Baka Not Nice, Drake’s longtime friend and former bodyguard, has pivoted the last few years to a career as a rapper — a career path that was far from his mind following his release from prison in 2017.
“I was not supposed to be an artist or on a big stage like the one I’m on now,” Baka tells Billboard. “I never really had a plan because I was always angry, due to the fact that I sat in prison for so many years for something I didn’t do. I just wanted to get out and get my life back.” Fortunately for Baka, the time spent contemplating his future was a short one.
In 2017, the Montreal native signed with OVO Sound, but the hip-hop community was first introduced to the OVO stalwart on Drake’s “From Time” in 2013. Through his close ties with the OVO camp and aligning himself with a few people who were heavy in the rap game, music became a new passion for Baka, and a way for him to turn his life around. After a slew of namedrops from the OVO leader on records like “Know Yourself” and “Schemin’ Up,” Baka followed that up with brief appearances of his own on “Free Smoke” and “Gyalchester.”
Baka took the next step in 2018 making his official introduction with his debut mixtape 4Milli , which contained the breakout lead single “Live Up to My Name.” The track peaked at No. 77 on Billboard’s Canadian Hot 100 and recently earned RIAA-certified Platinum and Gold status in Canada and the United States, respectively. As the momentum grew, Baka began the process for the follow-up to 4Milli, but due to undisclosed reasons, the project was shelved.
For 2019, Baka is looking to overcome the minor speed bump and continue to build upon his rap career. He’s currently serving as a supporting act for Drake’s Assassination Vacation European Tour and he recently dropped his latest EP no long talk. The three-track EP continues to tell Baka’s story of real life situations — along with the occasional flexing, with features from Juicy J and U.K. grime artist Giggs.
It’s too early to tell where his new career will take him, but if you let Baka tell, it he’s fearless. “Nothing can scare me,” he says confidently. “I have been through hell, came out of hell, and now I’m in heaven.”
Billboard sat with Baka Not Nice as he spoke about his budding rap career, his new EP no long talk., his friendship with Drake and Giggs, what he’s learned from his OVO brothers and more. Check it out below.
Tell us about your first experience with hip-hop, and which artists inspired you to take a dive at rapping.
That would have to be when I was a kid listening to Kriss Kross. That was my first real encounter with hip-hop, because I was brought up in the church. My dad is a pastor and I was kept away from that type of vibe. But, you know, as you get older and get into high school, you start rebelling a bit more. That’s basically what happened with me, high school and Kriss Kross. As for inspirations, obviously Drake. Gucci Mane, Master P, Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls, and Pac. Oh, my bad, I can’t forget Big L, man.
How has your journey been throughout the music industry so far?
To be honest with you, when I first started, a lot of people didn’t want me to make music. A lot of people didn’t believe that I could do it and that was really the only roadblock that I’ve had so far. The reason being is because I did everything by myself. I didn’t ask for any handouts or favors. Drake didn’t even know I was making music. I would just run off when I had free time and I was just trying to branch out and figure shit out for myself. It’s like, “OK, what is Baka going to do now?” Music is like a drug to me. When I go on stage the energy that they give me is like a different high. It makes me strive to want it more and more.
Talk about the love you get from the fans. They really show out for your live performances.
It’s the most amazing feeling in the world. I love my fans. This wasn’t supposed to happen for me. When I go on my phone and see all these DMs of people wishing me the best, it drives me more. It’s a different realm from where I came from to now.
How did you first link with Drake and the OVO camp?
I had just got out of prison, and Preme had already been in the rap game with Drake and they were friends. I got introduced to him right away and since then we never left each other’s side. I met him on like a Tuesday, and by that Thursday, it was on and popping from there. [Laughs.]
What do you think you bring to the label compared to everyone else?
I think what I bring to the camp is that raw, street vibe. Just a person that been through real life situations, you know what I’m saying. My story is like, “You probably not making it home” — and the vibe is just a hard one, but at the same time, I know how to carry myself as a gentleman. A lot of the time I direct back at Drake, me on the outside looking in and learning. I’ve been sitting and watching everything.
