25-year-old Boubacar Barry (b/k/a "Bou") has slowly, but surely made a buzz for himself in the DMV's rap scene. Since 2012, he's released four full-length mixtapes, rocked the mic in front of a large crowd at Washington D.C.'s famous Echostage venue, but continues to stay hungry. Recently, RapReviews reached out to Bou and he granted us an interview with him. The Silver Spring, Maryland native is a young and quite thoughtful emcee, giving us insight into his process, his come-up, how growing up in Silver Spring's Rosemary Hills region affected him, and what he's got in store for us for 2017.
Sy Shackleford: It's February 25th, 2017 around 2:30 PM. This is a RapReviews interview in the Shack House, I got DMV hip-hop artist Bou in here. We're about to chop it up, about what inspires him, what he's got next for us, and a little brief history as to his evolution as a hip-hop artist.
Bou: Shack House! Thank you for having me, man.
SS: Thank you for being here, Bou.
Bou: No problem.
SS: The first question I'm gonna start off with is, what was it that inspired you to do hip-hop music and become an emcee?
Bou: Well, music for me started a long time ago. As a kid, I played hand-drums, my mother would take me to this one dude's house who had a whole rack of different instruments. That's how I first got into music, period. Just bangin' on drums and testing out different instruments. So then, by the time I got to middle school, I was playing percussion in a band. By high school, I was playing percussion in the symphonic and concert band. By the time that I graduated, I never thought I'd be rapping... at all. Later, a few specific events happened in my life for me to just sit down and be like, "I'm 'bout to see what I can put down on paper."
My mother was a poet, she was into mystical poetry, writing and publishing her own poetry. So I feel that I kinda got the gift from her, the ideas from her. Then my man, Jason (aka JHarrisBeats) first started making beats, which he'd send me to have another ear, you know? Asking for my feedback. Then I started putting some words down to 'em, and that's how I started rapping! The inspiration came from seeing people actually vibe out to the music and tell me, "This is not bad, you should keep going!" That's the feedback I was getting from my community. But the musical inspiration came from all the music I'd listen to as a kid. My mother use to play a whole buncha stuff: From the Isley Brothers to Bob Marley to Paul Simon to country to even Chuck Brown. So I was listening to lots of different music growing up.
SS: Sounds just like my household too (laughs). A lot of people know you more for your rap skills, but most of them don't know that you came into music a percussionist as you just stated. Do you want listeners to be equally aware of both of your talents or is rapping enough for now?
Bou: Eventually, I want them to know that rap wasn't my first form of expression through music. It was learning music as a percussionist. I used to play the clarinet in the fourth grade, so just being exposed to music period before I even started rapping is an important part of my life, and I'd like people to know that eventually. But rap, right now, is at the forefront.
SS: How would you describe your style of hip-hop?
Bou: I say my style is more raw, real, passionate. My style is out-of-the-ordinary, I wouldn't say it's up-to-date like other rappers are. I think I have my own swag, my own vocabulary, my own flow. I wouldn't say it's old school or new school, I'd say it's a mixture of both. From the samples I choose to put IN the beats to the flow I put ON the beats, it's a mixture of the throwback shit and the new school. So, I would categorize it as that.
SS: What emcees influenced you as an emcee?
Bou: I remember the first rap CD I got was from my sister, she used to work at Kemp Mill Music on Connecticut Avenue a long time ago. It was the Pharcyde album, I don't remember which one, but it was a purple CD with all the members on it.
SS: Did it look like the members were in a funhouse mirror?
Bou: Yeah, that was it. I just remember vibin' out to that jount! My sister just kept bringing me CDs. I had a Public Enemy CD and more. I would just put them in and listen to them. Now, I didn't just pick up rap on my own. As a kid, it kinda just came to me. I just suggested it to her since, at the time, I'd be listening to only what my mom would listen to. So, that was my first introduction to hip-hop. Then I learned about 2Pac, Biggie, and I listened to a lot of Bob Marley as a kid. But there's a lot of artists I picked up inspiration from.
SS: I heard your "Spin It (Freestyle 50 Challenge)". You got somewhat political with social commentary on the first verse and then gave details about your personal life in the next. What would you say is the overall theme of "Spin It"?
