Canadian Rapper bbno$ Has A Rich Perspective
WORDS by ALI SHUTLER
PHOTOGRAPHY by MATT HASS
STYLING by CASSIE WALKER
Alex Gumuchian has never met anyone who works as hard as he does. In the six years since he launched his music career as bbno$, he’s released six albums, four EPs and countless standalone singles. Another album Bag Or Die is out in October, with the next two already in the works. Today, he’s in London for 20 hours, ahead of a lengthy European tour. Less than 48 hours ago, he was finishing up a North American run in Toronto and there’s another planned for November. “If I had five of me on my team, I would be Harry Styles,” he says with a grin. With over three billion streams on Spotify, he’s not doing too badly on his own.
If he’s feeling the weight of his grueling tour schedule, Gumuchian doesn’t let it show. Walking around North London, he clambers onto broken fridges (and makes the amateur mistake of looking inside) before flagging down a passing ice cream van. Moments later, he’s inside learning the art of soft serve with enough giddy enthusiasm, that we’re changing the phrase “kid in a candy shop” to “Canadian rapper in an ice cream van.”
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve done in a while,” he says a little later, no pun intended. “I’ve always wanted to see inside one of those. If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” he adds with a shrug. That relaxed yet ambitious attitude drives his funky, funny hip-hop track. “pogo”, his recent dream-come-true collaboration with Diplo takes heavy tongue-in-cheek inspiration from Lady Gaga’s “LoveGame” while breakout track “Lalala” is a deliberately “braindead” track. Released in 2019, it’s been streamed over 800 million times on Spotify alone. “It’s bigger than most Drake songs,” Gumuchian says matter-of-factly before explaining how it was made on a low budget. “That doesn’t matter though. If you listen to it, it’s perfect. And perfect songs blow up.”
As a kid, Gumuchian was always going to shows and wondering what the view was like from the stage but bbno$ was born after he “made a song with some friends while we were unbelievably high. The track was so bad, and we all knew it but I had so much fun actually making it.” To this day, he’s still chasing that same, carefree excitement. “Making a song and having fun, there’s nothing better. It’s a very euphoric feeling. Nowadays, there’s more pressure cause this is my actual job but during covid, I set myself a goal of falling back in love with making music.” As with every goal Gumanchian sets himself, it didn’t take long to achieve.
Bag Or Die takes inspiration from The Neptunes and features some of “the most intricate rap songs” bbno$’s ever made. “It’s full of fun, fast, catchy, I-don’tgive- a-fuck tracks,” he says. Lyrically, Gumanchian “just says stuff that sounds good. I don’t give a shit about the message.” Later, he describes his style as “saying stupid shit over beats” before calling himself “overrated. I don’t deserve to have a music career but God bless, I do.”
“I usually only put three good songs on an album and then the rest is filler, because no one listens to albums anymore anyway,” continues Gumanchian. “But Bag Or Die is 15 really good songs.” Part of him hopes it’s “received with as much thought as I put into it,” the other “doesn’t really give a shit. I’m going to drop it, then move on.” He’s got a third collaborative record planned with American rapper Yung Gravy and is going to spend the start of next year writing another album. “I was thinking about doing something super different because I haven’t really reinvented myself in a long while. I get bored,” he continues, suggesting a “spacious, alternative rock” album. “The most important thing to me is putting out good music. Making different sounding records keeps you on your toes, keeps you up to date and keeps things entertaining. I make music to have fun with myself,” he says. “Wait, that sounded sexual…c’est la vie,” he shrugs.
bbno$ is releasing Bag Or Die as an album rather than a series of individual tracks because according to various algorithms, you can only really release a new single every 21 days if you want it to make an impact and he’s got a lot of music to share with people. “I might as well feed the fans who want it,” he reasons. What bbno$ really craves though? Big, smash hit songs. He knows he could spend a year “really pushing one song” and forcing a hit that way but he prefers “rolling the dice. It’s just way more fun. Call me crazy, but I love me some validation and there’s nothing better than the good, old-fashioned validation that comes from your art.”
