Bahamadia’s Kollage – a Philly hip-hop masterpiece

“Ayo, this is Bahamadia’s Kollage

A collection of lyrical and musical art that brings forth her masterful contribution to the hip-hop world

And as we move on into the future y’all, we must heed the signs y’all, build with minds y’all

So maintain and heed the lady’s words, a’ight?

– Guru (Gang Starr)

The Roots cast a formidable shadow over Philadelphia. They have become a kind of byword for the city’s hip-hop scene as a whole, but that should not distract from a proud history way back to the genre’s early days. Philly rappers like Schooly D may not be household names now but the artists he inspired most certainly are.

Philadelphia city skyline
Philadelphia, PA

Who knows whether it was this tradition that drew Gang Starr MC Guru to the city back in 1993 – he could have just been looking for a good night out. Regardless, one evening a local rapper seized his attention and changed both of their careers in the process. Guru would eventually sign her to his label Ill Kid Records, extend an invitation to the Gang Starr foundation and collaborate together on his next Jazzmatazz volume.

In truth, Bahamadia was not a complete unknown when Guru had his eureka moment. Her first track ‘Funk Vibe’ had been pressed by local label IQ Records and was gaining traction even outside of Philly.

Rumour has it she was courted by both Dre and Bad Boy Records at various points in her early career, but the link with Gang Starr clearly made the most sense in terms of tone. Her spiritual intonation had much in common with Guru’s conscious street style, as opposed to the braggadocios attitudes that were preeminent in both California and New York around this time.

During an era of shiny suits, gin and juice and Moet, it is to Bahamadia’s credit she was never one to boast about her craft. Allowing the music to speak is perhaps why she does not receive the acclaim of her contemporaries, but it’s worth wondering if she had been male or fallen in with the loudmouth style of the times, whether her 1996 debut Kollage would be more widely appreciated.

Despite being deeply embedded in Philly’s scene, when the time came to record her first LP, Bahamadia moved to New York and specifically a studio on 320 W. 37th St. The B-room in the now defunct D&D Studios, which simply became known as Preemo’s room, was a bonafide hip-hop hub and had welcomed the era’s most talented and celebrated rappers. Bahamadia was now another name to add to the roll call.

As well as imparting invaluable advice, DJ Premier handled five tracks and in addition to songs Guru had produced with her in the last few years, the influence of Gang Starr on Kollage was obvious. This did not stop Bahamadia from also reaching out to Brooklyn duo Da Beatminerz, and the cuts they provided (‘Spontaneity’ and ‘Innovation’) are some of the most alluring on the record, an opportunity for the MC to invoke Sun Ra in her futuristic and literary verses.

Hip-hop musician DJ Premier mixing records on turntables
DJ Premier

Arguably the album’s highlight though is ‘Uknowhowwedu’ (prod. Ski Beatz & DJ Redhanded), a glorious G-funk break which at the time might have felt more aligned to Snoop Dogg than a protégé of Guru’s. Not that the distinction matters when it sounds this good, a track that is sure to set any house party off.

Kollage is also a record that demonstrates a varied musical taste, disparate influences that have continued to inform Bahamadia’s nomadic career in the last 25 years. She’s as likely to appear on a DnB roller as something more low-key, whether that be the most recent Kindness album or an Erykah Badu joint.

Nods from the likes of Badu or The Roots are significant because they illustrate her standing in the genre. There is no doubt that 1996 was a transformative year for hip-hop – Lauryn Hill’s ascension to superstardom combined with the passing of 2Pac (with Biggie to shortly follow) were huge events. Sometimes who shouts loudest wins, and the danger is that gems like Kollage are lost amidst all the noise.

American rapper and musician Bahamadia
Bahamadia (Photo credit: Pay To Winn Management)

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