What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned from your label mates?
Work ethic. I’m not doubting anybody, because I don’t know how another rapper works. I work with my squad, and our work ethic is crazy. You hear [Drake] say that he lives in the studio and he literally lives in that studio. Obviously, there’s room for partying and what not, but work first, play later. You can play a lot longer later. But also me signing to my friend’s label is like me having the best critics. Nothing is going to be put out into the world if it’s not right, I guarantee that. We’re all brothers, so we take criticism the way we’re supposed to take it. It’s love, and we understand it, because we want the best and that’s what you have to do to get there.
What was the inspiration behind no long talk. and how did you develop this hard-hitting sound you displayed on both of your projects?
At the time, I just wanted to drop some music — and because I vacated the follow-up project, I didn’t want my fans to have to wait and go through that crazy process. I just decided to make three songs and just put it out there for them to have until I’m ready to come back and give them that work.
I accredit my sound to that whole down-south movement. When I was doing time, that’s what helped me get through my situation. My music for the most part, at least for right now, is going to be dark — because I’m starting to tell and show you bits and pieces of my life. That’s probably why it comes across like that. There’s a lot of pain, but there’s also a lot of happiness as well.
How’d you want to approach it compared to 4Milli?
Well, this EP that I dropped is different for me, because I haven’t really made songs with other artists like that. I purposely did that because I wanted to gain fans off the fact that I didn’t jump into the game saying “Drake is my friend,” so I’m connected and I could get involved with this person and that person on my album. I just felt like they needed to know who I was and fall in love with me. When that happens, then I can always go and do that, because that’s always there.
Talk about working with Giggs and Juicy J on those two records.
My relationship with Giggs is just a natural thing. That’s just forever going to happen. Me and him met through music, because I heard he ended up liking my music, and he expressed that to Drake. In return, Drake let me know, and then we ended up doing a tour out in London and we got to meet. It was just like with Drake — it’s real recognize real. Giggs is a real dude, man. We’ve just been friends since, and we appreciate each other’s music.
With Juicy J, I actually got a message from him complimenting me and my music which was tripping me out because I looked up to Three 6 Mafia when I was growing up. Three 6 Mafia was a huge influence in my life. He reached out to me and we just talked. It was another mutual thing and we’re just cool as fuck. He had texted me some beats one day, and he was saying how he was going to put out a project, and asked me to get on one of the beats.
At the time, I couldn’t get off all the beats he had sent me, so he hit me back and said I could get one of my producers to do a beat and we’d go from there. We made it, and when I heard it I went nuts, and went straight into the booth. We got it done, sent it to Juicy and he sent it right back.
How is it touring with Drake, and what have you learned from the whole experience?
Crazy. I would say we’re in full stride right now. Everything is just running smooth. Honestly bro, it’s the biggest stage that you can be on. Any artist in the world would love to be on that stage right now, so it’s the best look for me as an artist. It’s a learning session as well. There’s so much to learn, and I’m just taking it all in.
But honestly, I’m learning how to manage my time and energy because touring is very strenuous. It’s so easy to get distracted or get an injury — you have to focus on being healthy. If you’re not, you won’t be able to give your best show, and then that affects you and your fans. You don’t want to be doing that. You’re out here to perform for them. You’re out there thanking them, and this is us thanking them. [Drake] gives his all every show he does, and I’m always going to give it my all.
What’s your favorite Drake record that he’s mentioned you on, or you were featured on?
[Laughs.] Honestly, “Gyalchester” because we performed it at the [2017 Billboard Music Awards]. That was a huge moment for me as an artist, probably one of the greatest moments for me.
When are we getting the full-fledged Baka/Drake collab?
[Laughs] Oh wow that’s a first. Honestly, I can’t really give you date or time. I would love to give our fans something great for the summer. You never know, you’ll just have to wait and see.