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Bas Talks ‘Last Winter,’ His Growth As an Artist and What It Means to Be a ‘Fiend’ [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

Dreamville/Interscope

Though he only started rapping four years ago, Bas (or Fiend Bassy as many know him) exhibits the self-assured confidence of a seasoned vet. Since finding his calling in hip-hop following a impromptu late-night freestyle session, the flagship artist of J. Cole’s Dreamville Records joint venture with Interscope has grown exponentially with every project. Stepping out of the shadows with his first major release ‘Last Winter,’ the Queens bred MC is on the cusp of garnering the acclaim and fanfare usually reserved for his more famous label head.

We caught up with Bas to talk about ‘Last Winter,’ why the Fiends are truly a movement to move with, and his maturation as an artist.

The Boombox: How do you feel about the fans reception to ‘Last Winter so far?

Bas: Man, it’s been truly overwhelming, honestly, it’s been so positive. This initially started off as a mixtape I had going into the Interscope deal [with J. Cole's Dreamville Records], then they decided to give it a small commercial release on iTunes as well as a limited run at Best Buy. Kind of like a lead up album to the first major one. So just the fact that people are already invested in me and willing to pay their hard earned money it’s just blowing me away.

You officially go by Bas, but many know you as “Fiend Bassy.” What’s the origin of the Fiends?

“The Fiends,” it’s like my creative collective. It started in New York City around 2010. We got some guys that make music, such as myself. We have producers, rappers, guys that do videos. We got a couple guys that work in marketing and advertising who help. And everybody’s helping in my career, and we all kind of have this thing where it’s like, everybody fiends for something, no matter what it is you do, there’s a passion that we’re all pursuing. So, we just got together to make some more a power moves and just all help each other out.

Describe your style with one sentence.

I would say progressive. Progressive hip-hop. The sounds are very new, very forward thinking. They borrow from a lot of different genres, they’re all very progressive. If I could say it in one word or one sentence, I would say “progressive hip-hop.”

I read somewhere that you’ve only been rapping for about four years now. In what area have you improved the most from then to now?

I would say confidence and songwriting. Confidence, it takes time to acquire that and it shows. People hear it in your voice and your maturation. And then songwriting because I’ve been on the road a lot the past four years and I’ve just been writing more and more songs, so every time I’m learning something new about crafting songs that a lot of people can enjoy.

What was your first meeting with J. Cole like and what was your initial impression of him?

I’ve known Cole since before he got his record deal, ’cause he went to St. John’s University in Queens and I lived in the area. I think the first time I met Cole, we were playing basketball at the park. It was all love, he was real good friends with my brother, so that’s how I met Cole. It was more natural, just [seeing each other at] parties, and back then he was in college, we were all hanging out in the same crowd. So my first impression of Cole was that he was a cool cat from North Carolina that was in Queens, trying to do his thing. I didn’t even know Cole rapped for a minute, honestly. I knew him for a while, but I didn’t even know he rapped.

I felt a huge Kanye influence on your first tape ‘Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. 1′ and in your overall sound. What’s your favorite album from him and what do you love most about him as an artist?

I would say ‘Graduation’ is my favorite Kanye album and what I love most about him is you can’t put him in a box. He does whatever he wants to do, whether he does ‘Graduation’ and comes back with ’808′s [& Heartbreak].’ Then does ‘[My Beautiful] Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and ‘Watch The Throne’ and comes back with ‘Yeezus’ or whatever he’s doing next. I just always loved the fact that he was never scared to go left and he always knows how to bring it back, so even if he goes left, he never loses his core fan base. And I think he’s an extremely creative guy, whether it’s on the production or the songwriting, he’s not afraid to speak his mind. But yeah, I would have to say his creativity is pretty fearless, which I admire about him.

You often speak on being into unsavory dealings before falling into hip-hop. Can you go in depth about some of those experiences you went through and how that’s affected your artistry?

