When Bodega Bamz was in his early teens, he hit a blunt laced with angel dust. He got scared, and rushed to the most welcoming place he could think of at the time. “I ran into church, singing my coritos,” he says, referencing Spanish hymns. First, though, he made a stop at Hajji Deli Grocery, the bodega on the corner of 110th Street and 1st Avenue infamous for its mural of fallen hero Derek “Bloodshed” Armstead, a cousin of Cam’ron and once promising rapper who died in a car accident in 1997. Bamz was lucid enough to procure a bottle of water from Hajji’s, pouring it all over himself in an attempt to extinguish his trauma. “It was a bad trip,” he says. “[I would] fuck around and be the first nigga to die off weed. You know how fucked up that would be? If you died off smoking weed?”
He didn’t, and though he was promptly removed from the premises, he claims to have been back at church (sober) the very next week. The 27-year-old Puerto Rican/Dominican rapper, born Nathaniel De La Rosa, is laying out his drug history today from the living room of the modest Washington Heights apartment he shares with his younger brother and day manager, Ohla. His muscular arms filling out a thin black sweater over fitted black denim, he’s talked himself back to that day via a diatribe about the unrelenting smokiness at downtown hotspot Westway, where he partied earlier this week. Bodega Bamz is a style-rich New York City rapper, and as such, makes the rounds with downtown’s fashion conscious, but born and raised in El Barrio, Spanish Harlem, he’s on a mission to smuggle some of his own sabor into the party.
“In my music, I have a lot of congas,” Bamz says. “You hear a lot of horns, you hear cowbells, you hear a lot of Spanish representation.” A verbose and pugnacious lyricist in the vein of ’90s NYC cipher-killers, Bamz dropped his breakout mixtape, Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z., this past fall, featuring touchstones of Latino culture proper, including a Celia Cruz sample and a guest spot from one-time reggaeton king, Tego Calderón. With the tape also came the christening of a new genre, “latin trap,” and his Latino-inclusive, hashtag-friendly crew, Tanboys. Prior to that, he’d appeared on the ASAP Mob’s Lords Never Worry compilation as well as songs by fellow NYC upstarts Flatbush Zombies and World’s Fair, but he’s quick to differentiate himself from anyone else making rap music right now. “I can go to the Grammys, accept an award and then be at the Latin Grammys talking Spanish,” he says. “These niggas can’t do that. I rap wit curls, my nigga! We the new age Fania All-Stars.”
His next release, a Strictly 4 My P.A.P.I.Z. remix tape produced by Spain’s Slash Major and fitted with more salsa, merengue and bachata samples, will delve even deeper into an Afro-Caribe aesthetic. “You could put this shit on at a Dominican baby shower,” he says. It may sound counterproductive to release music for such a specific audience, but Bamz’ plan isn’t to escape his hood, it’s to be exalted there. “I wanna get rich, but money’s not important, because I’ve survived being broke,” he says. “I got women before music and I know how to dress without music, so I don’t need none of that shit. I’m doing this for the legacy. I need me and my brother’s name to be on the street corner in East Harlem. I need to have a mural.”
Bodega Bamz performs this Wednesday at Negro Claro in the Bronx. Details here.