Bahamadia instinctually keeps her personal life private.
Despite being a part of Hip-Hop culture for over 30 years, the Philly-bred legend has managed to keep the focus on her music and art — not the messy politics that often come with the business. Soft-spoken in person, she erupts on the mic the moment it’s in her grips, rightfully earning her place alongside collaborators such as The Roots, Erykah Badu, Queen Latifah and the late Guru.
But as humble as Bahamadia is, she inherently knows her worth and has never succumbed to industry pressure to conform. As Bahamadia was coming up in the mid-1990s, Hip-Hop celebrated individuality and fostered a culture brimming with all types of artists, a stark contrast to the homogenized rap that’s currently dominating the mainstream. In 1996, Bahamadia dropped her debut album Kollage through Chrysalis/EMI Records at a time when hyper-sexualized rappers such as Foxy Brown and Lil Kim were just beginning their ascent and laying the blueprint for Nicki Minaj and Cardi B to follow decades later.
“I was in a very rare position where I was signed for my authentic self,” Bahamadia says. “I had full creative control. They didn't give me any flack about anything, not imaging or anything like that. It was super rare during that time when it was just starting to be about focus on branding and sex appeal and all that stuff. I just didn't have those issues at all.”
Rocking a long sleeve DKNY t-shirt, pair of denim jeans, headband and some hoop earrings, Bahamadia spit flames in the “3 Tha Hard Way” video alongside fellow female MCs K-Swift and Mecca Star over the DJ Premier-produced beat, ensuring the music and lyrics were the main attraction.
In 2021, rap has done a complete one-eighty, and aesthetics often overshadow the actual content of the music, especially when it comes to women. Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B scored a No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 mega-hit with the overtly raunchy sex anthem “WAP,” while other female artists such as Nicki Minaj, Lizzo and City Girls still rely heavily on their sex appeal to sell an album. Not to suggest there’s anything wrong with that per se—sex historically sells—but that doesn’t mean Bahamadia, or any woman for that matter, has to buy into it.
“Overall, I feel art is the expression of life,” Bahamadia says. “I feel the success of anybody at this time in the mainstream, particularly with Hip-Hop music, it's just indicative of the times. Art is going to reflect where we are as a species, where we are as a gender, what's being supported, what's being magnified on the mainstream platform. So to me, I honestly just feel like it is what it is.”
When asked what that says about society, she replies, “It says that the moral fabric is eroded. I can say that. I can say it needs to be more balanced and a more honest depiction of what our gender represents as far as diversity is concerned. That's an ongoing conversation since the inception of Hip-Hop and I don't know when there's going to be a true paradigm shift as far as that's concerned.”
And she’s right. Women have been historically marginalized and judged solely by their outward appearance since, what feels like, the dawn of time. It’s especially obvious in Hip-Hop, where misogyny and overt sexism go together like two turntables and a microphone.
After releasing two more studio albums—2000’s BB Queen and 2005’s Good Rap Music—Bahamadia hit the road and toured abroad. Along the way, she established her own imprint, B-Girl Records, as a vehicle to get her own music out without the need for a major label.
While she’s dropped various instrumental projects such as Dialed Up and Dialed Up 2, and done the occasional guest feature, she’s been sitting on her nearly mythical fourth studio album, HERE, for years. Fans got a small taste of the project in 2019 when she delivered a poignant video for “We Here,” an explosive women-empowering anthem that painted a perfect portrait of where her mind was at the time. But despite her desire for more camaraderie among women, it’s still a struggle.
“With the tool that social media is, what it has done is helped us to mobilize and connect, but I think it's more about survival in terms of the movement or one particular individual's movement, because you know the saying, ‘There’s strength in numbers.’ I don't think it's authentic, 100 percent. I think it's more about survival, more about networking as it pertains to hidden agendas. I really honestly believe that, unfortunately.”
She continues, “It’s political. If it's not of a hive mindset, then you’re inadvertently ostracized somewhat, but I think that's just the nature of the industry overall. But I feel sadden that it surfaces amongst us as women in the industry because we are so marginalized. I expect for us to adhere to a different standard or at least try to usher something in different than what we've been accustomed to all this time.
“I feel everybody has a right to express their own perspective and their thoughts as far as your tastes or whatever, but it’s like everybody's hypersensitive about anything. Like there's only one opinion.”
Although there’s been obstacles on her journey, Bahamadia recognizes she’s been one of the lucky ones. She never had to sell her proverbial soul to find success and was able to adhere to the same morals and ethics instilled by her parents at a young age. Certainly, no man could knock her lyrical abilities either—they were and still are superior. But unsurprisingly, she did sometimes encounter the blatant sexism that’s clouded the industry since it began.
“It was always about my business acumen being honored and respected, the choices that I made, just as a legend in Hip Hop and an entrepreneur,” she explains. “People have always respected just who I am as a leader. I was always faced with the challenges of having to haggle my rates or just various things.
“It could be something as standard as receiving production or production tape, beat tape or something where my male counterpart might get the top notch production. Then my ear is so that I can hear that you submitted some beats to me that either people didn't want, were throwaway beats or some shit like that. Just some crazy shit like that.”
When Bahamadia first started out professionally, she often fought these battles alone. But because she wrote all of her own music and honed her chops way before signing a deal, she had somewhat of a leg up.
“It was always clique-ish and I was always a standalone person,” she says. “I was never a part of any collective, really. Never a part of any crew. So when I came in, especially for my inception, with the exception of being associated with Guru through Ill Kid and all of that, it was the same thing. Being ostracized, singled out or made to feel like you're being difficult for asking for standard things that you know you should be receiving, getting the short end of the stick when it comes down to the pay and all that stuff. But that’s stuff we face in every industry.”
Those waiting on a new album from Bahamadia will have to continue being patient. She’s not one to put something out just for the sake of putting something out; the conditions will have to be right. However, one thing’s clear—she’s never stopped working.
“People act like they're amazed when they see me perform live and make comments like, ‘She still got it.’ How could you lose what the Most High God has given you though?"
Fortunately, those who know—know. And Bahamadia isn’t seeking outside validation to affirm how valuable she is to Hip-Hop culture.
“I don't have low self-esteem,” she says. “So, I don't need people to define me. I don't need a marketing team. I know who I am. I don't need strategists to give me a direction. I'm just being myself and just articulate who I am on beats myself.”
In May, she was given the opportunity to pay homage to Angie Stone at the Black Honors Music Awards. The two artists collaborated on the 2003 Erykah Badu song “Love Of My Life Worldwide” featuring Queen Latifah.
“It was awesome,” she recalls of the event. “The Sequence was there, Syleena Johnson, Avery Sunshine. It was really good.”
With the respect of Lauryn Hill, Latifah, Badu, Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca, to name a few, Bahamadia is moving forward confidently and doing what feels right for her.
“They're my creative peers,” she says. “But because I didn't have management or people in place to help support my direction and the business part of being a professional artist, I'm left to man all of this. So, the narrative is not being articulated correctly and that's frustrating. But at this point, I'm just going to just let the music do what it needs to do.”