Interview with bbno$: How a Canadian Rapper Became an Online Overnight Sensation in China

"I’m like the furthest thing away from a joke rapper, but I’m a joke"

Arts & Music City & People

Soundcloud rappers are taking over.  Birthing artists like Trippie Red, 21 Savage, and Lil Pump, it’s clear that the current generation of listeners is all about that mumble rap.  And bbno$ is one of the latest rising artists in the game.

The Vancouver-based rapper, producer, and meme maker Alexander Gumuchian a.k.a bbno$ (pronounced baby no money) has had a pretty wild ride since starting his musical journey.  He just dropped his new album Recess today and he’s ready to go back on the road with Yung Gravy in March.  Last month, I caught up with Gumuchian during the Whatever tour with SO LOKI to talk about his crazy level of fame in China, the hip hop scene in the city, and his new meme page.


Mildly out of focus because film is unpredictable. Sorry, dude. (The MIX)

Initially starting in the rap group Broke Boy Gang, Gumuchian was formerly known as Baby Freestyle.  So why the name change? “We made t-shirts and unfortunately, Baby Freestyle couldn’t fit on the back so we abbreviated it to bbno$,” he admits. “And I kind of just went with it.”

BBG has since disbanded, but the artist continued to pursue music on his own.  And honestly, he’s doing pretty decent for himself.  After a member of TFBoys, a mega-famous Chinese boy band (think 2014 One Direction level famous), danced to one of Gumuchian’s songs, the Canadian rapper became an overnight sensation – at least in China.

“In China, I’m actually like ultra-famous like speaking as modestly as I can,” he says. “I still don’t really understand it.”

Playing stadium shows in major cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou, he’s low key kind of a big deal.  Considering that China’s relationship with hip hop hasn’t been the greatest, his rapid rise to success in the country is a pretty impressive feat.  Though there is still a mild language barrier, fortunately, he has a whole team available to make tour life a bit easier.

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bbno$ performing at Fortune Sound Club in Vancouver. (The MIX/Hillary Nguyen-Don)

But when he’s on the road in his home country, Canada, tour life and crowd style are completely different.

“In North American and definitely European culture, it’s like, ‘Let’s go to a rap show and drink out of our skull and punch each other out.’ I did a show in London and people opened up the mosh pit and there’s like two kids fighting. It was just the sweatiest set of my life.  It was crazy. But you go to China where there’s way more people coming to these shows, and they just stand there.  You can just tell that in the crowd, nobody wants to touch each other.  It’s very different but it’s cool at the same time.”

I actually hit up his Vancouver show at Fortune to get a glimpse of what he was talking about.  I brought along my durable $10 single-use Kodak camera to get stills of all of the action.  Mainly because I like how these cameras make everything looks like a 90s house party (and it’s totally not because I didn’t have a photographer available for this shoot). Plus, there was no way I was bringing a DSLR to a rap show.  And after witnessing what went down, thank God I didn’t.

A couple of notable moments of the night included: the guys spraying champagne all over the crowd to celebrate some girl’s birthday, SO LOKI and bbno$ jumping into the pit to mosh with all the local hip hop heads, and everyone flexing their patriotism by singing O Canada whilst waving their lighters cellphone flashlights in the air.  True Canadian moments.

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Sam Lucia from SO LOKI and bbno$ prepare to spray the crowd with some bubbly. (The MIX/Hillary Nguyen-Don)

Since I’m a fan of smaller intimate options for rap shows, I personally like Fortune.  But then again, Gumuchian brings up how this is basically the only option for up-and-coming artists.  When it comes to hip-hop, the local scene is “definitely lacking.”

“All the people doing hip-hop in the city, I commemorate them because this shit’s impossible.  The city itself doesn’t really support it cause there’s like no venues to do it.  You have Fortune Sound Club throwing down but at the same time, they’re not going to throw down if you can’t sell tickets.  I can barely sell tickets in this city.”

However, he does note that Vancouver has a pretty decent indie rock and disco house scene.  So there’s that.  “But I mean as far as rap goes, I don’t know,” he says. “I think we just need one person to put the city on the map and Carly Rae Jepson did not do that.  She’s probably the biggest musician to come out of Vancouver.  Isn’t that funny?” Shout out to Carly Rae.  Call Me Maybe was a straight banger. You killin’ it, girl.

