Rapper Bas’ concert improves anticipated new album

Isaac Babus / The Mossy Log

Emerging artist reminisces adolescent life in first solo collection, yet variety of topics confuses message

Dreamville rapper Bas is back after a five-year hiatus with his fourth studio album “We Only Talk About Real Shit When We’re Fucked Up,” and despite much anticipation from fans, it only sort
of delivers. The album is a mix of hip-hop and R&B with Afrobeats influence that simultaneously feels like a deep dive into Bas’s character and surface-level braggadocio, creating an inconsistent feel. 

It is jarring to go from hearing Bas rap about his problems with drug use in “Ho Chi Minh,” his relatives and home being harmed because of the Sudanese conflict in “Khartoum,” to flexing his personal wealth in “Yao Ming” and “Paper Cuts.” While songs like “Paper Cuts” do symbolize the growth that Bas has experienced in his journey to becoming a rapper, it still feels empty.

Bas is the son of a Sudanese diplomat. He has been on political envoys since early childhood, where he met figures like Idi Amin. He lived in Paris and Qatar until the age of eight before his family moved to Jamaica, a neighborhood in Queens in New York City. Bas has four siblings, all of whom have successful careers, but two stand out. One is a famous NYC artist, DJ mOma, and the other is Ibrahim, who has managed J. Cole since 2007. 

Cole recognized Bas’s talent early on and greatly influenced his career by coaching him, taking him on tour and involving him in his studio sessions. Bas has even been regarded as “Dreamville’s Heir” according to The FADER. This is all to say that he can write incredible lyrics, a claim backed up by Cole himself. 

“Some of the flows he was using, words he was putting together. He was kind of naturally talented,” J. Cole said.

Cole is not wrong; Bas can write vulnerable and impactful lyrics. He proves that on songs like “Live For” off of 2016’s “Too High to Riot,” which dive into Bas’ relationship with his aunt before she passed, his cynical perspective on the world and the pain that comes with letting go of others to achieve goals. Unfortunately, that raw emotion seen on “Too High to Riot” is found in only two, or perhaps three, songs from the newest 17-song album. 

“Light Of My Soul” is a brilliant start to the album and sets the tone with its melancholic, slowed vocal sample. The drums kick in as he raps about his worry that he will die from drug use, which he consumes to avoid his inner pain. Bas raps about trying to forget the past, dealing with “friends” stealing money from him and starting to overcome his ingrained tendency to people-please: “Mama told me ‘Treat ’em to the light of my soul / The light of my soul, and don’t expect nun back’ / The light of my soul, but shit, I want some back.” The song ends with a Sudanese woman praying for Bas in Arabic.

Following the title track, the lyrical quality drops off. “Black Jedi” and other songs like “Decent” and “U-Turn” follow monotonous, faceless, romantic and sexual relationships, which is a rough transition following the emotion that Bas had shown prior. “Choppas” and “Risk” are wonderful FKJ-produced beats, but Bas returns again with wishy-washy, R&B-inspired lyrics about forlorn relationships.

 Another song, “179 Deli,” which is  a fun club song produced by members of Jungle and featuring AJ Tracey. The club synths, pounding bass and ethereal backing vocals from Lydia Kitto elevate the track. Bas takes on a more upbeat tone with his rapping, mimicking what people say about him behind his back by talking with his hand when he performs the song on stage. The name “179 Deli” comes from the name of a deli Bas grew up by in Jamaica, and my personal nitpick is that I wish he spoke more on his adolescent life growing up in that area of New York. That deli clearly holds some important sentiment to him, and I want to hear more about that.  

Despite “We Only Talk About Real Shit When We’re Fucked Up” being Bas’s first solo album, Bas’ best moments are standing beside J. Cole. In “Home Alone,” Bas adopts Cole’s rhyme scheme while seemingly allowing Cole to take the lead. “Passport Bros” feels like a triumphant return to the brotherly duo as they drunkenly sing about love and their travels across the world on a Barcelona-inspired beat. 

In some ways, “Passport Bros” feels reminiscent of “Tribe” from “Milky Way,” which is another J. Cole collaboration and one of Bas’s most streamed songs. While I do enjoy the song, it does not live up to the album’s goal of delving into deep emotional topics. If the album were more concrete and on theme, “Passport Bros” would be a welcome reprieve to the hard topics, but given the lack of overall structure, this track just adds to the confusion. 

Overall, I think the album is a solid 6/10 and fun to listen to on night drives. The downtempo style of most of the album creates a calm and melancholic vibe as Bas’s mellow vocals guide you through the tracks. “Passport Bros” is the one disruption to that flow, leading back to this continuous issue in structure, concept and Bas trying to do a little bit of everything. 

However, when I saw Bas on tour,  and the album was detached from its structure in the form of a concert, the music was much more enjoyable. Bas had the freedom to jump around musically and it was not expected to have any order to it or follow a specific theme. Bas utilized that freedom incredibly well during his time on stage. Bas played an intimate show at the Roseland Theater on March 16 for an audience of around 200 people. Bas’ openers, Hoosh, Reuben Vincent and Blxckie, were all artists I had not heard of before. Seeing Bas introduce his audience to smaller musicians was powerful, especially as Blxckie came from South Africa to join the tour. 

Every musician had a strong stage presence and engaged the crowd, especially Bas himself who brought a fan on stage to rap with him. The live piano, guitar and incredible backing vocalist added a lot to the performance as Bas took the crowd through a time warp by performing songs from all of his albums. From 2014’s “Last Winter” to “Revenge of the Dreamers III” and J. Cole’s “The Off-Season,” Bas had it all. 

I do love Bas’s music and eagerly look forward to the next projects he creates. In terms of lyrical depth, I did not think Bas was going to drop the next “4 Your Eyez Only,” as J. Cole’s rawness on the 2016 album is hard to match, but the expectations I did have were not met. The few emotional songs on the album stand out much more than the others and I think that the fluff of the album disrupts its main message. Bas taking a moment during the show to talk about his relationship to Sudan as his second home before performing “Khartoum” hit home the album’s point in a way that feels unclear without witnessing it live. I do believe that Bas has the skill to be Dreamville’s heir after J. Cole, but I do not think he is there just yet. With more time and confidence gained, I think the crown will be his.

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