Bas Spills the Milk
Today, Bas releases the first volume, or “crate,” of Spilled Milk, his latest project under the American record label, Dreamville. Founded by J. Cole and Ibrahim Hamad, the label has an all-star roster; with influences ranging from South African House music to Brazilian Baile funk, this drop features fellow Dreamville rappers, EarthGang and J.I.D. With periodic releases throughout August, the full project will be available by the end of the year. In between travels, Bas visited us at Milk Studios NY to give us the 411 on what it means to be “Milk.” Want a taste? Listen here.
Oh, that’s something that started in Queens, in our neighborhood. I guess some people use the word “sauce.” We just always gravitated to “milk.” I think there’s something about the aesthetic. It’s clean, it’s silky, it’s smooth. So you could ask a homie, “Yo, how my outfit look?” It’s milk, you know what I mean?
What are some other examples of using “milk” in a sentence?
“I went on this date.”
“How was shortie?”
“Oh, she was milk!”
That’s milk. She’s milk. I milked it. The party was milk. Japan was milk. It really applies to anything that you find dope — kinda reimagined the word a little bit.
We were just speaking about Japan. Why were you in Japan?
I went with my friend [Derek] Ali, MixedbyAli. He’s a recording engineer who mixes all my stuff. He’s TDE’s in-house guy. He was doing a workshop at a music college out there, to kind of talk to kids about his engineering practices; he brought me along as an artist that he works with.
You’ve lived in a bunch of different places – Paris, the US, you spent your summers in Sudan, growing up. When did you begin to realize what a blessing it was to be exposed to all this culture when you were younger?
Maybe late high school, early college — when you start to build your identity more, as far as a grown-up or adult; you start to think about the things that shape you and the things we draw from. And also the vast, majority of my friends who are African American, they’ll always remind us, it’s dope to know where you’re from. As you grow older, it gives you perspective. It’s just dope to be able to trace your roots because therein lies your identity and your traditions, your customs, your people. You don’t think about those things when you’re a kid. You know what I mean? The world’s not that deep. The more you start to form conscious thoughts, it just made me more and more grateful for it.
Obviously, your life is super rooted in music, but was there anything else about the culture that you were really excited to find out is a part of you?
When I go home, I notice that entertainment there is conversation. Entertainment is not like going to the movies or all of us sitting in a room and staring at a screen. It’s everyone sitting around a table drinking tea and talking for hours on end; talking or singing songs together. Nobody puts on the radio, we just start singing songs. I realized, just even growing up, myself and my family, we’ve always had a very large social circle which has benefited us greatly. We got a lot out of our social network, but I also realized that that is an inherently Sudanese trait that just made us very social people. When I go home, I see it’s in the fabric of everyday life.
What are the main topics of conversation?
It’s like neighborhood talk or barbershop talk. But everywhere. I don’t know what hair salon talk is like, but I’m sure it’s along the same lines as barbershop talk. Guys get together and have their talks, the women do too. I wouldn’t say it’s anything like deep or philosophical — obviously any talk can get there, but it’s literally just for the sake of conversation. Like nobody even locks their doors! You know what I mean? You could be sleeping on the couch, and someone will just sit next to you like, “What’s up?”
Very different than Paris! What aspects of art were you drawn to in these places?
Paris has such unique architecture and art. So many dope museums. There’s a lot of world history there. It’s the same in Sudan; houses are built different, some of them are really old. I went and saw the pyramids, the ancient Nubian pyramids. Those are like 4,000 years old. Just visually getting out of New York, it’s just world-changing. Just the way you perceive structures, buildings, the things in front of you — it all changes. I spend so much time here, it’s like concrete slab after concrete slab, you know? And then you go out there, and you can drive through the desert for two hours just to get to a group of 40 little pyramids.
Now to focus on your music… “Spilled Milk” is coming out at the beginning of September…
We’re starting August 9th, by releasing the first four records. And between then and the end of September, there’ll be a full 10 songs released. They’re all pretty much collaborations, it’s just continuing in the spirit of this year for us, which has been very collaborative as Dreamville and for myself. It’s just fun to make records with people that I consider friends and my peers. We get to release to the world at a more immediate rate. We get so caught up in album cycles and label album cycles and everything has to be so calculated. We’re moving to an age now in music, with how big streaming has become, that you kind of have way more freedom. And I’ve never really taken advantage of that. I just want to push myself out of the norms and out of the comfort zone, just to get more music out, really that’s the end goal.
You’re releasing in little capsules called “crates,” and each crate has a stylistic change and sound — what was your method in crafting this release?
It was a balance of obviously featuring artists from our label; the first one has EarthGang and J.I.D. But also knowing what I bring to the table that’s a little bit different and unique to myself, which are some of the worldly sounds I incorporate. So the other two songs, one is like a Brazilian Baile funk sample, the other one is South African, Afro-House inspired. So it was kind of trying to build a balance between rap and world music. Obviously, I rap, but at the same time, world music has always been a part of my music, my discography. I want to give people both.