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SO LOKI and bbno$ performing at Fortune Sound Club in Vancouver. (The MIX/Hillary Nguyen-Don)

Not only is it hard for hip-hop artists to make it in this city.  It’s even harder when you’re an artist spewing out lines like: “She playing goalie, Rollie Olie/ Pollie Olie, heard you know me/ Ravioli, you got like two phones, you a phony.”

No shade.  Gumuchian acknowledges that some of his lines can be confusing.  “I don’t rap about anything hard at all.  It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It’s all about the delivery.”  But that’s his brand.  He’s got this cool, playful, goofy boy, tongue-in-cheek vibe going on.

“I’m like the furthest thing away from a joke rapper, but I’m a joke. My aesthetic and what I put forward on social media is me being me.  I think that’s what my brand is, just not giving a fuck at what people think.  I think that’s why people can relate to my brand because I’m just a kid that’s having fun. Whether or not it’s a joke, I feel like people can respect good music. Whether or not it makes sense, I still think people can respect relatively decent music.”

And if you’re a fan of his flow and vibe, you’d probably be interested in knowing that he also runs a spicy Instagram meme page, @bbnomemess.  He runs the page with meme lord @iced.vro and together, the two post some ridiculously dank content.  “I love really aggressive stupid memes and stupid jokes online,” he says. “And I was like, ‘Why not start something on my own?’ I mean, I have a following.  Why not tell them to follow it for stupid shit?”

 

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Lmfao come swinging bih

A post shared by bbnomeem (@bbnomemess) on

But don’t expect him to dedicate all of his time to the weird part of the Internet.  Currently, bbno$ is grinding out music daily.  Unlike some artists who release tracks once in a blue moon, Gumuchian says he’s stuck with the same business strategy since the beginning of his career – release music all the time.

“Even if the song’s not a ten, someone’s going to be like, ‘Holy shit! This is my favourite song.’  Music’s subjective.  If I were to put out like me just pooping. Someone’s going to be like, ‘Damn, this shit go hard.’  Like someone’s going to be like, ‘Damn, I’m going to show my friend this cause it makes no sense.’ And that’s music.”

His method has given him pretty decent clout on SoundCloud.  After producer Josh Pan stumbled across Gumuchian’s page, the producer hit him up and the two ended up collaborating on a song together that featured on 88rising, the multi-media conglomerate focused on highlighting Asian artists in the music industry.

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When it comes to what’s next for the rapper, his latest album Recess just dropped today, January 25th. If you’ve been following him on his socials, you may have already heard a few of the tracks featured on the new album.  The new project features collabs with TrippyTheKid, Lentra, Y2K, and more.  And in the track “thankful,” the rapper even steps out of his comfort zone by incorporating a bit of singing.

But if mp3 files just aren’t cutting it for you, fans will be stoked to hear that bbno$ will be back on tour. Starting March, Gumuchian will be touring North America with his good ol’ buddy pal Yung Gravy.  The two have been longtime friends during their humble beginnings in their early SoundCloud days.  “[Gravy’s] kind of on the same wavelength as me,” he says. “I would say he’s a friend more than a just business partner which is very rare in this music industry because everyone just uses each other. He’s a cool guy.”

RELATED: Toronto Photographer Steve Carty on Humbling Celebrities: “Treat famous people like real people.”

Homies Yung Gravy and bbno$. (Facebook/bbno$ via Daniel Juskowiak)

So if you’re a fan of music that’s not trash, be sure to give Recess a listen on Spotify, Apple Music, or whatever your preferred streaming platform.  And if you’re a real one, check him out on tour.  A few cities are already sold out so be sure to grab your tickets before it’s too late.

“It’s funny. All the music I have out now is trash in comparison. And I just know for a fact that my music that’s coming out later is just infinitely better. I’m looking forward to the future for sure.  Creating new and newer work is just so much fun.  I have no reason to stop.”

North American tour with Yung Gravy, bbno$, DJ Tiiiiiiiiiip. (Facebook/bbno$)

For more information on the rapper, check him out online.