Brooklyn’s drill music has become the dominant force in the current New York Hip Hop scene, but fans should not overlook the talent emerging from the city’s other boroughs. One such up-and-comer is The Bronx’s Billy Bands, who began his career in earnest in 2020.
The 26-year-old rapper spent much of his life behind bars, finding himself in and out of jail since the age of 12. After serving five years for firearm and armed robbery charges, Bands decided it was time to make a change. With the help of his friends, the burgeoning rapper began to pursue a career in music last year.
Although he’s only released a few singles so far, Bands has already managed to rack up thousands of views on YouTube as he prepares to drop his debut Everything’s Healthy in 2021. Ahead of the project’s release, High Times caught up with Bands to learn more about the beginning of his Hip Hop journey.
Billy, you are fresh on the scene. Who inspired you to become a rapper?
Mostly my friends, honestly. I like a lot of rappers, like Fab and Gucci [Mane]. I like those older rappers, but mostly my friends inspired me to get into rap.
You have been in and out of jail since you were 12 years old. Was there a specific moment where you realized you had to get your life on the right track?
I mean, it was probably the last bid – the five years – ’cause I was kind of just thinking [in there]. There was a lot of time to think because you’re just doing nothing. You’re in the middle of nowhere around a bunch of people you don’t really know. You see these people every day and after a while, you just gotta be like, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” After [the last time in jail], I was like, “Yeah, I’m tired.”
When you were locked up, were you planning for a music career to be the next chapter of your life?
Billy: Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about rap and shit. Rap ain’t really come about until I came home. When I was in jail, I was just trying to make sure I would get up out of there. I gotta stay out of trouble. I was getting in a little trouble, so I was trying to stay out of the boxes. Make sure I finished there and get out on time. I was just trying to get out when I was supposed to get out.
Did you have a mentor, friend, or family member that helped you when you got out?
Billy: My family, that’s a good support system. I mean we’re not rich, but we wasn’t broke, so I didn’t come home to nothing. All of this, I came home with a couple dollars already, so I didn’t really have to go out there and go crazy. I came home, I was already situated a little bit. I just had to figure out the rest on my own.
Your debut single “Barneys” dropped in March 2020. Was it the first song you created when you got out?
Billy: Nah but that was the first one I actually sat down and said, “Alright, we’re gonna drop this song.” I was already recording before that, but I never dropped nothing. But I had a violation at that time. I had to turn myself in and my friends was like, “You might as well just drop one before you go to jail.”
So, we put together a video [for the song]. I didn’t really care about it at the time. I didn’t care about rap. I was thinking, “I gotta go to jail tomorrow.” So, we did the video and it actually did good. I was getting a good response from it and then I came home from doing three months. So, it was like let’s take it serious this time. I had probably 20 more tracks at the time, started releasing more songs and videos. People just started noticing, I guess. So, I started to take it a little bit more seriously.
When you started to see the positive response, how did it make you feel? Was it exciting to build an audience so quickly?
Billy: In the beginning, I ain’t really care for the audience. I didn’t really do it for the audience. Most of the time, [the raps are] just talking shit. I’m just talking about what me and my friends was doing, basically our lifestyle, like what we doing throughout the day and the week. So it’s like, people listening? Cool, they nod, whatever. But it was really for me and my friends.
But I know people started gravitating toward it. I guess they could relate, however they could relate to it. I started getting good responses. I’m good with people, I’m not a shitty person. I’m talking to the fans, and I’m getting good feedback. I liked it.
Nice. What’s your creative process like? Do you record songs quickly with whatever beats you’ve got or do you seek out a certain sound for specific ideas?
Billy: Sound-wise, I just get beats. When I get in the booth, I just be smoking. Most of the time when I’m writing and shit, I gotta get a beat first. I get a beat and I listen to it. It might be hot, I like it. I’ll catch a bounce and I just start writing as I go. Or I might wait till I get to the studio. I hear a beat right there and write right there. It might take me like 15-20 minutes to write the whole song.
You mentioned smoking in the studio. Does weed help spark your creativity?
Billy: Weed plays a big part. I smoke when I do everything. I smoke when I eat, I smoke when I write, I smoke before I go to sleep, I smoke when I wake up. That’s all me and my friends always do. That’s what keeps me out of trouble, honestly. I keep calm, I be out the way, I’m mellow.
I’m into a lotta different weed, but I l smoke the good weed, California weed. Right before I even write anything, I get high. It’s like, “Oh shit, man!” I start thinking about shit and it’s like, “Let me write this down.” Or in the booth, it slows shit down for me. It lets me see shit better.
That’s dope. Do you have any specific strains you like? Is there any kind of weed that you don’t like?
I mean as long as it ain’t no dirt … don’t bring no regular weed for me. (Laughs) If it’s some good weed, we can smoke. I ain’t gonna tell you what weed to bring, just don’t bring no dirt!
A lot of rappers have been getting into the cannabis industry, launching their own brands and strains. Is that something you aspire to do one day?
Yeah! When I start getting like financially ready, I definitely wanna branch into that and have my own little strain one day.
Your upcoming debut is called Everything’s Healthy. I noticed that name is also used as the publisher of your singles. What does that phrase mean to you?
Billy: That’s more like a lifestyle, honestly. That comes from my brother. He up north right now, my brother. That’s what he would say, like, “What’s good with you? Everything healthy and everything good?” It’s like our slogan, it’s just our little thing. We been saying it since we was young and I always stuck with it.
What do you want to accomplish with your first project? Do you have any specific goals?
Billy: I wanna broaden out. I want everybody to start hearing me. I want people to understand me. I wanna feel like I can reach different people, I don’t wanna just reach one fan base. I wanna be able to get to that point where I know how to switch it up. I want them to see I could take it [to a wider audience] if I wanna take it there.
Well, good luck to you and thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Where can fans follow you on social media if they want to keep up with your work?
Billy: Aye, they can follow me on Instagram @billy_bandss. All my music is in the link of my bio.