Bahamadia has been reshaping the definition of her career and artistry amongst MCs since long before (and after) her acclaimed release Kollage. Holding her own with the legendary (Jay Dilla and James Brown) to collaborating with lesser knowns in Hip-hop circles (Morcheeba and Roni Size), is par for the course from the Philly based MC. Bahamadia took a second to chat with Music Editor Rif Raf on heading up her own label B-Girl Freedom, and the evolution towards her third official offering Good Rap Music.
RifRaf: You just came back to the states from where?
Bahamadia: From South Africa
RifRaf: So did you go to Joburg – Capetown?
Bahamadia: I went to Joburg, Capetown, Tambiza and Soweto
RifRaf: Whoa! Yeah I stayed in Cape Town for like a minute. It’s one of those life changing experiences. How do you see Hip Hop globally versus here in the U.S.? Do you see it as more political there than here?
Bahamadia: I mean I feel like hip hop was political globally from the beginning stages though because there’s always been a premise to vent or to discuss social issues – as well as an entertainment vehicle. You know what I mean? But globally I feel like hip hop has been a global phenomenon for the last decade and a half you know, it’s just that a lot of people are just now realizing it with us being in the information age now. And seeing the world is easier to connect with with like minded people out there with the click of a mouse with these social networks and stuff.
RifRaf: The visibility and transparency for people to just reach out to you is just unreal. But I’m sure nothing compares to actually being there, like being in South Africa. Was that your first time over there?
Bahamadia: Yeah that was my first time ever setting my foot on African soil overall, so it was definitely a pivotal moment in my whole existence…not even just for hip hop, just as an African American woman overall. It was life changing for me; I don’t even feel the same. It’s like a rebirth or something took place in the process of being there. The things that we did get to see…I actually had the opportunity and honor of having a forum in a skating shop one of the days before we would leave, and just a group of the locals came through–you know a real loose environment. We just sat down and talked and whatever, just a forum for us to get to know each other as people, just a really cool dialog with people directly from the sources as opposed to being showcased the more tourist attractions.
RifRaf: You’ve been DJing since I was like two. You’ve been in the game for a quarter of a century! That’s a whole lot of time!
Bahamadia: [Laughs] Yeah a whole lifetime.
RifRaf: How have you navigated the landscape from being a DJ to MC to owning your own label.
Bahamadia: B-Girl Freedom
RifRaf: Right, for people that don’t understand, how do you think that aided your longevity?
Bahamadia: I was very fortunate coming in with a certain sense of self awareness. I had really healthy role models or what I deem to be really strong women, free thinkers and progressive thinkers in my immediate circle of influence, so I came in with a different perspective. I think it’s definitely the grace of God, and after that my passion for what I do. I understand it to be my life’s work. Making the transition from being a DJ to an MC I started out studying percussion as a child, and that’s when hip hop started to evolve with the park jams and dollar parties and all that here in Philly. I had just got my first taste with the Cold Krush blend tapes and stuff like that
And then from that era I just started writing, doing DJing gigs, rec centers, and stuff like that… my own basement parties.
RifRaf: Neighborhood stuff around the way…
Bahamadia: Right, stuff like that. And I actually was a writer for my first crew, West Philly Sound Crew but they weren’t reliable. So since I knew the material I felt I could utilize my voice more through the words as opposed to being a DJ. A mutual friend I met in art school introduced me to my first studio work. Boyz II Men, all of us came from BirdsNest Productions. I honed my recordings skills there for like a total of five years, and linked up with another mutual friend. DJ Ran, the technician DJs, used to DJ for WWF. He’s a top DJ in the city, he was looking for a female artist and he was dealing with Warlock records with PM Dawn and everybody they were all producers for that label, primarily a dance label, Hip House, House Records, when Little Louie Vega and all those people out during that time period. He had a group called “Taken.” I actually auditioned over the phone– freestyled over the phone–next thing you know I’m doing the record. Then touring with them doing the Tunnel and all the legendary dance clubs in New York. This was literally overnight: freestyled on the phone one week, next week I’m on tour with them. From there I stayed with them a total of four years. During that time I did a regional hit called “Funkvibe” when mixtapes were tapes and cassettes.
RifRaf: Literally, they could break if you played them too much.
Bahamadia: Right, right. And Guru had heard Funkvibe through another mutual friend who went to college with my sister. She passed him a tape and he offered me a production deal with Ill Kids Records. That led to Total Wrecks, which led to Kollage and ever since then …
RifRaf: It’s been poppin. The power of what you just said – each segment of your progression as an artist has been longer than people’s entire careers. How do you see the change in your sound over the three official releases and all the appearances in-between?
Bahamadia: Well actually, regarding my cadences – I studied percussion, a lot of my patterns and stuff seep into my knowledge of percussion and how to arrange songs.
RifRaf: So literally using your voice as an instrument.
Bahamadia: Right, actually my earlier style delivery was patterned after Nancy Wilson scat patterns. That’s where I was. I was heavily into Jazz at that particular time, so that kinda translated through the music. So from 1996 to the four to five year hiatus before BB Queen came out, naturally I became a different person. We evolve as humans so I had a whole other set of experiences that I had to filter. So I used the music to share my thoughts and experiences. For the Good Rap Music project, again I’d grown, so I had different things that I deemed important enough to deal with, but there’s no gimmick with who I am. I am very transparent with my music, so as I grow the music naturally changes with it.