He talks in depth about how he can use platforms like Spotify to analyze and pick apart every release (“the day at Spotify ends at 4:25 pm PST. If you see an uplift in streams on the 18th or 21st day after the song first came out, it means you’re doing something right with promo”) but admits that releasing songs is like “shooting darts… sometimes you hit high, sometimes you hit low. It’s a lot of unknowns which sucks because in most other businesses, there’s science behind it. Music is almost all luck.”
There’s an authenticity to that though. “If a fan likes a song, they’ll listen to it again. They’ll show it to their friends. It’s as simple as that.” And people certainly liked “Lalala”. bbno$ knew it was a banger as soon as it was recorded but he wasn’t expecting it to blow up as massively as it did. Still, he dismisses the idea that he’s an overnight success story. “There are freak cases where an artist does blow up overnight but for the majority of us, it takes a lot of work.”
The success of “Lalala”–“jaded me a little bit,” says bbno$. “It forced me to learn a lot, really fast. It really showed me that a lot of people working in the music industry are doing it solely for money. The artist is just a product to them. There was this one guy who I would love to name because he was a douchebag, but I’ve genuinely forgotten his name. He set up a meeting with “Lalala”?’ Dude, do your fucking research. I ate my eggs benny and left.”
He admits it was “tough to follow that track up” but a year and half later, bbno$ had another absolute smash with “Edamame”. “I was surprised it took me that long to have another hit,” he admits. “I’m chasing the dragon. All I want is hits.” Still, that doesn’t mean bbno$ will do just anything to get one. He only releases music he genuinely likes and he remains an independent artist. “It’s probably a little bit of ego but if a song is good enough, if you just make good enough music, it’ll blow up. I’m not saying my music is amazing but I’ve blown up at least twice now. I can probably do it a couple more times, so what’s the point of a label?”
Especially when artists have access to platforms like TikTok. bbno$ describes the social media app as “a very important tool that a lot of artists don’t want to use, let alone know how to use. I think they’re dumbasses,” he says. Earlier this year he posted a clip of himself crying after getting roasted (“your goatee looks like an upside mushroom cloud coming out of your top lip, which is the only time something fire has come out of your mouth”) which got 28 million views. “Tell me, how many radio interviews I would have to do to get that sort of reach? I do think it’s a bit regressive for society and it’s definitely a time suck, but it’s also progressive as well. Information can be spread so fast, but it also leans to where you want to go. If you’re right wing, you get right wing videos. If you’re left wing, you get left wing content. Me, I watch videos of frogs listening to Playboi Carti.”
“My platform is just riddled with positivity,” says Gumuchian. “I think my music speaks to people who are like me. The people who didn’t really know who they were growing up. They come out to my shows to break free for a little bit and to feel understood. It’s really cool, cause I wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to help people. I broke my back when I was younger so I understand pain and its physical and psychological effects. I feel like I’ve helped a lot more people through my music than I would have as a doctor.” Talking about his long term ambitions, bbno$ wants more hits and to eventually open up a non-profit to combat the opioid crisis in America, as well as start a record label to help other artists.
Gumuchian takes his music and career “super seriously, because why the fuck not?” but doesn’t treat bbno$ with the same level of respect. “I’m definitely in on the joke,” he beams. “I love reading comments with people roasting me cause dude, I’m rich. They’re probably not.” Online, the only comments bbno$ replies to are the negative ones. “If you’ve spent that long typing out a message because you hate me that much, I’m obviously going to reply.“
It comes at a time where a new wave of rappers like Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow are being celebrated for unashamedly being themselves onstage and off. “It’s just easier to be yourself,” starts bbno$ before explaining how when he started out, people would ask him about putting on a larger-than-life persona. “I could, but that requires effort,” he’d reply. “It doesn’t sound like much fun either, does it?”
It doesn’t matter which one of bbno$’s many songs you press play on, that sense of joy is unavoidable. “The only thing to do in life is to have fun,” he continues. “I understand that if I was a bit more focused on clout, my career would probably be a bit more successful but I don’t live that life. It’s just not me.”