Taken from the Spring 2020 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.
Preaching a loud, uncompromising approach to life and love, rapper-singer BIA speaks to us about embracing her whole self, living without labels and making her friends feel strong.
I was yawning as my phone rang. The bubbly, yet smooth voice on the other end certainly did not reflect my own energy levels and it wasn’t until BIA, the rappersinger hailing from Boston, let slip that she hadn’t left the studio until five thirty that morning that I realised I needed to fix up. She was running on empty, yet was managing to be disarmingly eloquent, funny and downright charming. Not that this was really a surprise — to say that BIA, born Bianca Landrau, has a way with words would be an understatement. That morning, I had rewatched an old clip of her freestyling on a radio show back in 2015. Despite being in the early stages of her career, she exudes confidence, spitting fluidly and lyrically over whatever beat the radio host threw at her. When I bring this up, she laughs, stating: “You know that’s my least favourite thing to do?” I betray my surprise and she continues: “I feel like it never really shows your rap ability. I would much rather someone come with me to the studio, put on a beat, and see what I can do on a microphone right away. That will really blow your mind.” For BIA, it seems writing has always been second nature, with 2019’s “BEST ON EARTH”, her Rihanna-endorsed single with fellow rapper Russ, coming together in only a few hours. “That’s when you in a vibe,” she says, explaining it’s how all her best tracks are made. “Like, that’s when you know you’ve got something special.” She has recently branched out and started writing songs for other artists, including Pharrell and Camila Cabello’s “Sangria Wine”, and hints at a few more collaborations coming out in 2020. But while working with writers has helped her tap into something different, she makes clear that it’s her own vision she trusts most, emphasising: “My most beautiful work comes through me. It comes from the heart.” Over the past few years BIA has drawn on her Puerto Rican heritage to blend and fly between both Latin and hip-hop, rapping in Spanish on tracks including “Mi Naturaleza” with K2 and Feid, and “Safari” with J. Balvin, Pharrell and Sky. “We all bleed the same,” she says decisively, when I ask her what advice she would give to other artists struggling to incorporate all aspects of their own identities into their music. “I would tell them: don’t feel like you have to define yourself with a colour, race, or ethnicity.” This quality of truly knowing herself is one BIA has displayed in a big way going into 2020, by deciding to break away from both RCA Records and Pharrell’s label, i am OTHER, to become independent. She remains grateful to both, however, stating that it was their support when she was starting out that has allowed her to thrive: “I feel like when you’re a new artist, the most important part is just having people believe in you. Having them really gives you the fuel to keep going.” After finding that she was now “hitting a ceiling,” the decision to leave was a simple case of pushing herself. “I’m having the most fun time of my life right now,” BIA smiles, affirming that she knows she made the right one. “Everything is coming from an authentic place of just pleasing me.”