Rif RaF: You mentioned life-changing events. Which one do you think was a milestone before you came back into the industry?
Bahamadia: What do you mean back into the industry?
RifRaf: Well you said you took a four year hiatus. When you came back…you had some events that changed your perspective.
Bahamadia: But each of those hiatuses were forced because it took me a process of four years to be released from the contract, the whole litigation and red tape because I did other genres like broken beat, drum n bass, hip house, trip hop. I was working with Herbaliser, Roni Size, and those guys. I just went to the UK and toured and did that thing until that process had expired. When I came back to the states I had a radio show for two years then once I linked up with GoodVibe, an independent label based in L.A., that put up BB Queen. I did that for a while then that situation kind of dissolved. They had lost the distribution or whatever. I decided I had to learn the business of music. I had already spent eight years in the game so naturally I was going to be a student and learn how to maneuver, how to maximize my opportunities as a business person.
Bahamadia: Especially when looking at it from an independent standpoint from dealing with the labels firsthand: I’m bringing you my whole vision my marketing idea, I’m bringing you the music, I’m coordinating the project, negotiating my own terms and all that. So basically I’m running the label without having my own label. This is my intellectual property. I’m really selling you my life so why shouldn’t I own it. Once I learned the business in music, I couldn’t stomach settling for 14 percent out of 100 percent of what should be mine.
So what we have now with The Good Rap music thing under B Girl Freedom is a process and challenge for distribution but I’m not willing to compromise this for the sake of a deal.
RifRaf: Do you think there is over/under-rating, or if there is any importance of how the mainstream commodity/market of rap perceives you as a hip hop artist?
Bahamadia: I believe all of us are individuals, so we will perceive things differently. I don’t pay attention to labels, but I can say I am an entrepreneur and I’m a businesswoman first, and I have a passion for the hip hop movement overall because I found that to be the most effective medium to express my experiences… to share my life with people. Overall, we’re in a different time. Hip hop was what it was in its beginning stages, because that’s what the times dictated it to be. I feel like it’s a multi-billion dollar industry where artist have to be educated about how to maneuver if they’re going to do this as a profession. If you don’t want to do this as a profession, and you’re a hobbyist then by all means do it for free or do whatever you do. But for me personally, I live off of my craft, and my aim is to get paid, though I’m not willing to compromise my integrity in the process. I’m a businesswoman. I live off my art. The whole myth of it being “noble”, “you’re being really true to the game” if you stay under the radar or stay a purist, I don’t think that, that’s umm…
Bahamadia: Yeah that’s not accurate at all. There’s nothing noble about being broke. There’s nothing noble about rocking a crowd and your lights are shut off as soon as you step off the stage. What’s noble about having children and you can’t feed them? If you’re signing a deal, you’re signing it with the intentions of being successful–that’s monetary and spiritually. Cut the charade, you want to get paid for what you do. That’s where I’m at.
RifRaf: You’ve worked with so many people. You’ve worked with Dilla, Morcheeba– a whole range. If you had to assemble a BB Queen Dream team, to work with who would it be?
Bahamadia: At this particular point, the creative process for me is a spiritual one. Believe it or not, everybody that I’ve worked with throughout the course of my career has had a mutual respect for what I do. These people either heard my voice, work or lyrical content or something and they approached me directly to do these songs with them. I’ve even toured with James Brown in Australia right before he passed away.
RifRaf: Okay yeah…that’s the top!
Bahamadia: That’s the epitome for me. I mean come on! You can’t get no bigger than that as far as hip hop is concerned.
RifRaf: That’s the ground architect right there, you really can’t do any better than that.
Bahamadia: To actually meet him, and to actually tour, and actually share a bill with James Brown the Godfather of Soul. Who?! Who else could I work with?!? I could say Phoebe Snow and Kraftwerk are definitely two I’d like to work with before it’s said and done.
Oh yeah, I want to thank Clutch Magazine, for the opportunity I want to thank you for your time.
RifRaf: I want to thank you more! Much more!
Bahamadia: That’s whats up!
ERifRaf: Enjoy Illaphiladelph life!
Bahamadia: Only for a couple of days. I’ll be on tour with Jaguar Wright and the band. We’re touring Europe, the Jazz Cafe and all that. Paris, Amsterdam, Poland, Vienna and all that.
RifRaf: So basically, we need to get some plane tickets…
Bahamadia: Yeah! And well you know how YouTube is… they’ll steal some clips from the shows and post them up. You can hit us on www.myspace.com/bahamadia
RifRaF: Shout outs?
Bahamadia: I want to give a shout out to anybody that’s open minded enough to explore something different from what’s being explored today. If you’re checking out Bahamadia for the first time, thanks for being open minded enough. And to my longtime supporters I appreciate you helping me keep my lights on – you know what I’m saying? Be on the lookout for Good Rap Music in the states sometime in 08′.
RifRaf: That’s what’s up!