“I’m from Spanish Harlem and the story has never been told from my ‘hood,” says Bodega BAMZ, the uptown rapper who’s plotting to write his own chapter in hip-hop’s history with his Latin trap movement. The cornerstone of BAMZ’s come up so far is Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z., the ‘Pac-style mixtape he dropped late last year which sees BAMZ’s feisty flow complimented by collaborations with A$AP Ferg and the Flatbush Zombies. Ahead of performing at tonight’s Open Mic live session at Public Assembly with A$AP Rocky, we caught up with BAMZ to get the scoop on his Harlem heritage, his battle rap days, and his appreciation of Nirvana songs.
See also: A$AP Rocky Lights Up The City
How did your connection to the A$AP Mob come about?
A$AP Rocky is from west Harlem and I’m from the east side of Harlem so we all know the same people: Rocky knows the same people I know, Ferg knows them, Yams knows them. I did a song with A$AP Ant [“Told Ya”] and that kinda broke down the doors between me and A$AP. Ohla, who’s my brother, was supposed to shoot the “Purple Swag” and “Peso” videos for Rocky but due to time we couldn’t get it done. There’s always been a connection but it was always a person in the middle too, but that song broke it all down. And the collaboration with the Flatbush Zombies [“THRILLA”] came about through A$AP Yams. Those are good kids, man.
What did you think about the Flatbush Zombies when you first heard their music?I didn’t understand it because I didn’t do LSD and I don’t smoke weed any more. But getting to know them, I get the music now. I’m someone who has to get to know an artist before I work with them. So doing what they do and knowing them makes me love their music. I think [Erick Arc] Elliot is a genius and those kids are talented.
So are there gonna be more Bodega BAMZ and Flatbush Zombies collaborations in the future?
Going back to your upbringing, what defines a rapper from Harlem?
I feel like Harlem is the Mecca of the world. When you think of New York you think of Harlem. Not all artists are pushing the envelope from Harlem, but for the most part a lot of us are. We’re kids that are creative. There’s not a lot of inventors in the rap game — just people who copy. So when you have a group like A$AP who are doing a new sound of music and creating a new style, you have to take notice of that. We’re from Harlem; fashion comes from Harlem, getting money comes from Harlem — if you a nigga from the street you know that Harlem niggas always have money. And the fact that I’m from Spanish Harlem adds a different enigma. Dipset came outta Harlem, Mase came outta Harlem, A$AP came outta Harlem, but I’m Spanish Harlem. That’s why I’m here, to tell that story.
You sample Big L on “Glorious” from the mixtape.
Big L’s the king, man. When you look at it, he had a group called Children Of The Corn and that was Mase and that was Killa Kam before they was who they were. Big L was the forefather of all that Harlem shit. He was the first one to come out and talk that slick. He’s definitely top ten of all time and in my eyes the greatest from Harlem period.
Are you old enough to remember much about Children Of The Corn?
Hell nah, I was way too young for that! But everybody in Harlem knows who they is. Cam had a cousin called Bloodshed and he was part of Children Of The Corn and they have a mural of Cam’s cousin in Harlem where I’m from.
What made you decide to start rapping yourself?
Just going to high school, hip-hop was everywhere and I just fell in love with that. I was a regular kid just rapping, but before that it was poetry and before that just writing. The hobby grew stronger and stronger.
What were your first raps like?
Oh, they were horrible! I couldn’t rap on the beat. I started off battle rapping. I’d want to battle everybody. I didn’t know how to format a song or what a 16 was, so my beginning rhymes were horrible! But I’d write everyday and I had seven, eight notebooks of rhymes. I’m glad I started off wack ’cause it makes me appreciate where I’m at now.
Did you ever get humiliated in a rap battle?
I never lost a battle ever. I never got humiliated. I’m pretty intense as a person so you make them think you have to worry about the repercussions after!
What tips would you give to someone about to enter a rap battle?
I would say just be intense and go in their faces. You have to intimidate them. You have to be like Michael Jordan, like every time he steps on the court he stomps his feet like he’s running it. I’d look ’em in the eyes, never look away. Don’t be disrespectful, but you can intimidate people like that. It’s all about body language.
Is it true you’re a big Nirvana fan?
Yeah, I love Nirvana. I actually just re-seen the Courtney and Kurt documentary. It’s fucked up. It’s fucked up what they did to that guy. I don’t believe he committed suicide.
Do you believe Courtney Love had something to do with his death?
I mean, I don’t want to say she was involved but someone was involved… It’s very unfortunate to say that his wife would be involved in that, but I can say that watching the documentary there was someone else involved in his murder. He did not commit suicide.
Can you remember the first time you heard Nirvana?
It was “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I think coming from the ‘hood, the very first song anybody heard from Kurt Kobain was “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That was his biggest song ever. But my favorite song is “Something In The Way.” I was introduced through “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but when I heard Nevermind I gravitated towards “Something In The Way.”
What was it about that song that you related to?
To me it’s real dark. It can feel like… Finding out that he wrote that while he was under a bridge in his neighborhood, it’s real cinematic and dark. To me, it’s real slow, you can hear what he’s saying, but there’s still the music. I loved it instantly.
Which of your own songs do you think people react most emotionally to?
I think, emotionally, “At Close Range” because it’s sort of like what we’re talking about with Kurt — it’s real dark and real heartfelt. There’s no lie in the song and you can feel that. When a song comes from you and you put your all into it, people are gonna feel that. People know what song you put your most into. It’s a real New York song and it talks about things I was going through. But there’s another song called “A Man Comes Around” and I had a dude run up on me and say, “Yo, I just came home from beating a body” — that means he beat a murder — “and I listened to that song and I cried, my nigga. I can feel it.” Just hearing that from somebody I know who just beat a homicide? That’s crazy.
How does it feel to have that effect on someone through your music?
It’s kinda scary. It’s a gift and a curse. You don’t know these people and what they’re about. But it’s also a gift and I’m glad I can affect somebody through my music and they can relate through my music. That’s when my job is done — that’s more important than record sales and more important than money. You can’t put a money value on it.