Latino’s have played a major role in Hip Hop since its inception in the South Bronx. While many have gotten respect in graffiti, deejaying, and b-boying, Latin emcees have been under represented within a culture they support heavily. Looking to help resolve this issue is Bodega Bamz. The half Puerto Rican, half Dominican emcee is one of the leaders of the “Tanboy” movement, a faction of Latinos out of Spanish Harlem who push a message of Latino pride, which to Bamz, is bigger than Rap. “Rep your side, rep your culture,” he explains. “I’m a Latino before I’m a rapper. I’m gonna die a Latino, I ain’t gonna die a rapper.”
Releasing “Strictly For My P.A.P.I.Z.” near the end of 2012, Bamz has since released several videos for the project. With connections to the A$AP Mob (check Bamz’s feature on “I Told Y’all” with ASAP Ant), Bamz finds himself not only representing for Latinos everywhere, but also New York. At “Rock the Bells: Los Angeles,” before hitting the road for the “Better Off Dead” tour with Flatbush Zombies, Bamz sat down with HipHopDX to talk Latino Culture, his home of Spanish Harlem, and his love for the music of Bob Dylan among other things.
Bodega Bamz Explains “Tanboy” Movement & Tego Calderon Collaboration
HipHopDX: Can you break down the Tanboy Movement for those who are unfamiliar?
Bodega Bamz: The Tanboy movement is a movement of Latinos, the voice of the voiceless and a movement of Latinos that want to uplift our culture.
DX: You dropped “Strictly for my P.A.P.I.Z” with Noisey. What was your inspiration going into that?
Bodega Bamz: Latino culture. The Fania All Stars, Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon were the big inspirations behind it. Through that—through “Strictly For My P.A.P.I.Z.” I created “Latin Trap.” That’s a different sound and a different genre. The bulk of the inspiration came from Latino culture…my culture and my hood, Spanish Harlem.
DX: That project also featured Tego Calderon. How did you get Tego on there?
Bodega Bamz: Joell Ortiz is on the record as well. I got the Tego record through Joell. Shout out to Joell—he’s the big homie, a great artist and a great spitter. I haven’t gotten the chance to meet Tego personally, but I was humbled he would even get on my record. I grew up listening to Tego, and Tego is one of the founders of Raggaeton, a music that took over the world
DX: What do you have going forward after “Strictly For My P.A.P.I.Z.?”
Bodega Bamz: We did the “Better Off Dead” Tour with Flatbush Zombies, and I’m still releasing videos. I’m still working and still grinding, and there’s no official release date of when I’m gonna drop a new tape. But it’s there, so we still working. We still grinding.
DX: I was first introduced to you through A$AP Mob. What is your relationship with them?
Bodega Bamz: Those are my niggas. We from the same hood, fuck the same bitches, smoke the same weed, and drink the same liquor. Those are my niggas.
Why Bodega Bamz Feels New York Hip Hop Has Evolved
DX: A lot of people right now say New York doesn’t have a signature sound. Listening to your project, it’s clearly New York. What do you say to those who say New York doesn’t have its own style right now?
Bodega Bamz: First of all, you gotta ask who’s saying it. If it’s somebody in New York saying it, then they hating. If it’s somebody out of New York saying it, then you gotta question that. What do you really know about the New York sound? I can’t make a California sound, and I’m not from Cali. I can’t make Down South music, because I’m not from down South. So I can’t say the music that’s going down in Atlanta is not down South music, because I don’t know about that culture. So you have to ask who’s really saying it. If it’s somebody from New York saying it, they hating. If it’s somebody from out of New York saying it, then you gotta be like, “What you talking about?” Shit changes, shit evolves and shit ain’t the same. You see all the greats, they all evolved. Nobody stayed the same. People who stay the same, they die out; that’s just history. Dinosaurs got extinct. They stayed the same. Now look, dinosaurs changed, they evolved and you got alligators. It’s all about evolving and pushing the envelope forward.
DX: Speaking of the New York sound, what was your introduction to the game? What is it that made you decide that you want to rap?
Bodega Bamz: Real life shit like the birth of my son and my life situations. The better and better I got, I had more people telling me I couldn’t make it. That was big. [I was motivated by] people telling me I wouldn’t go far, people not believing in me and people pointing the finger at me. That really added fuel to the fire. You never supposed to care how people think, but you should definitely take heed to that. You should know what people think, because it shouldn’t change you, but it should add fuel to your fire...make people not talk.
