Bahamadia Speaks On Artistic Integrity & Hip-Hop Womanhood, 20 Years After Kollage (Interview)

On April 2, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania MC known as Bahamadia celebrated the 20th anniversary of her debut album, Kollage. From her early success on radio to arriving where she is now, Bahamadia carries along with her the observations made along the way. However, the major milestones in her career are not always the ones she remembers most distinctly; rather, it’s the tapestry comprised of divinely ordained interactions along the way which resonate most profoundly with her today. Like the time Teena Marie called her mom’s house and ended up flying her out to record. “We thought it was like a prank call or something,” she recalls while laughing. “I was supposed to be at her place for like, three days. I wound up staying at Teena’s house for like three weeks. We went to the studio where [Michael Jackson’s] Thriller was recorded. It was crazy.”

Bahamadia’s legacy is something that she thinks about often, but not because she’s ready to give it any finite meaning. Rather, she is only now able to fully grasp her own achievements. As she tells it, “I’ve been in a dream state since 1993. The stuff that has happened to me in my life in terms of my artistry and stuff like that, I am just now coming down off the high. First of all, I have to wrap my head around the fact that I ever even accomplished that goal, you know, coming from a basement somewhere and next thing you know…my first tour was with The Fugees. So imagine you’re coming from doing a single and then working with Gang Starr. So I’m working with people I’ve always loved. So I’m going from watching them on TV to now we’re in the studio. And D&D [Studios] on top of that! It was crazy. It’s been a ride.”

Ambrosia for Heads: This month signals the 20th anniversary of Kollage. Do you remember where you were when you first decided to record your debut LP? What are some of the events which allowed for such an undertaking to take place?

Bahamadia: Well in ’93 I put out “Funk Vibe,” and that’s what led to the situation with Gang Starr in the first place. So when that happened, I was like “Okay, well yeah, I probably should start working on a project.” After I got with Guru to work and the “Funk Vibe” thing took off, the first thing he did was go in the studio and record “Total Wreck” and in the process of that, I didn’t have time to plan or think of anything. You know how usually back then, you had to have a demo or if you worked with a production company you had the luxury of doing a volume of songs and taking the best songs out of those and keeping them for the final project. Every song that I recorded on Kollage was basically one-take stuff. So, there was no planning. I didn’t even know “Total Wreck” was a single. That’s how fast things went, and that’s how Guru was. He’d go in there and next thing you know, the record is pressed up! So we didn’t sit down and say “this, this and this.”

Ambrosia for Heads: From Da Beatminerz to Guru and DJ Premier and The Roots, the album is laced with some heavyweight sounds. Did you begin with your Philly family and work outwards?

Bahamadia: Well I had enjoyed some regional success in Philly, and it was literally the non-traditional route. I literally had a single with no artwork, no video. From there, I was like, the first regional artist from the area to perform at Powerhouse – which was like, our Summer Jam – our big concert in Philly for Power 99FM. I was the first artist to ever do that as a rapper. So from there, my stuff was already on rotation and the Roots had already done Organix and “Proceed” was out [from Do You Want More?!!!??!], but it wasn’t getting the [radio] support regionally, really. It was all still underground at the time. So they asked me to be on the remix [“Proceed 3“], and I didn’t even know them at that time. I met Tariq [Black Thought] first, I met him at a record store. So that’s how that came about.

Ambrosia for Heads: It goes without saying that your name is frequently mentioned in conversations discussing the best female MCs, but there are schools of thought that take issue with the notion of “female MC,” as far too often that conversation exists outside of conversations of the best MCs ever – lists typically comprised of only men. What are your feelings about that cultural divide?

Bahamadia: To me, I just feel like…well, I haven’t really had a lot of that said to my face my whole career. But people have been feeding me fragmented information about my legacy, which is frustrating. To date, nobody has done any justice in terms of really documenting accurately the contribution that I’ve made towards Hip-Hop, towards the global community of Hip-Hop. And they might call you arrogant for wanting to verbalize your accomplishments, but like…that’s your resume, though.

