We spoke with the Boston artist about her bold choice to leave her label and have success on her own terms
Boston-based artist BIA remains authentic to her craft. She found a mentor in Pharrell Williams, was on the 2014 reality show Sisterhood of Hip Hop and a 2017 tour with Ariana Grande that ended with the bombing in Manchester, England, as fans were exiting the arena (Grande immediately suspended the rest of the tour).
BIA left RCA in 2019—the same year she and Russ went viral with “Best on Earth” thanks to an Instagram post by Rihanna. Last year’s For Certain EP was her declaration of independence. It’s the most sonically uninhibited she has ever been.
“Whole Lotta Money,” one of the singles from For Certain, recently went viral. Additionally, she also has this year’s theme song for the NHL playoffs with “Skate.” Not bad for the Medford, Massachusetts native who recently inked a deal with Epic Records.
We spoke with her about “Whole Lotta Money” and her big leap forward on her own terms.
SPIN: “Whole Lotta Money” has done crazy numbers. Are you overwhelmed by its success?
BIA: “Whole Lotta Money” is very special to me because this is my first song getting this type of love with no features. I always wanted to have this moment and to be embraced by so many other girls that I love. I’ve had a lot of records with features that did well, so it’s always been a personal goal of mine to achieve this kind of success on a song by myself. And for it to really be about the music, it’s a double win.
As an artist from Boston, do you think that you’re naturally an underdog?
Definitely an underdog. When you live in a certain place or you’re from a certain place, you run into this thing where people feel like…because they’ve crossed paths with you or because they know you — they don’t really respect it as much. I had people that knew me from high school, knew me from working at the mall, knew me from being a waitress or a bartender saying “why should we support you?” When I first said I’m gonna rap, there was a lot of “yeah right—my cousin rap better than you. My brother rap better than you.” When you don’t have that support it just naturally turns you into a monster… into a beast. You don’t need that support anymore—you’re forced to do it on your own.
God has a funny way of working things out for people. I feel like everything that happened to me was supposed to happen. I came out of it with so many lessons and didn’t know it was the beginning of a career. I was just so happy for the opportunity to be there, so grateful for the opportunity to even be making music. And I still am to this day. I just had to learn the business so I could handle the other side of things.
Going to bed one night and waking up to “Best on Earth” going viral courtesy of Rihanna must have been an insane ride.
I’ve had a moment like that before with going to the Latin Grammys with Pharrell and J. Balvin. I had another moment going on tour with Ariana Grande. Each moment in my life has taught me to be really thankful for where I’m at. I just try to live in the moment now, thank God for what He’s doing in my life and just let it take me wherever it’s taking me because that’s really all you can do. You work so hard to have those moments so when you receive them you gotta be ready for them.
I feel like the pandemic has caused this unhealthy social engagement and oversaturation.
You’re not crazy, girl. That’s why I’m on social media: to reassure people that you can still have class. You can still have taste. You can still not be corny and you can still stand for something.
You use social media to highlight your fans and uplift the women who see themselves in your music.
I uplift my fans and the people that support me. All the love I’m getting now is really organic and genuine, so I like to highlight it. I appreciate my fans because they were on this journey with me from the beginning. This isn’t fake female empowerment—I’m super real about it.
Do you compare yourself to other women rappers in the game at all?
Never. But, oh my God…. I used to do that! At the beginning of my career, I played it very safe. I was younger, more of a tomboy and letting everybody dress me. I was too worried about what people thought about me… there was a lot of pressure. But as you start to grow as a woman, you want to get sexier. You want to do things a little bit more. It’s like “Oh, I want to give a little bit of leg today, I want to give a little bit of titty.” Now I really don’t care — I just do what I want.
When did you realize you had to write “Free Bia (1st Day Out)”?
It was a day that I was just so angry. My release was taking a super long time and I remember walking into the studio and Lil Rich was working on the beat. It was just like a loop kinda, you know, and it didn’t really have a lot of instrumentation behind it. I just heard it and I was in such a bad mood and was like, “Yo, I want to rap on this right now” and we just went right to it. It was pure emotion.
How do you think the deaths of DMX, Black Rob and then Shock G impacted hip hop?
You want to give people their flowers while they’re here. Sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to give those people that have so much influence in our lives and in our culture their due. That was definitely a wake-up call for me that I individually need to start doing that and the people around me need to start doing that.
Is there a secret for never giving up?
That’s the secret—just not giving up. I would not be the person I am if I didn’t stay spiritually grounded, if I didn’t keep genuine people around me… The energy that you keep around is so important and the energy that you possess and put out into the world is important.