In New York, it’s so many things going on, you know so many people. It’s like a market for everything, so it’s very easy to start doing the wrong thing and then have that amplified because it’s easy money, fast money. I had a huge wake-up call like, six months before I started rapping, a friend of mine got shot, caught up in a bunch of s— we were doing. And it just kind of woke me up, in a sense. I wasn’t fulfilling my potential as a person, I was settling for fast money, easy cash when I could’ve been investing in my future, learning a craft. So after that, it was just a big wake-up call for me and I kind of went all-in with the music.

What’s your favorite “quarter water” flavor of all-time?

Blue.

Your first time on the road was for Cole’s Dollar And A Dream tour. Do you have any wild stories about life on the road and any lessons learned from watching Cole and the crew?

I think the biggest lesson learned on the road is lessons in songwriting. To see the give-and-takes between the crowd and the artist, to realize the moments that you have to set up to build a climax in a sense with great crowd participation.

I think the wildest night was in Berlin [Germany]. We had a crazy night in Berlin. We had a show at 8PM and I didn’t make it back to my hotel until 7PM the next day. It was just raves, parties, they party all night out there. I went to a club that opened Thursday night and closed Sunday, [open] three straight days. I was there at like Friday, 2PM, still going off the night we had before, so Berlin was definitely one of the wildest cities I’ve been to.

Dreamville/Interscope

You made a huge leap in terms of growth from ‘Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. 1′ to Vol. 2., what was the biggest catalyst in that growth?

I spent those two years on the road with Cole, but not performing, just developing as an artist and working with some of the producers that were on the road and some of the band members. And then, I was also on the Club Paradise tour Cole went on with Drake. I think that time spent in between ‘em, I learned a lot about songwriting, I became much more confident, so vocally that came across when I recorded. I learned more about post-production and really crafting songs as a whole, so that came out in the music. I don’t think I’m anywhere near done, as far as it comes to learning and stuff, but as much as I learn, I’m just gonna keep applying it and keep trying to show growth with every project.

I’ve heard you refer to “vibes” a lot in your past interviews as far as connecting with people, how you live your life and how you approach your music, and in many of those stories, a common thread is recreational drugs. Other than ‘shrooms and trees, are there any other drugs you’ve experimented with and what’s the most bugged out story you have involving that?

Yeah, I’ve experimented with a couple of other drugs, I’ve done Molly before. Me personally, I don’t like to glorify the harder drugs, especially in my lyrics because I think it’s a little irresponsible. Mushrooms and weed, I find pretty harmless, they grow out the ground [laughs]. But as far as other things, yeah, I’ve done my fair share of things, but I don’t like to really put out there for the fans, I think it’s a little irresponsible.

The Fiends have a big presence on the ‘Net and in the streets. I actually heard about the crew/brand before ever hearing the music. Speak on the evolution of the crew from it’s beginnings to now, with having a superb merch game and a presence whenever y’all are out and about?

It’s dope because the crew put me on their backs and were the first platform I had before Dreamville and before the Interscope s—. The Fiends were my platform, they were the guys holding me down and telling everybody about me, and now that I’m a little more on, I can turn around and use the light that’s on me to cast that light back on them. So, yeah, it’s dope. The fans really have taken ownership of The Fiends, the movement is very inclusive. People can always let their guard down [around us], we’re not like the cool kids, we’re all about everyone coming together and catching a good vibe.

It’s a beautiful thing, we’ve been everywhere around the world and people are repping it, they’re buying the merch. I’ve heard stories of people going to clubs in their Fiends gear and waiting on line, and someone else is coming in buying bottles and they’re like ‘you rock with the Fiends, come through.’ It’s becoming that kind of community where kids see other kids and it’s an automatic ice breaker in a sense, like, you rock with the same community I rock with, sharing some of the same values of openness and being inclusive to people and just treating them right, you know. It’s a beautiful thing to see, man.

How has life in Queens shaped you as a person, as well as an artist?

