Superproducer Salaam Remi brought the bodega feels to hip-hop by merging three New York-based, Latino rappers — Bodega Bamz (who’s Dominican and Puerto Rican), Joell Ortiz (Puerto Rican) and Nitty Scott (Puerto Rican and African-American) — to form the group No Panty.
Despite their cheek-blushing moniker, the trio holed up in Remi’s Miami studio to create a 13-track set that captures the hustle of New York City. The melodic opener “Hola” finds the three flexing their bars (“Say hi to a boss, b-tch,” repeats the hook) while other joints like the emotional “Mother’s Mark” give the lyricists their own space to shine.
Bamz, Ortiz and Scott recently stopped by Billboard to discuss their Westside Highway Story mixtape (which dropped in August), banding together to form No Panty, and the lack of Latino representation in mainstream hip-hop culture.
How did you join forces with Nitty Scott and Joell Ortiz?
Bodega Bamz: Well Salaam was the big push behind it. Me and Joell worked together before and I just knew Nitty from the work she’s been putting in in the underground scene. I’ve always been representing my people and I’ve always tried to be prideful about that. It’s the culture, and being that, we’re not being represented correctly.
So when I saw Joell and Nitty, who also had their own voice of what they bring to their culture, I think it made sense for us to come together and make a great project that doesn’t sound like anything that’s out right now.
You say your culture’s not represented correctly. What are some examples you’ve seen in the business?
Bodega Bamz: I just feel like a lot of times [in the past], Latinos who come in the rap game [don’t] embrace it fully. So they’ll have an executive, A&R or manager tell them like, “Listen, don’t go too hard with your culture ‘cause it’s not really acceptable,” or “People don’t really know about it, so wait ‘til you get hot and then say you Latino.” And in the process of people doing that, they’re making [Latinos] look corny ‘cause they’re not even representing it correctly and that’s what I mean.
When I came in this motherf–ker, I made sure that I was gonna be blatantly about it, like, “Listen my n—a, I’m Dominican and Puerto Rican.” At the same time, I’m a consumer and you know what’s crazy? Being a fan of music I’ve always wondered, “Damn man, Big Pun been gone for so long, Joell Ortiz was out doing his thing. When we gon’ really have that motherf–ker that I wanna be like?” ‘Cause the last time I had that was with Pun, and I was a super young kid when he passed. I had to be that dude in the underground, but [who] also has that mainstream flair, and I honestly feel like that’s what was missing — just trying to be a voice to the voiceless.
What was the main creative difference in working within a trio versus your solo career?
The main creative difference was just who finishes first. Every time we threw ideas out, it was never combative. It was always respected, reciprocated. So when Joell would throw ideas out like ‘Yo Bam, say it like this’, I did the same thing. It was very free because we went to Miami to do it in Salaam Remi’s studio and it was just a fun environment. That’s the best way to make music — when there’s no restrictions and you don’t have people critiquing it all the time.
Only thing was Salaam made me change my verses like three times, which I loved. I never took it as ‘Damn, this n—a think my shit wack?’ Even that verse that I had on the record “Hola” wasn’t even the original verse. There was a verse I had before that and then he was like, ‘Yo, Bamz, I really ain’t feeling it. Do it over,’ and then the song completely changed.
What is it about Salaam that pushes artists to be their best creative selves?
Nitty Scott: I personally think it’s his ability to play people well, as if they’re instruments. He just seems to know your potential and where you would function best. He’s just really good at pulling that out of you and just being very confident in what he believes you can do… I’m kind of like a worry wart — anxious, spazzy — and he’s so calm that it’s like, “Why am I worried about anything?”
Bodega Bamz: Also, being that he’s so legendary but still takes advice or ideas from an artist coming up speaks volumes. That’s a humble soul. He’ll have the final say, but the fact that he’ll listen to you is fire, and it’s respectable.
Nitty, how did it feel being the only woman in the group?
