Bas may be the second biggest act on J. Cole’s Dreamville Records, but the grind isn’t always as glamorous as you might think.
In a new TIDAL documentary called Too High To Riot, filmmaker Scott Lazer follows the Queens-via-Paris rapper on his headlining North American tour last summer, which also featured fellow Dreamville signee Cozz, Atlanta rap duo EarthGang, Dreamville producer/keyboardist Ron Gilmore and London indie outfit The Hics.
A must-watch for any up-and-coming artist, the 34-minute documentary captures the highs, lows and—most importantly—realities of tour life. Like eating, living and sleeping on a cramped (and probably not-so-nice smelling) tour bus for weeks at a time, rarely getting the chance to explore or enjoy the cities you perform in, and killing the time by playing shoot-the-soccer-ball-into-a-shopping-cart in a car park.
If that doesn’t sound like smooth sailing, there’s all the behind-the-scenes stuff to think about, too.
“People think, ‘oh, we going on tour. Boom, that’s it. Shit gets handled,’” says Cozz. “But you gotta find people for, one: that you trust; two: people that’s gon’ work hard and get your shit done. N*ggas be like, ‘I can’t wait to go on tour with you, bro.’ At first I’m like, ‘hell yeah, it’s gonna be fun!’ But anybody that’s gonna be on tour gotta fucking work. You gotta work from merch to all the little extra shit in between that needs to get done. That shit is a lot.”
There’s no rest for the wicked wounded on tour, especially a 26-city, two-month trek like Too High To Riot. During one stop, lighting director Warren G. Henry fell off stage while adjusting the lights, injuring his shoulder and falling unconscious. After being discovered laid out cold on the floor by another member of the crew, he was taken to the emergency room and had his arm put in a sling. He was back that same night to work the lights.
Beyond the logistical aspects—or indeed potential injuries—of touring, it’s easy to forget about the mental side of touring; the pressure, stress and anxiety that creeps in for both artists and managers trying to prove themselves on the road.
“There’s a lot of anxiety that goes into my position,” admits Derick Okolie, Bas’ manager. “I was tripping, like, ‘yo, am I wasting my time? Am I leading my friend down the stereotypical rap dream? Am I fucking up? On our tour, are we going to sell enough tickets?’” For vocalist Roxane Dayette of The Hics—the least well-known act on the tour—those doubts are doubly bleak: “It’s definitely to the point where sometimes you step back and be like, ‘do you want me here? Should I be here? Do I look like a beg? Do we look like we’re hanging on, like, ‘oh, we got some attention?''”
For those who can weather the harsh conditions of touring, however, the payoff is sweet—and not just because of the check. Aside from lining your pockets and building your fanbase (if you’re lucky), hitting the road is essential for any emerging artist to develop their craft. Just ask Bas.
“Where I was before Too High to Riot and where I am now is completely different,” the Dreamville rapper says. “My confidence keeps growing, my songwriting keeps growing, the ways you want to reach the fans. The more expansive your view gets, there’s more parameters that you can learn and control. That’s the fun part: it’s like a little jigsaw puzzle and to me, the road is the most important one."
For Cozz, a 23-year-old South Central native who probably rarely left his neck of the woods before hitting the road with J. Cole in 2015, touring not only builds his confidence but allows him to experience his growing popularity first-hand. “It’s a trip to me,” he says, rather surprised. “I had no idea I had fans in Baltimore. I’m getting tweets now, like, ‘yo I can’t wait to see come out.’ Canada, I got fans, apparently.”
As unglamorous as the road may be, touring is an essential part of being an artist, especially for an independent artist trying to establish themselves in the industry. Making great music is one thing, getting SoundCloud spins and blog posts is another. But bringing your music to life on stage is the most important—and often neglected—ingredient in becoming a successful artist with real staying power. That approach seems to be working out pretty well for Dreamville.
“At the end of the day, fuck every metric in the world—clicks, downloads, engagements, all that bullshit,” says Derick Okolie. “How many people are going to show up and wait three hours to just see you for 45 minutes to an hour so they can sing your music with them? That’s the realest metric.”
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.