Cole, Keyboards, & “Cousins”: Catching Up With Bas On Tour
With social media and of course blogs, the internet is seen as the proving ground for up and coming emcees. While the world wide web is important, it shouldn't be the end all be all. I'd argue that a great live show is just as important, if not more so, than any blog or website post. Look at indie stalwarts like Strange Music or Funk Volume; both are successful because of their rigorous touring schedule. Live shows are a great proving ground for an emcee. If someone is on the fence about an artist, or worse has no idea who they are, a great live performance will make them a fan for life. If you don't come across well live, it will be hard to have a long, successful career. For evidence of this, look no further than Dreamville emcee, Bas.
Before last night, I was more of a curious observer than a fan. I, like most, know his name through J.Cole - "Cousins" is still getting regular spins a year out from its release - and though I have been following him a little more carefully since, I can't say I was his number one fan. After all, I have yet to really sit down and marinate on his latest body of work, debut set "Last Winter". It's up there on a long, long list of projects, but I just haven't had the time to give it my proper attention. So, when I saw Bas' first headlining tour, the aptly titled the Last Winter Tour, had a leg in D.C, I figured it was the best way to really get to know his music. If he can impress me live, I don't even need to listen to the album (though I totally will).
As I waited for Bas to take the stage I looked around at the diverse crowd in the warehouse-esque basement of U Street Music Hall, and I couldn't help but think about how Bas would feel about taking the stage. After opening for Cole on a worldwide tour, headlining your own show at a smaller venue might be a little bit of a let down. Sure, being the big gun must be fun, especially since this is his first headlining trek, but that transition must be different. After the show, I got a chance to chat with Bas for a minute, and asked him what the transition from opener to headliner has been like.
"I started out with Cole on the "Dollar And A Dream" Tour and when the Fall came around we went on the "What Dreams May Come" Tour; the big "Born Sinner" tour. I had an opening gig on that and when we took it to Europe I was the supporting act on that, so my sets kept getting bigger. It was kind of the perfect transition. I went from one song, which were some of my first shows, you know, getting my feet wet, and building up confidence to 15 minute sets and 30 minute sets in Europe. Then after, I started doing college shows, which were 45 minutes or so, and now we're up to an a hour. So I had a really good transition and learning curve; if I had to start with an hour I would have been like a deer in the headlights. Actually, the "What Dreams May Come" Tour was interesting because it's all four or five thousand seated theaters and it's great practice, I feel, because it's the toughest environment to crack. So I learned a lot about being personable. Because if they don't know your words, which they don't because you are an opener, you got to sell 'em on something else. Something to give them that little energy to fuck with your music, you know, talking with the fans, cracking jokes, whatever. So I got to develop a lot of that on the tour and now our show is pretty refined."
Refined is the perfect way to put it. It might be his first headlining tour, but Bas seemed like a veteran. I have been to shows from artists who have been around for years and they didn't appear as "ready" as Bas. Whether it was his jumping around on stage or his regular crowd interaction he looked at home and at peace. He also had one of the more interesting set-ups I have seen on tour. Some artists go with just a DJ, some go with a live band, but Bas combined a little of both; he had a DJ and a keyboardist. The combination brought the best of both worlds; that booming, party atmosphere you get from a DJ and the musical, more artistic style you get from a live band. I never want to see a show that sounds exactly like the album--why do I need to pay money to hear you rap over your own track or recreate a song I already have on my phone?--and the man on the keys, Ron Gilmore (a frequent producer for Cole and Bas) gave it a unique, refreshing edge.
As I mentioned earlier, "Cousins" is one of my favorites from Bas, and although I have heard it a thousand times, last night it was a completely new experience because instead of the standard (yet dope) beat, he rapped over Gilmore's keyboard-only backed version; which is not easy and really tests an emcee's range. That's exactly what I look for in a live show; an experience different than the album that you won't get anywhere else but a live show. Don't worry, I asked him about that too.
"We were in rehearsals, like three days before the tour started, putting the show together and we thought it would be cool to do. "Cousins" is like the first place the Dreamville fans got acquainted with me and we've been doing it for a year, so we wanted to do it in a different, special way."
Well, I'm glad they did, because it's what officially sold me on Bas. The keyboard, and more importantly, his ability to rap over it, was that unique hook I was looking for. It was compelling and very different. That's the kind of thing that gets people talking and shows people he's more than just "Cole's guy." Obviously, Cole is an important part of his life and a tremendous asset to have, but I always wondered if it gets frustrated always being linked to him. I mean, anyone who can kill a piano-based remake of "We Made It" deserves some attention regardless of the company they keep. So, how does he feel about it?
"The most important thing is don't be foolish, don't be too prideful. A lot of people would have that issue, but I'm so confident in my music and my show and my fans that there's no shame in it. Who else would I want to be signed to? That's my brother. People are going to say what they want to say, but the proof is in the shows, it's in the fans, it's in whose buying your tickets and your albums. I want to be successful for Cole, for all the guys that build the platform for me. There's no shame in it. For me it's [a] family."
I went into the evening as a causal observer and left as a fan. Bas has a great head on his shoulders, a great perspective (he really seems to enjoy where he is at and what he's doing) and of course a boatload of talent; I am expecting big things. Now, with a Dreamville/Interscope deal, and another new album in the works, you should expect big things from Bas. Oh yeah, and go catch his "Last Winter" tour. Who knows, you might even get yanked up on stage to rap (yes that happened...twice).
P.S. Not to make this seem like a shameless promotion (I promise, it totally isn't), but if you are compelled to check out the tour (and live in Atlanta), I'd recommend entering our contest for a chance to win tickets. Click here for more info!
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is "College Dropout", but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @Lgarrison88.]