Nitty Scott: It was a welcome — I don’t want to say challenge, but it was a slight challenge, as far as feeling like somebody like Joell has lyrically set such a bar. So I did feel the pressure to hold onto that. But I also felt this sense of — it’s gonna sound f–ked up, because it is f–ked up, but it’s not my perspective — but I personally feel as a woman, I’ve been holding it down lyrically, performance-wise, content-wise. I’ve been delivering for a long time and unfortunately, I think sometimes the public has to see you placed on the same platform as men and see how much I level up with them to actually recognize how skilled I am.
And I think [this project] did that for a lot of people who respect me, and are already fans, or whatever the case may be. But then you have some people who might’ve [slept] on that fact, and [me] standing next to two dudes — who have movements of their own, who are lyrically strong — and not getting washed up by them, I really think I made my point.
Joell, did it take much convincing from Salaam to get you on board for this project?
Joell Ortiz: Nah, man, I’ve been a Salaam fan for a long time. He’s actually the first dude i worked with after I got my deal with Aftermath years ago, so we’ve been friends for a long time. He’s been a busy guy, as have I, so when he called me and asked me what i think about this idea, I was like, “I’m all in.” It didn’t take much convincing. This guy’s a music guy, someone I respect as a person, so when he told me what he thinks this could be I said, “Let’s do it.” It was a no-brainer for me.
Was it a random idea on Salaam’s part to put this group together?
Nitty Scott: I think it was an idea that evolved, and “supergroup” [was] never used. It was never tossed out there, and [comparisons to] the Fugees — we never said any of those things. It definitely evolved into its own situation. But initially, it was very much three solo artists with totally different approaches and sounds, even though we’re all rap and we’re all hip-hop.
The synergy is so present and the product of the fusion of all of us was so dope and so well-received that I think it’s evolved into a group, ’cause each of our skill sets and energy is necessary to create the experience that we have. So moving forward it’s definitely a group that feeds off the different things that everybody provides, where in the beginning, it did feel more like being tapped individually to participate in the same thing.
Bodega Bamz: I know that people make comparisons to the Fugees ’cause it’s Salaam [who worked on 1996’s The Score] but I think that if we’re gonna be compared to a group, a more suitable [comparison] would be The Firm. I say that because in the Firm, you had Dr. Dre, the producer, and you had all these artists who at the time were solo artists and came together, killing it.
Who came up with the name No Panty?
Joell Ortiz: It was Salaam. To me, he’s one of the most well-thought out random people. He has random things that run through his head idea-wise, ’cause if he entertains himself enough and likes it, he’ll execute that random thought. Like ‘Yo, imagine No Panty Thursdays?’ I know I would go to that party if I knew where it was. He assembled artists that he respected that he thought might carry out the music for that party, and he was right.
He never told us that, though. He just said, “Hey, let’s go work on a record or two for the Puerto Rican Day parade,” and those records came out cool. Then Bamz said we should get in the studio together as opposed to sending verses around, and see if we can tap into each other in the same room. He had a whole bunch of music ready. We outrapped his a–, ’cause he had to go back [in the studio] and cook some more stuff, but we was all out there in some family-oriented, cool-out session kind of vibe. Mangos, oxtails and music vibe.
Nitty Scott: It started to do what we envisioned. where it was, you know, Copacabana, Latin Quarter, that feel where you’re going to get a vibe. It’s a cultural experience, and a lot of people didn’t recognize that it was kind of missing, so we’re continuing the narrative of Latinos in hip-hop. It’s for New York. It’s for rap. We got bars regardless of the cultural relevance, so I think we speak to a lot of different things, and that makes No Panty important.
I asked Joell this before but how do you feel about the way Latinos are represented in hip-hop and mainstream culture? What improvements can be made?
Nitty Scott: I would like to see less of the token, stereotypical representations of us where it’s just Big Pun and Jennifer Lopez. I would like to see more inclusivity, and not just for Latinos, but for all the various things Latinos can be — hence the Latinx movement, and including people — who are Latinos who are also women, gay, Muslim, whatever the case may be — and seeing that incorporated as well, so that we’re visible in many facets.
Joell Ortiz: I’m tired of some companies [where they have] the Latin division of music.