So what was the timeline of you working on this specific project?
A few of the songs started in Atlanta at the Revenge of the Dreamers sessions, for the 10 days we were down there and then I did some in South Africa. Since December of last year, we’ve been working on this record.
Do you feel like you had to cut a lot of it out or did you just immediately know this is it?
I knew what I wanted to do with it. I’m working on three different projects, you know? So when I do songs I kind of know like which sound and what energy it fits the most. Those are the ones that, for this album, it just felt appropriate. It had, like I said, a very collaborative vibe. It wasn’t necessarily about just showcasing my sound, but showcasing my ability as a collaborator, and how open my process is; how I’m able to either go into the collaborator’s world or bring them into mine. Those were the goals, you know? A lot of the time, it’s almost more about being a producer, in the classic sense of it, not a beatmaker, I don’t make beats, but I know how to…
…find and combine the right people and take what you need from them. It’s such an amazing skill to have and see who works well with who.
Right, exactly. And how to become someone who is adaptable, easy to work with, and flexible. So, I think that’s really the energy of this project. It’s me having these canvases, and bringing in people I’m cool with and letting them do their thing.
You mentioned the South African House music and the Brazilian Baile funk that you bring into your own music — who do you listen to and where does that influence come from?
My older brother, dj mOma, he’s a huge Afrobeats DJ, but just in general with like world music, he’s always been the one to put me on to things and new sounds. I would definitely credit him and all his mixes. I’ll put on one of his mixes and I’ll text him like, “Yo, what’s this song at like 37:49?” I would credit him above anything.
Earlier this year when Sudan was facing major political unrest and turmoil, you really tapped into your audience to educate and enlighten people about what was going on. Were you surprised by the impact that social media had?
For sure. I think we all have a love-hate relationship with social media, and sometimes it just feels hella pretentious. Either nothing important gets said, or all the focus and attention is given to the least important things. It might you feel like, well, who would care? Who gives a fuck at the end of the day? And that can make you jaded and apathetic. You know what I mean? I probably was guilty of both, until it struck so close to home. Well, I gotta try something, you know? I had to speak from the heart and tell people how I felt. It was a pretty overwhelming response. Even my peers and other artists that supported, changed their avatars to blue or tweeted about it, or donated. We raised close to a half a million dollars on GoFundMe. So, those are all things that I didn’t think was possible. It gave me a lot of confidence to mature, in a certain sense, with my platform and realize that all this work we’ve been doing, it resonates with people. They don’t just listen to our music, which I thought was the deal.
I was reading about your family and that they’re all super musical as well. What do you think are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from them?
I’m the youngest of five, so I would say just the air, you know? All the music they’ve exposed me to, they’ve all had different tastes. My sister would listen to all this West African music. My brother would listen to like UK Garage and like Acid Jazz and French House. And I had another brother that was all into Tupac and Digital Underground. And another brother that was into Nas and 50 and Pov, like New York rap. So for me, it was just drawing from all of those, all of their tastes. When I listen to music I make now, I can pretty much pinpoint where I’ve drawn inspiration or what song in the catalog of my brain.
I was listening to your uncle [Bashir Abbas] this morning on YouTube.
He’s a G…he’s THE G. His cousin, my mom’s cousin, taught him how to play the oud. It’s still extremely tough for women in Sudan, but back then it was unheard of, for women to be famous musicians. It just was not going to happen. So she taught him her talents and he went on to become one of the biggest Sudanese musicians ever.
This could be music or not, but what keeps you excited?
Traveling honestly. To me, it’s like the only form of education that I really believe in at this point. That’s honestly the biggest perk of doing this music thing; you get to go everywhere and be hosted in places, and meet the local movers and shakers of whatever city you’re in. And get to experience the city as they would. It’s a true privilege. I just went to India for the first time, a couple of months ago, I was in Mumbai and that was unlike any experience.
It just gives you such a different perspective. Everything that you thought you knew, you’re like “Just kidding.”
What are your top three spots that you want to hit?
Top three… I want to go to Brazil. It’s pretty ignorant that I haven’t been yet. I want to go to Thailand or somewhere else in Southeast Asia. I’ve been to Japan like 10 times now, but I’ve never gone further because I’ve always flown from LA and right back. Ethiopia or Eritrea. I’m a quarter Eritrean, I have Eritrean blood. I’d like to see Asmara.
Any last bits of wisdom for people that look up to you?
Stay consistent, don’t get discouraged, and don’t ever think it is too late to become a better version of yourself.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Madeleine Dalla
STYLIST: Mazhané Rima-Fleurima
VIDEO: Xander Trop
Stay tuned to Milk for more music moments.