” which features J. Cole and KQuick, and originally appeared on 2013’s Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. II. The response upped his notoriety and gained more momentum for his mixtape that was released on Datpiff. Soon after, Bas was featured on “New York Times” with 50 Cent on Born Sinner and also appeared with his mentor on “Hell’s Kitchen” for DJ Khaled’s Suffering From Success. To bring his accomplishments full circle, it was announced that Bas was the first artist signed to Cole’s Dreamville label.

The bigger platform only serves as a proving ground for him. On April 29, Bas released his major label debut Last Winter. He’s currently still pushing his individual effort that did decent numbers on the charts this week (3,600 copies sold), despite being an unknown name. Now that his music is out to the masses, he's fully prepared to take it on the road and widen his fanbase. We spoke to him during his album release week about living in Paris during his younger years, how he met J. Cole, the concept behind Last Winter and what he’s got going on later this year. Get to know Bas in The Come Up.—Eric Diep

William Azcona
Photo By: William Azcona

XXL: You lived in Paris for a bit. How did that happen?
Bas: My father is from Sudan in East Africa. He’s had a career as a Diplomat. He went to school in the South of France to get his master's and and his PhD. Pretty much he got a gig with the United Nations and ended up relocating there. I’m the youngest of five, so like my older siblings spent two decades in France. I left when I was 8 ‘cause at that point my older brother, DJ Moma, who is actually a pretty big in the New York club scene, he was starting college. My pops wanted us to be in a country with more opportunity in a sense. We moved to Queens when I was eight years old and I’ve been there since.

When did you get into hip-hop? When you were in Paris or Queens?
I got four other siblings so there was always constant musical influences getting tossed my way. My older brother, though, DJ Moma, he was always collecting records. He damn near learned to speak English off of hip-hop records. My brother Ahmed, he’s a huge ‘Pac fan. So when I was younger, it was always playing. You always learned to love it or grew an affinity for it. But when I first got into music on my own, I was listening to Daft Punk, Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Just different sounds always intrigued me. I always liked electronic sounds and even that it’s made its way into my style sonically incorporating some of those aspects. Just growing up in Queens, hip-hop is everything. It’s not just the music, it’s the culture that everybody lives. How you dress. How you talk. What you talk about at school. It’s a straight up lifestyle. It continues to consume everything. I pretty much just grew up in it.

When the 50 wave hit, I was a freshman in high school. That took it to a whole ‘nother level. I was like fully immersed, going to the mixtape store on the Colosseum block on Jamaica Avenue. Everyday after school, this was before we were on to blogs and everything was so readily available. You had to go buy the mixtape from the bootlegger. We used to take the bus to the terminal every day after school. I go to the mixtape spot: G-Unit mixtapes. D-Block mixtapes. That whole era was a fever pitch.

What was that moment where you wanted to be a rapper?
I didn’t write my first rhyme until my 23rd birthday in 2010. It was me and some homies. It was after my birthday party. We got back to their crib down in the West Village. We used to call it the Bleecker Street Carter ‘cause we used to like have Tha CarterTha Carter IIDedicationDedication II on rotation. A bunch of them were NYU students, so it was always booze and drugs available. It was like our little headquarters downtown. So I DJed a party and we got back. My boy DJ, he used to love pulling up GarageBand on his MacBook and just rapping. He would loop a beat for like twelve minutes and roll a blunt in between and just rap for a bit. We still have those tracks where you can hear him rolling in it and sparking it. It might be no raps for a minute and a half, but then he comes back and starts rapping.

So we got back he’s like, ‘Yo, let’s rap.' I’m not a fucking rapper bro. I grew up in Queens. I know of 50 dudes who have been rapping a decade plus. You don’t get anywhere in life being a rapper. He’s like, ‘Nah, man. C’mon. Let’s just try it out.’ I did it that night. The first beat we got on was Kanye West, “Breathe In, Breathe Out” off The College Dropout. We did something with him and Luda. And we did that. The next day, woke up, played it for all the homies just for kicks, for laughs. 'This is what we did drunk last night.' Everyone was like, ‘This is pretty cool.’ And the next day we did another one. Throughout that summer, we kept on doing more. Everytime we didn’t have much to do. We be high and shit. Then I started to get into … it was like a bug, I couldn’t stop writing. It became a real passion of mine.

I’m glad it worked out the way it did. I think the good thing about when I started is by that point in my life I’ve been through a lot and seen a lot and learned a lot. So when it came time to write, it was easier to use my words in ways that aren’t necessarily atypical of what you hear. I try to craft my content a little bit differently. That’s still a long, long process. I feel like I am still developing. I feel like I am no where near where my peak is. It was really just a blessing that it happened. Once I found the creative outlet, I just couldn’t stop.

What do you think it was your big break?
I dropped a mixtape last year called Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. 2. I featured Cole on the record called “Lit.” That record instantly garnered a good response from his fanbase, which grew my fanbase. Cole took me on the road with him after that. I opened up the What Dreams May Come Tour and he would bring that out during his set to perform every night. Every week I am seeing my DatPiff numbers after every show just skyrocket. You know how you track hype and fanbases, definitely “Lit” was a huge part of that.

It was also dope that “Lit” is the centerpiece of the project, but sonically it really fits in the mold of the project. The kids that liked that, they might not of necessarily heard Cole on that kind of record. So they might have delve a little deeper into the mixtape which a lot of them did. They became fans of the mixtape and fans of me as an artist. “Lit” was definitely up to now my biggest break. I don’t feel like I made it or broke through, but it did give us some crucial momentum in traffic.