I would say Queens is so diverse, It’s the most diverse county in the world, there’s so much to be inspired whether music and sonically, to your content and what you write about is usually inspired by people in your life and you come across so many different walks of life in Queens. And it’s just non-stop stimulus from the moment you’re here. It’s just non-stop inspiration and new people that you’re coming across, new stories that you’re hearing, new stories that you’re witnessing that have a profound impact on you. and that comes out in your writing, when you sit down and write and get your thoughts out, those are the things that come back up to the top cause they made you feel a type of way. So I think every artist is shaped by where they come from, so I’m just blessed to have a city as diverse as New York to call home and draw inspiration from.

If you had to choose one song from ‘Last Winter’ to introduce someone to you music, which would it be?

I would say ‘Your World’ featuring Mack Wilds ’cause sonically it’s right up my alley — it’s a good vibe. It’s musical, it’s hip-hop, it’s got the drums, but then, content-wise it’s one of my more personal records. So I think that if you listen to that, you’re not only getting a glimpse at the music I make but also a glimpse into the person I am.

You were born in Paris and lived there and in Qatar until the age of 8. What are your memories of overseas and how often do you visit if ever?

My memories are pretty fond. It’s definitely a different society in a sense over there, people just think different, Europeans in general think different. It’s kind of refreshing honestly. It’s a more broad view of the world. I think it’s just because those nations have been there for much longer than we have. We’re a very young country here in America, we’ve only been around for a few hundred years, when you’re dealing with societies that have been fine-tuning themselves for thousands of years. So I find them to be a bit more forward thinking in a sense.

Actually, four of the tracks on ‘Last Winter’ are produced by friends of mine in Paris that I’ve always kept in contact with — matter of fact, the record with Mack [Wilds] was produced by Ogee Handz, who’s a friend of mine from Paris.I still have a lot of roots and friends there I recently went back there on cause the What Dreams May Come Tour cause I was opening the whole tour for Cole and we went out to Paris, so that was my last time back probably, in December. But I’m planning to go in the next two or three weeks, I wanna shoot a video out there and a little documentary just explaining some of my roots and ties to the city and pretty much how it inspires a lot of my music.

Did you have any preconceived notions or fears of the U.S. as a child, particularly New York before moving here and what was the transition like?

Not really, I was pretty excited. I remember when my father told me, I still young. But everywhere around the world, as much as news media will try to convince you otherwise, people love the U.S. Obviously, there’s certain things with, like, foreign policy and things that are rubbing the wrong way, but as far as the people and the cities [in Europe], everybody loves New York, everybody loves America. So I was excited, I was just a wide-eyed kid, like, It’s New York City. You see it in all the movies, you see it in all the TV shows and especially when you’re overseas, you hear it in all the rap songs. So, yeah, I was real excited to come. Then we got to Queens and it was just as dope as I thought it would be.

‘Lit’ featuring J. Cole and K-Quik is arguably your most popular song thus far. What was the creative process behind that?

That was about the time Miguel’s album came out, and we sampled his song ‘Do You.’ I remember I hadn’t heard the album yet, but he put out a trailer and that was the song that was playing on the trailer. I remember watching the trailer and I was with My producer Cedric Brown, who did that ['Lit'] record and I was like ‘yo, you have to flip this for me.’ We just so happened to be at Cole’s studio session, he was working on ‘Born Sinner’ at the time and that was one of the few days I had seen him leave the studio early, I think he had something to do in the early morning. So me and Ced were there like: “This studio is locked out for the next five or six hours, so while we’re here lets chop up this samples.” We ended up doing the sample, I did like two verses for it, then the next day I did another verse. Originally I had three verses on it.

