A Lesson in Dedication: Inside the studio with bay b. Bop
Over the speakers at Barnard College’s Glicker-Milstein Theater the dulcet voice of bay b. Bop (ft. wyLee)—a 21-year-old South African singer/songwriter—serenades a crowd of fervent college students. While she’s listed as the opener for Bold, Brillant, Beats—an annual Barnard concert series— for many of the concert goers bay b. Bop is the act they have come to see, and she is never one to disappoint.
For the next thirty minutes, she is in complete control of her audience, moving from one side of the small stage to the other with alluring grace. When watching her it becomes clear she is a seasoned performer, though she has only been performing for a little over two years. At her shows bay b. Bop is always witty, vulnerable, and utterly self-aware.
The audience tonight is at her fingertips, hanging on her every word. And though the venue is relatively small, only capable of housing about 150 persons, the noise and energy levels match those of a New York City train station during rush hour. bay b. Bop is at the center of it all, a maestro of sorts, sporting one of her signature wigs and an iridescent crop-top with a matching skirt that looks like it came straight out of a 1980’s funk video.
In between lyrics she repeatedly asks her audience in the most soothing of voices, “are you bouncing with me tonight?” pointing the microphone into the crowd to pick up their immediate “yes” in response. Her words float through the air like cumulus clouds. When she talks to her audience her South African accent becomes much more apparent than it is in her singing voice. In speech, she possesses one of those melodious voices where, when you hear it even in passing, you know deep down she can really sing.
At this show, bay b. Bop performs a mix of some of her most popular songs — Rollin and Timeless with the help of friend and frequent collaborator Kidd AM — and new unreleased music. The forthcoming project, Venus, is a compilation of love songs slated to drop this May; just in time for graduation.
Watching her glide through her set it is obvious bay b. Bop is right at home. You would have no idea from watching her perform that just an hour earlier her manager / longtime friend Tyler Allen and skilled makeup artist Tania Maree Giordani (or “TMG” as she is lovingly referred to as) were frantically trying to get the singer ready to perform.
Backstage, prior to the show, her team and I all squeezed into a tiny public bathroom with a flimsy white sheet of paper plastered to the front of the door that read “BAY B. BOP (FT. WYLEE)” in big bold letters. Tonight, this bathroom is not functioning as a bathroom. Rather, it is serving as the “dressing room” for bay b. Bop.
Much to the surprise of her crew and I, this well placed sign did little to deter anyone from trying to come in and use the toilet. Throughout the course of the evening we were interrupted a total of 4 times by people that mistook our lovely “dressing room” for its former role as a public toilet.
Interruptions aside, everyone on the team is dialed in. TMG lightly pats the singer’s face with a makeup brush as Allen goes over the evening's setlist. They even request my help. Throughout the whole ordeal I held: a styrofoam wig stand, a makeup blender, a double chocolate chip cookie, and a half-eaten and noticeably moldy caesar salad. And though tensions in the room were running high with everyone wanting to get her out on time, the atmosphere in the room remained rather upbeat.
Allen cracks jokes about the recent reveal that Atlanta Rapper 21 Savage is actually a British citizen, bay b. Bop proclaims her secret admiration of Ariana Grande’s 2018 album Sweetener and TMG playfully dances to the music playing in her headphones.
In this moment, sitting on the porcelain rim of the toilet seat in her “dressing room,” the image of this team crystalizes into something more than just a group of people united by their passion for music and creativity. In reality, they’re something more akin to a family.
With that comes the realization that I am not sitting with bay b. Bop as she gets ready for her show. I am sitting with Vanessa Chadehumbe, the self described “cautious, stubborn” girl from Johannesburg, South Africa. The girl who got her start singing years ago in the school choir and to this day maintains an obsession with astrology.
In the midst of all the chaos in the dressing room she even had me download Costar, an app that helps her read my birth chart. According to her and it I am a Sagittarius with a Gemini rising and a Pisces moon.
When I ask her where her stage name comes her response provides a glimpse into her relationship with music itself.
“For a long time I was resistant to the idea of a stage name. I want to be involved in the music industry in so many different avenues. I wanted to be Vanessa the singer, Vanessa the manager, Vanessa the writer,” she remarks. “I wanted to avoid people reaching out to me and addressing me by my real name for certain things and then my stage name when booking my performance gigs because really it's all the same person.”
The origin of her peculiar stage name comes from a nickname Allen gave her spontaneously late one night in the studio; “Baby Bop.” But something was missing. Now before she graces any stage she is announced as “ bay b. Bop (ft. wyLee).”
