It all started one night in Lagos, Nigeria. The first time that Bas, the Queens-bred rapper signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville label, performed in front of an African audience was surreal. He’d accompanied Cole on tour following the release of KOD, the North Carolina rapper’s 2018 album. Bas, the son of two Sudanese immigrants, had gone to Nigeria just to kick it with his labelmate and longtime friend from Fayetteville.
But when Cole asked him to come perform a few songs, Bas planned to play two from his March 2016 album, Too High to Riot. “I figured we’d do ‘Housewives’ and see how it goes. By the time we get to ‘Night Job,’ Cole’s on that, so odds are they’ll know that one,” Bas said of the Lagos audience when we spoke backstage before his show in Nairobi, Kenya, last December. “But we started ‘Housewives’—Cole’s not featured on it—and it was just like 5,000 [fans] going word for word with me to the point where, at one point, me and Cole exchanged this look onstage, and we were like, What is going on?
“I almost forgot to rap my next bar,” he said with a laugh. “I was like, Oh, lemme get back to the show!”
For Bas, the audience response was flattering, but more important, it was confirmation of a dream he’d long been working toward: bringing Dreamville’s music, and American hip-hop acts, to Africa more regularly. “I remember calling Cole and being like, ‘We gotta stay longer than we usually stay; we can’t do the three-day trip,’” Bas said of the period before the Lagos show. “And really tryna explain to him that I think we’re in a really special time as far as, like, the continent and the culture coming out of it and the music being created … and just wanting to play my part.”