How did you and Cole crossed paths?
Cole went to St. Johns University. I lived up the block. Ib [Ibrahim Hamad, business parter on Dreamville Records] went to St. Johns. They were like just homies and your brother’s peoples become your peoples. I just knew him from hooping at Edison Park or local barbecues or St. Johns parties. Local shit hanging out with homies and what not. One day he was like, ‘Yo, Jermaine raps.’ I’m like, ‘Light-skinned Jermaine?’ They played me some records and I was just like, ‘Outstanding.’ I’m like ‘Yeah, this dude is really dope.’ So this is before Cole dropped The Come Up or The Warm Up or any of those. So, when The Come Up came out, we had stacks of CDs. We were just hand-to-handing those CDs and just trying to do whatever you could to put people on. How my friends do for me pretty much.

At that point, I didn’t rap. I had no intentions of ever rapping. It was just a friend of mine that I was trying to support. I remember the first time I put him on one of my records. He was like, ‘Man, this is dope.’ I was doing a lot of writing that summer and really just kind of developing a bit. Learning more and I got to a point where I was like, ‘Alright, let me play some stuff.’ My friends was like, ‘Yo, we’re just joking, but you are actually kind of good.’ First record I played it was dope. He was like, ‘This is really good, you got your style. It’s mad unique.’ Obviously, it was still really amateur. I can’t wait to see where you are gonna be in six months, or where you are gonna be in a year. Two years from now, it’s pretty much around now. Kind of prophetic in a sense. But it was good ‘cause he gave me a perspective to think a bit more long term and bigger.

When did you make it official that you were Dreamville’s first signee?
I actually signed my paper’s at SXSW. It was kind of a foregone conclusion. I wasn’t going to sign with anybody else after this guy invested in me. But it was cool. I remember last year when Cole was going around playing No I.D. and Salaam [Remi] new music. He was going [around] playing Born Sinner and at that point we didn’t release Quarter Water Raised Me II yet. But, he would play his album and he’d be like, ‘Yo, I got this guy out of Queens. I got a couple of tracks. Tell me what you think.’ He got some really great responses from Salaam and No I.D.They were like the first ones interested in an majors standpoint. So I think that was kind of a turning point in a sense. Not like things weren’t moving. Things were moving at a natural, organic pace. But I think that was the moment where I was like, ‘Alright, we aren’t just being biased to the homie. These are objective, well-respected ears that feel the same way about music. Let’s push the button on a lot more of this stuff.’ I think that kind of was an official moment and then it was like you know there’s a legit future. I might not have signed at that point, but I understood that we’re gonna ride this thing out.

Now, you have an album out called Last Winter. What’s the concept behind it?
My guy Cedric Brown who is a collaborator of mine. He did a lot of records. He actually did “Lit” which we tacked on as a single. After the first tour we went on, we called it the Dollar And A Dream Tour, we went to Europe with him. We got back. The team was loosely forming into a label, a more stable of artists and producers and things of that nature. Ced at the time was living out of Alabama. You know, the whole camp is based in New York. They stayed at my crib in Queens at my parent’s house. I was living in a basement and I shared the basement and made music. It was really two winters just working.

Obviously, we had no real form of income. It was always cold out there out in New York. We made a record that we felt good about. We’d always felt like it’d be our last winter, our last winter. If we’d go out West for a week or two weeks. A month whatever and record. You know what I mean? We are gonna elevate this situation. It’s just a blessing that kind of came together.

What’s it like working with Cole now? He’s on “My Nigga Just Made Bail.”
It’s awesome. Obviously, we’re friends first. You know we’re friends. You know we’re brothers. We have different brands of music in a sense. Cole can bring me into his world on his record. The next record we do, I pull him into my world. I probably would never done a “Hell’s Kitchen” on my own. But that’s really a darker brand than I make. But Cole inspired me to search for things that inspire emotion or evoke those emotions to make that record. A record like “Lit” or even “My Nigga Just Made Bail” which is on Last Winter. I think his fanbase has proven that they haven’t really heard him on a record like that. Just some smoke, chill out, bright, happy, shit. That was me pulling him into my world.

Or a song like “Cousins,” which we did together in the studio in an hour. We did “Cousins” like that. He was actually going through beats, trying to send beats for like rappers to rap on. I was just sitting there on a bean bag and the beat came on. I was like, ‘Oo, this is crazy.’ He didn’t like it. He was like, ‘I’ve been thinking of fucking with it, but I never got around to it. Let’s do something.’ I was like, ‘Aight.’ Got to writing. [We] probably like stoped 20 minutes into our writing, we be like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I’m talking about this. What are you talking about? I’m talking about this. Alright, dope. We are on the right track. Chemistry is a natural thing, even with the producers I’ve worked with.

What’s next for you?
The beauty of Last Winter is that I had it prepared as a free mixtape to release. I had it done before the deal. I had it 80 percent done before the deal. Then when we came in and played Joie "I.E." at Interscope the music. I thought it was real innovative on his behalf. Almost like the label is catching up to the digital age in a sense. He was like, ‘Yo, this is album material.’ Obviously, I am a year and a half probably to where I need to be to release a major label debut. I still have to tour with a whole lot more. I just only did my first tour and drop my real first project. But, yeah, we didn’t even have to agree. They suggested a commercial release and putting it on iTunes using these music discovery services. So, it’s like a great way to expand my fanbase and grow a profile. It’s not even about record sales. We didn’t crack a budget for this. I came in with this ready. I want to just use this to get on the road on my own and widen my fanbase. And keep working on my real major label debut. If this does what it does and I get out on the road, I want to have the most anticipated albums of 2015.

Previously: Bas And Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad Are Looking Forward To ‘The Warm Up’ Anniversary Tour
Bas Releases New Mixtape ‘Two Weeks Notice’

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