Ambrosia for Heads: And if a man brags in is lyrics, he’s not always called arrogant, it’s called a part of being an MC.

Bahamadia: Exactly. And so with that being said, I don’t really pay too much attention to it. Like I said, I haven’t heard that to my face. I think that if it doesn’t apply, just let it fly. It’s like having a debate about religion or politics. Like, it’s a bottomless pit that just breeds confusion because at the end of the day, people are going to acknowledge things according to their level of understanding or where they got the information from. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove because I know that my legacy speaks for itself. You’re always relevant to someone somewhere. So I don’t go by any rules or any standard because I know that I am the standard when it comes to doing what I do. Like, who am I competing against? Life is about becoming the best you can be in any circumstance. And, you know, along the way I’ve heard things about being woman and “she’s hard to work with” or whatever, and it’s like…she’s hard to work with because she’s knowledgeable about intellectual property. Because she’ll negotiate to get a portion of your masters because she can have a conversation about how she was valuable to you. That’s what we need. We need to share that knowledge, to actually sit down and talk. We need to talk about ways to move us forward as a collective. Like, what do you know about journalism that can be beneficial to me? What do I know about songwriting that can be beneficial to you? Women need that. Our survival is at stake. There’s so many of us globally and so much of the time we don’t have any voice. Imagine if Nicki Minaj wore a Bahamadia T-shirt in a video or something like that. Or if she had a poster in the background of Rah Digga or somebody. She wouldn’t have to say anything.

Ambrosia for Heads: You’ve been deeply involved with organizations like Women of Hip-Hop as well as your own imprint, B-Girl Records. Could you speak to why there is such value in promoting your fellow women within the context of Hip-Hop culture and what your ultimate goals are with this work?

Bahamadia: We need more support, and we need it to come from an internal place. It needs to come from amongst our own peers. We need more genuine comradery between women in all facets of the industry, and things need be done more as a collective.

Ambrosia for Heads: Has there been enough progress made to that effect, or is there still way too much to be done?

Bahamadia: I’ve been too busy doing the work that I can’t really assess. One thing I’ve seen that has changed is that things are more level. Because of the internet, we transitioned from the industrialized age to the information age, the digital age – whatever you wanna call it. With that being said, now there is a true DIY culture so if you’re an entrepreneur, you have a chance to more directly impact things, universally or globally. So I think that that’s a plus. Now you can go on somebody’s YouTube channel and see the numbers.

Ambrosia for Heads: You cut a record with Lauryn Hill, Precise, and Uneek called “Da Ladies In the House,” a single for Big Kap. With his recent passing, were there any memories of working with him or shooting the video that you revisited?

Bahamadia: [Big] Kap was so nice and really inviting. One day we were all at the studio working on stuff and he just approached all of us and asked us to be on his record. It was that simple. We didn’t know it was going to turn into what it was. Went to the studio, to D&D, and we had to go to Tommy Boy [Records’] office. Now that was crazy. But, I mean. The session was good. It was excellent. Then it came time to do the video, and you know, Biggie was there. And like, I think three of four days before that, I had an early show at HOT 97 and he was there. He was real nice, we took pictures and stuff. Man, he was very nice. And then he came to the [Big Kap] video. He stayed, too. He wasn’t all Hollywood, and he was big then. Yeah, that was a highlight.

Ambrosia for Heads: It’s been 10 years since you released your most recent solo project. In that decade, where have you been channeling your creative passions?

Bahamadia: I’m doing a lot of mentoring, creative workshops and stuff like that. I’ve been working on my own label, B-Girl Records for five or six years now. I had some personal issues – my mom transitioned – so I’ve been dealing with that loss. So we’ve been filtering the experiences through the writing. Not every song, per se, but there’s just the energy of me evolving into a different person, given such a great loss happened to me so abruptly. And just livin’, you know? Documenting things, focusing on the production and stuff like that. And journaling. I’ve been journaling for a while. I’m going to turn it into a memoir or somethin’.

Related: Bahamadia’s “Uknowhowwedu” Remains an Undeniably Groovy Jam, More Than 20 Years Later (Video)