Bodega Bamz: Unfortunately there won’t be a shit-ton of Latinos running the rap game, but what you will get is a motherf–ker like Joell, a n—a like Bodega Bamz or Nitty Scott come f–k shit up. That’s why there is reggaeton and Spanish rap. I’m gonna do what I have to do to represent correctly, so that when motherf–kers look at me, they’ll be like, “I wanna be like him.” I feel like that’s all we can do.
Nitty Scott: To stem off of that, it is about [how we’re] tired of having to create a space where we are acknowledged, like the Latin Grammys, HBO Latino, and things like that, ’cause that reminds you that mainstream things are designed without us in mind. We have to create it, because other things are created without us not in mind. I also feel that way about female [artists]. I’m tired of like, ‘We’re going to do an all-female MC show’ and the lineup is a bunch of girls. It’s coming from the right place, it’s coming from a place of support, but it’s further marginalizing us and further saying that you are “other,” and you don’t belong in the greater conversation.
Joell Ortiz: I think it’s just respect across the board. Don’t semi-respect me here and love me here. When I was coming up, I was just rapping. I shouldn’t have gotten, ‘He is going to headline the Latin rap venue,” it should have been universal across the board. I had to work double-hard to be accepted, to go from, “Oh, he’s nice for a Puerto Rican” to “Yo, he’s nice,” and that sucks.
I just wanted to rap well, and still to this day, that’s what I stand for — wanting to rap well. I never conform, I’m proud of that. When everything was switching up around me, i stayed the course and was true to myself, just making honest music. I feel like everybody else should be honest.
Joell, you have been in this game for so long and have been a part of Shady Records supergroup Slaughterhouse, but how was your creativity tested being a part of No Panty?
Joell Ortiz: Slaughterhouse and No Panty are two different energies, two different entities. I feel like in here, I was in this particular scenario with these people, I was able to just coast and feel the vibe, and finally, for the first time in my career, execute someone else’s vision. This was Salaam, and something he saw. The music was there already. I just had to bring what Joell brings to it and to be honest, it was fun. I had a lot of laughs, good times.
Whereas in Slaughterhouse, when we connect and form Voltron, this was much more a vibe, a cultural experience and I had a blast. I wanted to see what this would be. I didn’t have any idea of what this could turn into and I was excited to jump in the ring with them.
What’s next for you all individually?
Nitty Scott: I worked on a project called Creature. I worked on it all year and pretty much finished it. It’s a super-=dope conceptual album and I would describe it as Afro-Latina girl magic. There’s a backstory to the whole thing and it’s like Negrita in Wonderland, falling through the rabbit hole and kind of going on this crazy journey of identity, and landing in pre-colonized Puerto Rico, and exploring her identity from that angle. I was gearing up to give that to people, and No Panty happened. So I’m riding this wave, but Creature is on deck. I’m still adding and playing with things now that I have time but my fans are going to get Creature in 2017.
Joell Ortiz: I did the That’s Hip Hop mixtape with [executive producer] Domingo and once again, just bar flexin’, just trying to get one off. That’s what I call it when I’m at home in the crib and I’m like I just need to do something. [Laughs.] Before that I did, the Human album with [producer] !llmind. I’m trying to bang things out yearly, but to be honest, I’m ready to start reading for Hollywood. I think I’m ready to move into the acting space, and then try to create music for the soundtrack.
What would be your dream role?
Joell Ortiz: Pun. If I could play Pun in a biopic, that would be fire.
What does No Panty represent to each of you?
Bodega Bamz: No Panty is free of restrictions, we really doing what the f–k we want to do and it’s fun — but not like parody fun, but fun as in we that good. ?This shit don’t sound like nothing out. We’re going against the climate of New York rap.
Joell Ortiz: I like that a lot. No Panty is freedom. Even when you got no panties on, you are free. When we wake up in the morning, we don’t think about it — we just vibe, and that’s when we tune out the rest of the world and the rest of the climate. That’s why y’all got this project, ’cause we ain’t really feel like doing what everybody’s doing.