Then I got my man Ron Gilmore to do some additional production and K-Quick did the vocals, who also mixed my whole project Then one day, we were at Elite’s crib, who is another Dreamville affiliate and co-produced ‘Crooked Smile’ with Cole and I was just playing all of ‘Quarter Water Music Vol. 2,’– what I had sequenced so far — for all the homies. Cole was there and we got up to ‘Lit’ and it came on and he was like “Yo, you got this beat? I wanna write to this.” So it just happened right on the spot we looped it for him, he wrote his verse, I don’t how long it took him, probably 30-40 minutes or something, laid it down, and that was that. I took one of my verses off cause I didn’t want it to be a four verse record. So I took one of my verses off and Cole got on the track and killed it. One of his dopest verses to me. [I] really love that verse.

The only feature on the project outside of your Dreamville fam is Mack Wilds. How was it working with him?

It was dope, it was real dope. I met him at SXSW in March, we were both doing Vibe magazine showcase and he was on a little after I was, but I stuck around and caught his set. My manager introduced us after and Mack was like ‘I’m a big fan of your music, I’ve been listening to ‘Lit’ and it’s good to put a face to the music.’ We exchanged numbers then, and when I got back in the city and I just hit him, I’m like “Yo, I got this joint, if you got some time lets get up in the studio and catch a vibe. I’d love to hear you on it” and a couple days later, we got it done. Came through the studio, laid down the joint, and we’re all really excited about the record.

Have you ever felt like J. Cole washed you on a track and if so, which one?

Not really, man. I go about making music a different way than most people, I think it has to do a lot with how recently I’ve got into rap, in a sense. I really pride myself much more on making the best song possible than anything. If Cole comes and has a crazy verse, I’m actually happy about that ’cause that just made the song that much better. I don’t have any insecurities about that kind of stuff, cause at the end of the day I know the work put in and I know I made those songs.

And I’m thankful to have a relationship with someone like Cole, who can shine a huge spotlight on these records first and foremost just by being on them. And then he’s a super-talented lyricist so I want him to go for the kill every time out because I feel that makes the music that much better and at the end of the day that’s my only priority, to make the best song, to make the best project I can make.

What was your favorite or most fun song to make on this project, as well as the hardest?

The most fun to make, as far as the vibe, was ‘Last Winter.’ Me and Ced kind of had a reference [of the song] down, but then we got in the studio out L.A. me, Ced, Ron and Quick, and just vibed out and did the post production. Me and Ron were on mushrooms the whole time and he was playing bass and doing all this trippy shit on the record. We just had a really good time making it, I remember that experience being allot fun and being, like, super far out, but like groovy.

I guess the hardest one to make was probably ‘N.W.O’, the intro. The sound of it took a lot of tweaking, there’s like, a vocal sounds going on, there’s a lot of progressive sounds, so I had to do a couple takes just to get the right tone for my vocals to fit in the right place, which was kind of crucial in that track. That’s probably the track that had the most mixes, where we kept adjusting the mix because there’s so much going on sonically, but you still want everything to fit in the right place. So, ‘N.W.O. took the longest to get right, just to keep fine-tuning it.

As far as favorite, it changes all the time … but I would say as of late, it’s probably ‘Mook In New Mexico.’ I just love how impactful it is, I love the big 808s. I like the fact that it’s a fun, like, almost party record, but if you listen to what I’m saying, there’s allot of content and I’m trying to impart some wisdom just based on what I’ve seen. So yeah, Mook In New Mexico is my favorite.

What do you want listeners to take away from ‘Last Winter’ and you as an artist?

I just want them to take the originality, the progressiveness. I want them to feel like I’m giving them something that they’re not getting anywhere else in the game. That’s an objective of mine. I always wanna be original, or I wanna have a style that stands out. I don’t wanna have a sound like everything on radio, I don’t wanna sound like the most popular producer out did my s—.

I love crafting my own sounds. I like giving people a vibe that they can ride out to from front to back and when it’s done, feel like I took them somewhere that only I could take them. That’s really the main thing, just to ride it out, feel the vibe and then, like, almost hear music in a new way. I think those are the most groundbreaking artists, when something comes out and you’re like ‘you, I never really heard anything like this.’ That’s the main thing I wanna achieve.

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