We’ve entered an age where—given the power and depth of online music distribution—labels no longer serve as the exclusive route to exposure. Even just a decade ago, it was highly unlikely that one would find his or her way to a dedicated fan base without a co-sign or deal. Fans have proven to be the determinant in who gets noticed. Bas, however—as was mocked in the 30/30 spoof preceding this release—finds himself in the former scenario. He boasts the biggest cosign J. Cole can offer and the honor of producing Dreamville Record’s first legitimate project, but is lacking the deep following that generally prefaces a major release.
I’ve given Last Winter a handful of spins this week, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Bas has some legitimate rapping chops and technical skill. To hold a listener’s attention throughout an album, though, you need a few key additional attributes: versatility, personality and charisma, namely. Bas shows an adequate amount of versatility throughout the album, whether it’s through the melodicism of “Fiji Water”, the double-time speed on “Golden Goals”, or the lyrical dexterity and fluent delivery of “Your World”—a stellar album standout. But as strong as he occasionally is, the weight of an album is a lot to manage lyrically, and he is not without his share of flops.
There’s the frequent corniness that is surprising given how sophisticated he appears at times: “Seen ya from the first twerk/That’s the booty of it”; “You still a bitch like a period”; “You got a fatty hunny I could build a tent on it!” Then there’s the fluctuations between modesty (which fits him much better, as evidenced on “Charles de Gaulle To JFK”) and hollow arrogance: “My girl got ass like NASA/That line probably only make sense to me/That’s fine I’m the shit to me.” As the album lugs onward, and especially on “Building Blocks”, it becomes obvious that while Bas is far from a poor emcee, he just doesn’t yet have enough of a command over cadence or words to make anything stick for the listener. He’s getting by, for sure, but you’ll never think to yourself, “Man, I wish I’d written that”, or conclude that this is his gift.
The contrast is only clearer on the collaborations with J. Cole, Bas’ friend and boss, whose inflection, charisma, and personality are all the more discernable when staged next to his protégé. In recent interviews Bas has talked about studying Cole on tour from behind the scenes, especially in regards to his work ethic. And while I have no doubt he’s made great strides as a lyricist, and maybe, one day, could make a great album, he’s missed the key attribute that factors into play when you emerge as a solo artist; holding the listeners’ attention for the forty-plus minutes you have their ears.
Last Winter, no doubt, will attract listeners because of Cole’s involvement, but ultimately—at least for the time being—Bas is an artist thrown into the spotlight not because of a fan base that he’s established or earned, but because of just one fan who happens to run a record company now. And despite how that will undoubtedly regulate and shift the media response, it’s not enough for me to validate this as an album worthy of the spotlight it has found itself in. The question is, then, will Bas ever take it for himself?
2.5 out of 5
You can purchase Last Winter on iTunes.