Bou: That was me speaking on two different perspectives. In the initial hook, I was like, "They not gon' spin this. They not gon' spin this shit. I send em this, they'll send it right back!". In the content of the first verse was stuff that people really don't want to hear: Like what's going on socially, how we were about to have Donald Trump as President, how they don't want to see us make it, how the record labels are slaving artists, you know, stuff like that. And I put that in the first perspective because they don't play stuff like that on the radio. They don't play it at all, and I really don't think the industry wants you to hear anything about that. Then I changed my perspective in the second verse and in the hook for that one I said, "I bet they spin this. Watch 'em spin this shit!". And I spoke all the ignorance into existence, anything I've seen or heard, I just spoke it all into existence. And the moral of it was "They gon' play this, but they gon' play what I first rapped about". That was the whole scheme of that one.
SS: Yeah, radio is garbage nowadays.
Bou: Yeah! I agree.
SS: Three of your mixtapes "Rough Draft", "Thesis", and "Educated Crook" all seem to be tied together thematically as school related. Can you explain how that came about?
Bou: My mother was an educator, and she still is. She worked in Montgomery County school system for 20-plus years. As a kid, she always emphasized school work, homework, being smart, stuff like that. When I was younger, I used to run around and get into all kinds of trouble. But I had good grades, I always made sure I was on top of my work. I took that from her, and I always felt like education was important regardless of what you're going through, regardless of your family background, education is important. Learning is important, so I took an essay approach to my mixtape series with titles like "Rough Draft", "Thesis", and "Educated Crook".
SS: Which emcees, local and otherwise, would you like to work with and why?
Bou: Local and otherwise... locally, I worked with Lightshow on "Educated Crook". I'm a Fat Trel fan, sometimes here and there. I'm a Glizzy fan, part-time. I like Wale, I've listened to Wale for a long time.
SS: You were in one of Wale's videos, right?
Bou: Yeah, the one for "White Shoes". Let's see, who else... GoldLink, I like his flow. Chaz French is pretty good. Any other Silver Spring artists that's about their music and on top of their stuff, I'll work with any of them, I'm not really too picky. I like to collab and get work done, I like to build, I don't discriminate. But as for artists who've already made it that are up there... ? I could see myself working with J. Cole, Fabolous, Nipsey Hustle, people that keep the realness in their raps. Tell a story, keep it hip-hop, I respect that, I respect artists like that.
SS: In my review of "Educated Crook", I mentioned that because of the consistency of the production, JHarrisBeats should continue to produce the majority, if not all of your beats. Do you feel the same or are you looking to work with other producers as well?
Bou: Most recently I've been working with different producers. That tape ("Educated Crook") was pretty much my ode to our bond together. We (me and JHarrisBeats) came up in the same neighborhood putting this music together. Having similar dreams and achieving the same goals, that was my dedication to him and his to me: Educated Crook. And that's why I made him the main producer. In the last couple of tracks on there, "Side Bitch" and "On My Way", those were done by a producer named Young Clip, who's producing my whole next project. With that, I kinda stepped outta the JHarrisBeats, but I'm always willing to work with him. I've moved on to see if I can dip and dabble in different sounds and see what comes out of it.
Bou: Young Hustle! Young Hustle Music! It was started by me and a friend, Greg. It started as a brand, a platform for young people to come together instead of just representing the neighborhood. If we called it "Rosemary" or "Rosemary 88", it would catch flack because of where we're from or where we're located. We're from Silver Spring, but not everyone can relate to that. So, we had to come up with something that we could generalize as more universal, to bring everybody together so they feel included. And that was "Young Hustle"! We took the word "young" because we were young at the time, and we still are, and the hustle is always young. And then we took the word "hustle" because that's what everybody was doing, me and most everyone else. I know "hustle" might carry a negative connotation to it, but we mean it in a more aggressive and exhilarating way that you go about your dreams. It can be for athletes, scholars, anyone in school, anyone that's young working towards a goal, that's how we started Young Hustle. Then we incorporated the music, which is how the whole label thing came about.
SS: What's the biggest challenge for you when it comes to rap's creative process?
Bou: The hardest thing for me is trying not to be trendy and staying true to myself. A lot of people tell me, "You gotta dumb it down, you gotta dumb it down!" because that's what people are listening to and that's what the radio is gonna play, that's what's gonna get you exposure, that's what's gonna hit. You can't make a hit unless you dumb it down. The hardest thing for me is that I'm not that type of rapper. The pressure is on for me to make a hit, something for the younger demographic. So really, the hardest thing for me is staying true to my roots. Keeping my sound without trying to alter it for popularity purposes and gettin' out, you know what I'm sayin'? I think that's been one my biggest struggles recently. But before... ? I was just doing the music out of love, I just loved doing it. But now, I feel I have to be more business-minded, I gotta figure out a way for it to generate revenue and expand throughout the country and throughout the world.
SS: Make what you love work for you.
