Two of Harlem’s youngest and brightest are making sure their community is starting the school year off on the right foot. Longtime friends Mo Bamba and Sheck Wes injected heavy doses of happiness to Harlem Link Charter School on Saturday (Sept. 8) when the NBA rookie and rap phenom delivered 150 backpacks to students in need.
Eyes beamed in elation when Harlem’s very own galloped out of the school doors with a slew of bags on-hand. Kids ranging from ages of 5 to 16 gazed at their hometown heroes in jubilation, as both Bamba and Wes sprouted into megastars in their respected fields.
Drafted by the Orlando Magic in this year’s NBA Draft, Bamba exudes a voracious work ethic. Deemed a rebounding savant, Bamba is adept at wreaking havoc on the defensive end and swatting shots with reckless abandon. His counterpart, Sheck Wes, has had the summer on tilt with his sizzling single “Mo Bamba,” which is dedicated to his childhood friend. Last week, “Mo Bamba” cracked the Hot 100 for the first time when it debuted at No. 82.
“I think it was wonderful seeing Mo Bamba and Sheck Wes come,” says Jurae Edwards, associate dean of Harlem Link Charter School. “This was where they were born and raised. To see them come back, give back to the community and show these kids love, it’s a wonderful feeling. Everybody looked so happy. It was a great thing to see.” Foot Action’s vice president of brand marketing, Lauren Bristow, echoes Edwards sentiment. “When Sheck and Mo decided to organize a giveback, Footaction was excited to support them as it underscores No One Way’s focus on expressing individuality while empowering youth on their own path of success,” she says.
Billboard caught up with Bamba and Wes to speak about their backpack giveaway, their friendship and of course, how Wes’ undeniable record “Mo Bamba” came to fruition.
How does it feel for you guys — two young Harlem superstars — to give back to the community with this backpack giveaway?
Mo Bamba: It feels good. This is literally the school that I started at. Just to be back in the hood, in my neighborhood, it’s just awesome. I remember when I was one of these kids. I remember when I was coming out to backpack events and just trying to be around influencers.
Sheck Wes: You know, I never went to school here. My little cousin, I used to pick her up here everyday right when I’d get out of school, you feel me? Like I would stay Uptown, right across the street at PS 111 with my auntie right there. This where I grew up, this is where [Mo] grew up.
Mo Bamba: Before he was shipped to Milwaukee and Africa [Laughs].
Sheck Wes: Even then, I would come back in the summers. I was here when I got to high school and all that.
Not a lot of stars your age would come back to their hometowns and be so charitable because they’re so caught up in the limelight. Why was it important for you guys to break that mold today, especially being under the age of 21?
Sheck Wes: I feel like, for where we come from, this has been a long time coming since an NBA player came out of New York. And like you said, a young artist came out of New York. I feel like every time it happens, they’ll always give back because as New Yorkers you had to. We all would probably split a dollar so we can all get 50 cent sodas.
Mo Bamba: I need to get one of those for old time sake. For the one time. [Laughs]. But for me, this was something I needed to do off the bat. Like I said, I remember being one of these kids and I don’t know — the way how life works is just funny to me. We were literally just out here. It feels like it was just yesterday we were out here being young and dumb, but the goal is to just do what you do and get in the position to where you are and give back to the community.
Sheck, when did you know Mo had NBA potential? Mo, when did you know Sheck had a chance at being a rap star?
Sheck Wes: Since 8th grade [Laughs]. Everybody was saying that. I mean, Mo probably knew about me making music like two years ago.
Mo Bamba: Nah, I knew longer than that man because I remember when he was playing basketball at first and then he went into modeling, but in between him playing basketball and modeling, he just went off the grid. Yeah, he was just like making songs and s–t.
Sheck Wes: I was always freestyling in the projects.
Mo Bamba: Yeah, he was doing it just for the fun of it. And then, I just remember hearing about his music. I remember one of the first songs you sent was “Live Sheck Wes, Die Sheck Wes.” That was like when it really didn’t hit yet. It was one other song you sent me too that I OD f–ked with. I don’t remember but you sent a couple, but when I realized you started making music, I was like, “You gotta make a song with my name in the verse.” And he came back a couple days later with “Mo Bamba” and I was like, “Man, it’s a banger to me. Right off the bat.”
Sheck Wes: Yeah, Mo told me put his name in the song and I was like sitting there and s–t.
Mo Bamba: He was like, “Nah, I’m making a whole song.” I was like, “Damn bro!”
Sheck Wes: I was just freestyling and it went together.
— Word On Road (@WordOnRd) August 23, 2018
How does it feel like seeing megastars like Drake and Travis shout you both out on records? That had to be a surreal feeling.
Sheck Wes: To me, it’s like bigger than them. I think just like the kids that recognize you or even older people at the club who be like, “That’s my son,” that’s huge. All around? It’s crazy. It’s still weird. A UPS truck comes by and is playing the song. It’s in movies, video games, it’s everywhere. I go overseas and all the soccer players come to me like like, “Yeah bro, we always play ‘Mo Bamba'” It’s crazy. The whole impact is just wow.
Mo Bamba: I never knew it would have the reach that it has.
Sheck Wes: Nah, I knew it would because it’s too relatable. Like, if you don’t know the lyrics, it’s easy to know. We were talking about songs in the club that would play on the radio. You would never have it on your phone, but you would know the lyrics.
With the kids back on their school grind, what’s the best advice you would give to them on trying to be successful since you both made it out so young?
Sheck Wes: I know a little bit about his world and I know a lot about my world. He knows a lot from the professional side, but I feel like when I used to hoop and all that, I always would try to work out, but maybe I wasn’t doing it right. You know, I was lenient with it. It’s all about always putting in that time and that work and also, separating yourself for the better. Put yourself around good things, better people and things like that.
Mo Bamba: My whole thing is if you’re going to do it, do it. Like, don’t half-ass it. Don’t be one foot in and one foot out, especially coming up in New York. It’s so easy to lose sight of what you want to do and who you want to be. My whole thing is if you want to do it, then do it. Kobe told me this, but he said, “You don’t wanna lay all your eggs in one basket but you wanna lay all your eggs in one basket.” If you wanna do something and be great at it, that’s what you’re going to have to specialize in. Just take it and run.