“Oh, you think I can’t make it ‘cause I ain’t nice? Alright, I’ll show you I’m the best.” If you say, I can’t dress, or I can’t bag bitches, I’m gonna show you I can do all of that. It was a mixture of a lot of things.
DX: Before the interview, we had a real interesting convo about Spanish Harlem. For those who haven’t been there, break down what Spanish Harlem is like.
Bodega Bamz: Like I was telling the homie from Cali, Spanish Harlem has certain similarities to East L.A. The only difference is East L.A. is predominately Mexican, and Spanish Harlem is predominately Puerto Rican. East L.A. is much bigger, but it’s the same kind of culture. You’ve got Spanish stores, bodegas and everything is Spanish owned. Spanish language is being talked there. It’s similar…it’s just rich in Spanish culture. Salsa started in Puerto Rico, but the bulk of the artists were from Spanish Harlem. People who started the Salsa movement were from Spanish Harlem. It’s very rich in Latino culture, and a lot of people don’t know there’s an Eastside and a Westside in Harlem. The Eastside is Spanish Harlem. The Westside is where A$AP, Ma$e, Cam’ron and Dipset is from. A lot of people think it’s one whole Harlem, but it ain’t.
Bodega Bamz Encourages Latinos In Hip Hop To “Rep Your Culture”
DX: You’re definitely holding it down for Latins in Hip Hop. How do you feel about the Latin Hip Hop scene now?
Bodega Bamz: We got a few Latinos out here reppin’, and that’s important. What’s important is if you are a Latin, and you’re in Hip Hop, you rep your culture. Rep your side. That’s what’s needed. I’m sure there’s millions of Latino rappers, but for the ones who are actually getting that platform, rep your culture and your Latino pride. That’s what Tanboys is about, and that’s why we pushed the movement out. We’re tired of seeing Latinos be shameful of their culture. Be proud of your shit. Be proud of your shit the way other ethnic backgrounds are.
DX: Do you see the relationship between Latinos and the labels within the music industry changing?
Bodega Bamz: Absolutely. I feel like the problem was, we didn’t have enough Latinos saying, “I’m Latino and I’m proud.” The moment you start seeing that, is when shit start changing. The banks start opening up. Latino’s can be very marketable, and we take up 60% of the population in America. No knock to Barack Obama, but if it wasn’t for Latinos, he wouldn’t be there. He took up all their votes. Latinos and Hispanics are a very, very important culture in the United States of America and worldwide. So I feel like the more people talk up, “I’m proud to be Latino,” shit changes. That’s why Tanboys is here, that’s why Bodega Bamz is here. That’s the destiny, that’s what I’m here to do, open people’s minds up. I can’t stress that enough. When I see my young Latino brothers and sisters, I tell them be proud and powerful individuals.
DX: Where do you get your style from, and what other music influences you?
Bodega Bamz: The funny thing is, Rap is the sound I get my influence from the least. I don’t really listen to a lot of Rap. If I do, it’s Rap from ’98 or Rap from 2000. I don’t listen to a lot of new Rap. It’s not because niggas is wack, but because when you listen to Rap, you start sounding like that artist depending on how often you listen to him. I pride myself on not sounding like nobody. You could put a nigga here right now and ask him, “Who does Bodega Bamz sound like?” He’ll tell you, “I don’t know.” I pride myself on not sounding like nobody, and that’s because I don’t listen to a lot of other niggas shit.
Michael Jackson was a big inspiration. Michael Jackson was in my household a lot growing up. I listened to a lot of Rock-n-Roll and a lot of old shit like The Eagles, Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers. I love them. A lot of niggas don’t know Bob Dylan was one of the first rappers. He was a white dude, but he was rapping. It was folk, but he was rapping. Bob Dylan is a ill nigga…he’s a ill dude. I get the bulk of my inspiration from movies as well. I’m a movie buff. Before this Netflix shit came out, I was on the movies, kid. I was buying DVDs. Netflix gave niggas the cheat code.
DX: In line with that, how do you feel about the Digital Age and its effect on Hip Hop?
