Some Notes on J. Cole’s Protégé Bas

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I wrote a long, feature-length story on the rapper Bas, which was published by The Fader. I’d love if you clicked that link and checked it out.

One fun thing about working on the piece was that we did part of it in Los Angeles, and the other part in New York. Bas is from New York, as is his crew — the Fiends. So it was nice to get some color in there from both coasts. It’s strange how a change in temperature can show two different sides of a person.

The other thing was the sheer length of time we spent together. In total, it was somewhere around six or seven days. Which is a lot more time than most artists and writers will commit to a profile.

But I think — and obviously I’m biased here — that the story benefits from that. I just don’t see how you can write a profile on someone when you’re only spending, at most, a few hours together. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, because I do it all the time, but you definitely get a better piece when you get to really know the person you’re writing about.

In my mind, when you write a profile, you’re painting a portrait with words. And if you only get but so long to look at the subject, there is a strong chance you’re going to miss a lot of the key details. I mean, you can get the basics, you can get the face, but you’ll miss the wrinkles, which is where are all the real stories are.

Case in point: in the entire time we spent together, I think there was only 90 minutes of an actual “interview.” The rest of the time was spent either watching what he was doing and taking notes (sometimes mental; other times in my phone and a notebook), or playing basketball and sneaker shopping.

I mention that because I would say at least half the article is derived from stuff that did not originate in a traditional Q&A. And even that interview was informed by the other stuff — which created comfort, familiarity and intimacy. These are the seeds you plant when you want to write a nuanced piece about someone else.

The last thing I want to note is the action, and to a lesser extent the scenery. I think these are essential components when you are writing a story. There has to be some sort of movement, something happening. Your subject can’t just be sitting in a room, because unless he/she is the most animated person on earth, it is very difficult to keep a reader interested.

At the end of the day though, no matter what you do you’re at the mercy of your subject. I was lucky enough to have a good one — Bas, who was chatty and agreeable on pretty much all fronts. Oh, and he also had a great story to boot.

Check the article out if you get a few minutes. I think you’ll dig it. If not, please do, write a response below or tweet at me about how I wasted your time. I’ll happily apologize.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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