Bas has a keen, 21st century artist’s understanding of how to grow and maintain a loyal audience. The genial conversational style that the Dreamville rapper has cultivated between himself and his most ardent fans comes naturally — because it’s the same one he uses when talking to close friends. One particular shorthand that his supporters have latched onto is the word “milk,” both he and they use the word liberally.
In some darker corners of the internet, the “glass of milk” emoji is associated with white nationalist ideology, in the Bas fandom it’s far more innocuous, and smashing it on the keyboard adds extra emphasis to online conversations. Curious about the expression, at once an adjective, a noun, a state of being and a term that somehow sums up his laidback but self-possessed nature, it seemed like the best place to start a conversation with the rapper on a mid-August evening in Prospect Heights.
“It’s a term that originated among friends of mine in the past few years,” Bas explained, stoically sipping his drink as the backyard space of the bar where we’re seated got louder and more crowded. “It’s kind of like ‘sauce’ or ‘drip’ […] just a word we use for anything dope. I think that’s a Queens thing, we’re constantly taking words and giving them new meanings.”
Abbas “Bas” Hamad was raised in Queens and was deliberate about being close to home for the release of his third studio effort, aptly titled Milky Way, released this past August. But his story began in Paris, where he was born to Sudanese parents. His father’s work as a diplomat led to an itinerant lifestyle and the family — rounded out by his mother, sister, and brothers — moved back and forth between France and Qatar before settling in New York when Bas was eight-years-old. So while he does consider himself a New York rapper, it has more to do with the city’s melting-pot reputation than loyalty to regional signifiers.
A pair of mixtapes — Quarter Water Raised Me Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 from 2011 and 2013, respectively — set the stage for his full-length debut, Last Winter, in 2014. His most commercial release up to that point, the album introduced Bas to a wider audience. Its tracklist, featuring songs like “Fiji Water In My Iron” and “Donk Of The Day”, teased a lighthearted approach to music, but it was far from a parody album. Last Winter was a window into the life of a rapper coming to terms with life as a rising star. Bas raps over beats inspired by salsa music, trap, electronic music and piano-driven melodies with equal ease, detailing the excesses of life on the road. He also found inspiration for it far from Queens; the beat for “My N—- Just Made Bail” was unearthed in Belgium, while Bas was on tour with Dreamville founder J. Cole who features on the song.