Bou: Exactly. So that's where I'm at now.
SS: You've opened for Juicy J from Three 6 Mafia, what was that experience like for you?
Bou: It was cool, man. It was crazy too.
SS: What was crazy about it?
Bou: Just the atmosphere. I never performed on a platform so big, it was Echostage. The roster was Bun B, Kirko Bangz, Juicy J, it was a lot of people that I opened up for. But I had a solid crowd in there, man. A solid crowd, I would say between 100-150 people in there, lots in there comin' to support me. I got in there, and we came early enough for the sound check. But as I saw the crowd developing, seen more people come in and come in, my nerves started getting to me. But I had a lil' drank in my system, so I was good (both of us laugh). I had to kill my nerves! I did my set, and the show turned out great, man. It was one of the best shows I ever had. If you wanna look at the footage, it's in one of my After Thesis Vlogs (link). But it was a great experience, it was fun.
SS: What are your top 5 hip-hop albums?
Bou: I'd say "All Eyez on Me" (2Pac); "Life After Death" (Biggie); "Me Against The World" (2Pac); "2014 Forest Hills Drive" (J. Cole); and "Reasonable Doubt" (Jay-Z).
SS: I figured you'd have "Reasonable Doubt" in there since on the opening track to "Thesis", you rapped over the "Can I Live" beat.
Bou: Yeah, that joint was crazy.
SS: Who are some of your favorite rap artists currently? Who does Bou have in his rotation?
Bou: I got a lil' bit of everything. From old school to new school, I don't really have a specific go-to. It all depends on how I'm feeling that day.
SS: Do you like any of the newer artists?
Bou: How do you mean "newer"? Like, this decade?
SS: Yeah, the Kendricks, J.Coles, French Montanas, et cetera.
Bou: Ok. Lil' Wayne, I listened to a lot of Wayne back in high school. Wayne, Eminem, Fabolous. Fabolous is so slept-on, especially when he dropped his "Soul Tape" series.
SS: I remember in college, I bought this mixtape, 'Fabolous vs. Joe Budden', both of whom were my favorite punchline rappers at the time.
Bou: Man, Fabolous got some slick talk, man.
SS: People say he's a Mase knock-off, but nah, he's better than Mase.
Bou: Yeah, I'd say he's way better than Mase, man. But lemme get into the newer artists. I listen to Future, I like Migos, I like Kodak Black. Yo Gotti, Gucci, I'm a Gucci fan... and Jeezy, I listened to a lot of him between '08-09. I listen to a lot of T.I., but I'm not really up on the Lil' Uzis, the Lil' Yachtys, I don't really listen to that.
SS: What are your thoughts on the current state of hip-hop?
Bou: I feel like it's so much going on in rap right now. It's not really rap, I mean, not just one genre of hip-hop. There's so many sub-genres of hip-hop culture because artists are so versatile now. People accept them how they are, people don't really criticize them for not sticking to "original hip-hop". They're being themselves and stuff like that. There's so many different levels of rap now that I feel that it's kinda oversaturated. Back in the day, when you wanted to get certain vibes, there was always one or two artists you'd listen to. Now it's endless, everywhere.
Plus, there's so many artists in the Trap category that there's different sub-genres of Trap now. Everything has trickled down to so many different roots, it's crazy. I wouldn't say the current state is the greatest, but I feel that there are still artists pushing forth and making that effort to keep the realness in music and I salute them so much for staying true to themselves and for trying to make a difference in the rap game. I think hip-hop is really gonna make a comeback and push the trendy hooks and watered-down music out. The state is aight, but at the end of the day, I'm tryna get in the rap game too. So I can't knock it too hard, you know? (*laughs*)
SS: Last question. You mentioned earlier that you got something planned for 2017. Tell us about that?
Bou: I got a mixtape I'm working on called "20/20", referring to the vision: The vision I have for myself, the vision I have for my team, the vision I have for my community, it's all becoming clearer every day. I used to dream about the stuff that I'm actually following through with now. So when your dreams turn into a vision, you start to see a lot clearer and things start to get closer. I'm still hungry for the top and this next project will explain everything I've been through in the past couple of years. It'll explain being almost five years in the rap game and all the frustrations, all the losses, and all the ups & downs I've been through in the music game. But it also has a more up-to-date sound. Like I said, it's produced by Young Clip, he's nice with the keys. Most of the beats we did, we started from scratch, and I was there for the production process. It's gonna be dope, it's gonna be a dope mixtape. I'm looking forward to releasing it and the videos for it and everything. So be on the lookout for that, "20/20!"