Bodega Bamz: It’s a gift and a curse. The gift being that you can become an overnight celebrity through digital. The curse is there’s too many rappers because of that digital platform, and anybody can load up a song on YouTube and become a rapper. It’s different from when you used to be out in the street battling. That’s the cloth I’m cut from. I’m from the era where you used to have to actually be out in the street looking for niggas in they hood and say, “What’s good? You nice? Let me battle you!” So it’s a gift and a curse. The opportunities are broader, but now it’s more people, more competition and more rappers.
DX: How do you feel about the Hip Hop media as it stands today? We’ve grown up listening to Hip Hop, and the media was different. There was more focus on magazines. Now with the websites, how do you feel about the Hip Hop media and its coverage?
Bodega Bamz: Shit changes. The Internet is a thing of the future, and it’s been a thing of the future—it’s not gonna go away. So artists are broken on the Internet before the radio now, and it’s backwards. The editors and the bloggers are the DJs now who break artists. It’s awesome, and I’m not opposed to it. Shit, the Internet showed me love, and I’m still trying to capitalize ‘cause there’s still work to be done. I’m fortunate enough because I’m from the hood…I’m from the streets. Street niggas don’t crossover to the Internet too much, ‘cause they don’t know how to play the game. It’s not easy for a street nigga to get into the Internet world. Believe you me bruh, it’s not easy. So when a nigga is in it, he better hold onto that motherfucker.
Why Bodega Bamz Feels ADD Is At An All Time High For Listeners
DX: You said it’s hard for a street cat to crossover and get with the Internet. At the same time, your audience might face that same difficulty. Do you feel like the effects an artist like yourself?
Bodega Bamz: That’s a good question. You stumped me, kid. You’d have to ask my audience and my fans. I would hope not. We’re at an age where ADD is at an all-time high, and the attention span is quick. So if you’re not consistent with dropping quality material, they’ll be like, “Fuck this nigga. I’m gonna go on to the next one.” When you in the streets and you’re a battling nigga, or you’re a rapper who really gets it in, niggas gonna love you for that, because the streets is gonna always be the streets. The streets gonna always be the streets, no matter where you from. The Internet changes at a fast pace, but the streets stay at the same level.
DX: I asked you that, because I spoke to an artist before, and they said their audience isn’t as in tune with the Internet and things of that nature. So when everyone was buying CDs, the playing field was more equal for them, but as things have gone digital, their audience hasn’t gone digital to match that.
Bodega Bamz: The thing is, you have to have control of both those sides. It’s not total control, ‘cause there has to be balance. You have to be a street nigga to have that street fan base—that radio, old school Hip Hop. But you gotta have the Internet to have the kids. The youth run everything, but the youth ain’t on the streets. The youth are behind keyboards, Twitter and Facebook. They’re not in the streets no more. You have to have both, and you have to balance out both. Once an artists can do both…he’s out of here.
DX: How do you feel about performing in venues like this, as opposed to performing for your own individual shows?
Bodega Bamz: It’s unbelievable. To share the stage with legends, to share the stage with up and coming legends, to share the stage with such professional and artistic rappers, it’s a blessing. I ain’t supposed to be here. I ain’t supposed to be sitting here right now talking to you. CNN said I was supposed to die. I was supposed to be in jail right now, and I ain’t owed nothing. So when I’m here, I’m humble on whatever stage I hit—be it me in front of five people or me in front of 5,000.
DX: Speaking of CNN, the media tends to push the word “nigga” off on Hip Hop. Whenever someone gets exposed for saying it, they try to put the blame on Hip Hop and Hip Hop artists. They say, “Well the Hip Hop artists can say it, why can’t somebody else say it?” How do you feel about that?
Bodega Bamz: I feel everybody can’t use that word. I feel the only people that can use that word is Latinos and blacks, because Latinos and blacks are one. I feel whites shouldn’t use that word. I feel there’s no reason, no reasoning behind them saying it. Don’t say it around me because I feel uncomfortable. Certain whites feel comfortable doing that…that’s they prerogative. I just say Latinos and Blacks—since we are one, and since we are minorities—we are able to say that word. It’s crazy, because when I say the word, people come at me crazy, like, “How is he saying that?” Where I’m from, it’s a term of endearment. That’s a term of, “What up? My peoples, my friend!” People always want to turn a positive into a negative. Instead of calling niggas out for using the “N-word,” why don’t they big that black man up, big that Latino up that he’s making something of his self? We ain’t using the ER. Nobody is using the ER, and we put the A on the end for a reason. We’re turning a negative into a positive.