"There’s so much fakery out there isn’t there? I think there always was but I seem to be increasingly aware of it at the moment – maybe it’s the moon" - Attribution Unknown.
There's no attribution to a cliche. Cliches tend to become cliches overtime because they're simply just always true. Regardless of people, places or things, the elemental core is always just true.
Travis Scott said "You can't buy swag." I'd argue you can, depending on what one's definition of swag is, but I get what Cactus Jack is saying. If by "swag" one means "merch" well, you sure can. Unless it's Scott's merch. Scott's merch is typically sold out so quickly one would have to be earlier than a Tokyo sunrise to "buy swag." Neither here nor there. What you can't buy, I'd say, is authenticity. Raw, heartfelt, staunch, keep-it-a-buck-born-in-them-skreets realness.
You either have it or you don't.
Bodega Bamz has it. Bodega Bamz been had it. Bodega Bamz is who other cats pretend to be.
The half Dominican, half Puerto Rican East Harlem multi-hyphenate has been a staple of NYC culture for a decade, whether you have heard of him or not. He came up in 2011, putting out indie music in the bodegas of Spanish Harlem with clothing, giving back to the community that made him, and never compromising a gottamn thing.
At that time, other artists of latinx decent in urban music were just not embracing the "latino soul" - instead choosing to more-so assimilate into pop culture's mainstream urbanity. Not Bamz. He embraced the El Barrio lifestyle so strongly that if you're from Manhattan, you can't help but picture him when anyone says Spanish Harlem. If you don't picture him, you don't know New York.
Growing up in El Barrio, Bamz used his surroundings as inspiration for his lyrics. Bamz started recording music over a decade ago and is part of the Tanboys movement, a Latino collective helping to uplift and promote culture. Bamz does this through his lyrics and is proud to showcase his heritage.
“A big thing about us is that we’re proud to be who we are and where we come from. Tanboys is a collective, it’s a movement,” he says. Everything he does comes from this heart of truth and light for his people, his story and his vision.
The 2012 critically acclaimed mixtape release of Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z, showcased his artistry and solidified his place in the hip-hop community. Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. includes features from ASAP Ferg, Joell Ortiz, A$ton Matthews, and Flatbush Zombies. Bodega Bamz teamed up with The Martinez Brothers and released an EP, Sunday Service in 2014, featuring a cover that looked like a 70's NYC B-film.
In 2015, Bodega Bamz released his highly acclaimed debut album work, Sidewalk Exec. Exec cemented his place in rap's global culture, making Bamz the latino MC du-jour who wasn't a "latin rapper." He was instead just a great rapper who just so happened to be latino. There's a massive difference.
Bamz & rapper Kevin Gates get sliced up in East Harlem.
In 2018, footwear giant Reebok teamed up with Bamz to drop a sneaker to celebrate Spanish Harlem's narrative. It's Bamz’s dedication to his craft is what has built him the authentic fan base he has now. And Bamz says he couldn’t have done it alone—nor would he want to. For him, it’s about bringing the people around him along for the ride as well. It’s about the bigger message, the heart of his music and who he does creates for: his community.
His community he has carried on his back from one rung of the ladder to the next. He transcended music in 2019, and showcased another one of his talents by making his acting debut in his own cult film The Streets Owe Me, Hell Train and most recently cast in the Showtime series, SMILF.
We caught up with Bamz this spring in Harlem for Caribbean Heritage Month.
AX: Bamz ! You are back my brother! Since back in the day you’ve been my boy and in the years we kinda lost track of each other a lot changed, and all for the better. You’re an actor now, you got a real role on Showtime series SMILF, the NYC OGs and gatekeepers have all co-signed you, and you’re in stronger mental and physical shape. Hard charge, papa. What’s the last few years been like?
BB: Been a rollercoaster... lots of good, bad and ugly moments for sure...but one thing I’ve realized about myself is how resilient I am. I’m never out the fight. It’s just all preparation for what’s to come.
AX: Obviously you’re the type of artist who is not just here for the flex and fuckery. You’re almost what I would consider almost a sage like figure uptown, telling the stories most ignore and in the process crafting a soundtrack for the latinos in Spanish Harlem. what does all this mean and what does Bodega Bamz stand for?
BB: I stand for truth and originality. Sticking to one way. Win, lose or draw. Not changing with the times but almost having the times change for you. I was never in it just for the money and fame. I really want to be considered one of the most influential respected artist in my city. And that doesn’t happen overnight.
AX: With the latest project KING that you dropped in March, you dug up one of the most iconic horn samples of all time and came out fucking swinging. Does this drop feel different, like you really are laying down the gauntlet on this one. What’s the story behind the KING energy?
BB: Just one of those samples that haven't been flipped in hip hop in many years ...or in recent memory... and I just wanted to take a stab at it.. and do what I can do best..talk my shit. Obviously the sample is a huge nod to Caribbean-Latino culture, and New York.
AX: Everyone knows your presence is felt in NYC. But for those outside the Manhattan Metro - tell the people WHY they need to get hip to Bodega Bamz?
BB: Because I am NYC. I am Spanish Harlem. I am Latino. I am a renaissance man. My reach is bigger than just NY. My presence has always felt bigger than just NYC. Just gotta wait my turn.
Bamz and close childhood friend, the late, great A$AP Yams before stardom.
AX: TanBoys is a movement. It’s not a hashtag. It’s not some lame duck party series. It’s really a nation within East Harlem that can’t be ignored any more. You’ve got merch selling out, shows sold out, and this super authentic cult following most rappers would never obtain without being a “pop star”- how did that happen?
BB: I’m super grateful and humble to be giving an opportunity. Any opportunity. I don’t even know how it happen exactly (laughs). Or like even when, or why. But it all started with faith. Everything fell in its place at the time it was supposed to. God knows exactly what he’s doing, what he did, and what he’s about to do.
AX: If i want the most fire latin food in Spanish Harlem, where you taking me?
BB: Mannnnn there’s a spot called “Santiago’s” in Spanish Harlem it’s fire! The Oxtails is my favorite dish in there! No contest.
AX: In addition to the music and acting you’re also a underground style icon. Harlem is the style and sauce capital of America in my opinion anyway but you really put your own sazon on it. Describe your style ?
BB: Raw. Loud. Brave. Original. Charismatic. Fashion & style are two different things to me. Anyone can have, or buy, fashion. You are born with “style” - it’s in you not on you.
AX: What was this past year like during Covid and the tyranny rule of Trump who really attacked latinos hard body. Did that fuel you to tell your story even louder and better?
BB: Last year was just a eye opener for life in general. Nothing is promised, heard me? Everything and anything can be taken in a split second. Become a better person. Pray more. Love more. Give back more. And pray again. God is and has been so so good to me and my family. He gets all the glory and praise.
AX: Besides Bodega Bamz who are the Top 5 NYC spitters the people need to bump asap?
BB: Ahhh ...top 5? Bodega , Bodega, Bodega, Bodega, and BODEGA...TANBOYS 100 KEEP IT PAPI.