This week we chat with Spanish-Harlem rapper BODEGA BAMZ and OH LA of TAN BOYS in anticipation of their upcoming album release Sidewalk Exec. on April 14th 2015. Bamz and his brother / manager Oh La reminisce on their struggles, dish their unexpected musical inspirations and speak on late legend and close friend A$AP YAMS' influence to them and why people should always show gratitude.
BB - My name is Bodega Bamz, I'm from Spanish Harlem, USA. March 17th 1985 is my birthday.
OH - My name is Oh La, I'm from Spanish Harlem, USA. I was born February 27th 1986, that's the Dominican Independence day.
FF - What were you guys doing five years ago?
BB - Selling drugs.
OH - Yeah, I had a 50 thousand dollar car with 24 inch rims, I had three TV's inside.
BB - And we were rapping too. Yeah five years ago was actually hard because our parents got divorced and then my pops kicked us out of his crib, so we had no where to go. From there we went to my Grandma's to stay, we were there for about a good six to twelve months…
OH - That's actually how I lost my car! He took me off his insurance so I was driving the streets with no insurance. I actually sold my rims, everything and that's how we got the studio. That's when we started taking music seriously right?
BB - We were just trying to put our pain in the writing. We found a spot in Washington Heights, and when we went there everything kind of changed because we went through so much turmoil in the months leading up to that, that
our backs were really against the wall, we really had nothing. We put all our cards on the table
and even that was a struggle because things weren't working out with the people we were meeting but by the end of 2010, the beginning of 2011 was when we really put our foot down… My son was about to be born then too so we took it really seriously and little by little shit started picking up.
Then we met Yams in the end of 2011 and after that it was a wrap. When Yams got in my corner, I didn't give a fuck about a co-sign.
I didn't care if a DJ or a legend said Bodega Bamz is next… I would be honored they do and appreciate it but I didn't give a fuck if they did or didn't. Because I had someone like Yams who impact me in a way, not only musically but personally. He'd tell me I was going to make it. When you go through all this shit and you get this one dude, he aint got millions of dollars, he's just a regular guy with influence and intelligence and a heart full of gold, when you meet someone like that and your whole life starts changing so fast… what bigger impact am I going to have? I'm going up, everything is a ladder now, I'll meet bigger people, I'll meet more important people but I'm never going to meet someone that has an impact on my life than that man, ever. He was just a humble spirit, the light. It was about him, the person he was. That man was put on this earth to help people and put people in positions, that man is one of the reasons why I'm able to support and provide for my family.
Before he came in the picture I was a struggling artist. We had the drive, the work ethic, we have the talent that God gave us, we just had no vision.
We were just shooting, we weren't aiming anywhere. Yams showed us how to aim and once we got that down packed it was over, now we had a vision, now we know how to move it, now we know where to go with it. Now he aint here no more, so now it's up to us to make it even bigger.
Our whole come up is just proving people wrong.
I love music, we came from music… we came from gospel, came from worship, we came from preaching in front of a congregation. I'm still preaching, just the delivery is different.
OH - I used to produce, I don't produce any more. But I learned how to engineer by watching the engineer and asking questions. I never got taught how to do things hands on I just watched. When I eventually sold my car and we bought studio equipment, I learned everything on my own. Music is a feeling. It's not just bopping your head, you should feel that through your whole body. And we kind of got that in church…
BB - So music is always in us. But we really got a fire under our ass because a lot of people really didn't think we're going to be where we're at.
The message is overcoming all the negativity and overcoming all the people that said you weren't going to do it
and overcoming every body that had negative things to say and didn't believe in you, just to overcome that and really make a success out of nothing. Another message is the empowerment of our culture and our people, because during those times we were also consumers and we were seeing that we weren't being represented correctly.
So we told ourselves that once we have the light on us we were going to really push our culture forward and really show that pride and that powerfulness.
FF - What do you have left to do until you feel like you've made it?
BB - Just to be on a mainstream level, just to get that same light as people who are signed. To be where we come from I think…
OH - It's an achievement! The thing is we live in an era where people shit on having a deal because of what others have been through but at the end of the day who doesn't want a record deal?! Who doesn't want to walk in the building and your picture is on the wall and ten-fifteen people are working for you…
FF - And it's also about the fact that if you have this message that you actually believe in, why not make it reach its maximum audience?
OH - Exactly. A lot of people have done it without a record deal. Like Tech Nine, that guy is one of the richest rappers right now and he's straight independent. But what might work for him won't work for us. But I'm pretty sure in his road to perdition he wanted a record deal but he just found what worked for him. It's like making the NBA though…
BB - Yeah! Right now we're in college, under ground is college ball. The NBA is record label, that's the bottom line. We put in so much ground work independently and underground that when we do get a record deal it's going to be on our terms, we know what we want. A lot of people get deals and they don't know what they want they just want to sign. We can go in there and be like this is what I need from y'all…
OH - We ask them what they can do for us, because this is what we can do on our own, this is what we've been doing.
BB - That's the conversation we have when we go into record labels. Our talent, our look, our message… underground puts a ceiling on it. It needs to be every where.
FF - What are a few things you wish you knew earlier?
BB - I'm not giving any one advice anymore because most people if you tell them how you feel they'll brush it off. There's certain people who will appreciate it and you'll get that connection by talking to people.
When you're a person that always wants to hold things inside, it definitely puts you in your own box and then you could be missing a good person that might change your life.
And God forbid, people get lost and people pass on and you'd be like damn, I wish I had a conversation with my man to see how he really felt. It's sad because sometimes people should have the courage and the faith to open up in order to get better, but a lot of people don't really see that. People don't realize that you should make people feel like that… just express gratitude!
FF - If your life was a movie what would be on its soundtrack?
OH - There's this song by Moby, it's called When it's Cold I Would Like to Die… that song! It's so unexplainable, it can be a sad song, it can be a happy song, it can be a redemption song. It all matters to what scene you're putting it in.
BB - I'd have Secret Garden by Bruce Springstein, Phil Collins Another Day in Paradise. Definitely the Eagles Hotel California. Nirvana's Something's in the Way… Just real emo shit man. First of all, let's make this clear… I'm not influenced by rap, only my friends that make music and a few selective artists that are undeniable. But as a whole this shit is whack. I might sound like I'm contradicting myself because I am a rapper too but I just take my influence from years like '98 to 2002.
We're more focused on being relatable than likable.
We know it's easy being likable but some body else can come along and look better than me, talk better than me and you're going to like that person… that's human nature. But if I relate to you and have a connection with you, you'll always look at me as number one.
OH - …You're ours forever. From what we listen to, the shit he raps about, we want people to have a connection. The last guy to really have a connection with his fans was probably Tupac. You could connect with Tupac when you put him on. I'm not a fan of his whole discography but the songs that I can name they really touched me. And that's what it has to be about, it has to be relatable, it has to speak to people and that's how we treat the music.