The “Wylee” is derived from her adoration for the looney toons character “Wylie Coyote” and rapper Swae Lee. Lastly, she “loves the idea of featuring herself on tracks” and thus bay b. Bop (ft wyLee) was born.
A banging on the door abruptly interrupts the tender scene brewing in the dressing room. This time there are no patrons needing to use the bathroom. Instead, the event staff peeks in and reminds everyone that there’s just five minutes until the show starts. For the first time since the night began, there is silence. Moments later bay b. Bop emerges from the bathroom / dressing room hybrid. Seconds later, she is rocking the stage.
One might expect that at 11:33 pm on a Friday night following successful show an artist might take a load off and relax. Not bay b. Bop. For her and her team, there are only a few congratulatory hugs, a handful of pictures, and then it’s straight to CU Records, the recording studio located on the 5th floor of Columbia University’s Lerner Hall.
On the walk over from the venue, bay b. Bop watches some of the show’s footage which Allen recorded on his iPhone in the back of the audience propped up on a black folding chair. Despite delivering a mesmerizing show, bay b. Bop acts as her own worst critic. She’s always seeking for ways to reach newer heights as an artist and creative.
In her shows, she strives for “authenticity” placing heavy emphasis on cultivating a sense of togetherness between her and her audience.
“Because the act of performing authentically already feels like an oxymoron. How do I perform my authentic self for people? That's why I am trying to figure out in my shows,” she says. “How does my body want to move when I hear my own music? Every time I perform it has to be something different, I have to really allow myself to be moved by the music.”
On the elevator up to the 5th floor, bay b. Bop whips out one of her two nearly identical iPhones and begins to record a voice memo.
After her old phone randomly stopped working she was left practically unreachable by her family in South Africa. Her mother and aunt both surprised her by each sending a new phone without even realizing.
So now, she just keeps them both on her for “aesthetic purposes” and as a physical reminder of the overwhelming amount love and support she has from her family back home.
bay b. Bop, wraps up the voice memo as the elevator door opens and her, her team, and I all pile out and make our way to the studio. She compulsively creates and always finds herself on the move. Naturally she is not much of a pen and paper type of girl. She’d much rather record the ideas that constantly float into her head as a voice memo. She estimates that on either of her phones she has “hundreds of voice memos” of her freestyling new song lyrics or just humming melodies. Many of her most popular songs have started out this way.
To bay b. Bop, her lyrics are everything. While providing a memorable show where people can come and vibe out is among her top priorities, she still wants her audience to engage with her on a lyrical level. This can be traced back to her creative roots: writing poetry as a child. Even more recently before she was bay b. Bop the performer, she was a songwriter for a close friend at Columbia who she described as having a “simply incredible” voice but nothing to sing about. While her days of writing poetry and lyrics for other people are long gone bay b. Bop is only beginning to come into her own as an artist.
When we arrive at the studio, it is already jam-packed with people creating music—most of whom are members of Thou Shalt Not Entertainment: a cohort of various artists started by bay b. Bop and Tyler Allen back in 2016. The goal at the time was to nurture a community of like-minded creatives on Columbia and Barnard campuses.
Now when they come together, the studio is electric. The walls shake and the few paintings still hanging rattle as a beat best described as 90’s R&B mixed with modern-sounding “trap” drums oozes out of the large speakers.
The studio is almost as lively as the show earlier that night. There are people either standing or lying on couches debating everything from the cultural significance of Kanye West’s 2011 album Yeezus to the effectiveness of polyamorous relationships in today’s world.
Through it all bay b. Bop is still hard at work recording vocals for an upcoming song. She still wears the same outfit she had on for her show hours earlier. Her team works tirelessly before being kicked out by public safety at 3 in the morning. Finally, the long night begins to wind down and come to a close.
I managed to catch up again with bay b. Bop four days later as she got ready to spend yet another long night in CU Records. Tonight’s studio session is a slight departure from her normal grind; tonight she devotes her time to doing a special cover of the Kali Uchis song “Loner” ft Mykki Blanco. Much of bay b. Bop’s discography is comprised of songs either about or relating to different aspects of love. She refers to her own style as “sadgirlbops.”
She plans to drop her cover of “Loner,” a bonafide “sadgirlbop,” on Valentines Day along with a short visual she has been thinking about. Tyler Allen best sums up bay b. Bop’s sadgirlpop as “something you can cry and shoulder lean to at the same time.”
In the studio, bay b. Bop is aided this time by only one other person: engineer and producer Donovan Simpson (known professionally as just Donny). He too is a member of Thou Shalt Not Entertainment. The two work diligently into the early hours of the morning until the familiar banging on the door comes once again. It’s 3 a.m. The studio is closing. bay b. Bop and Donny scramble to finish recording one last take.
How does she do this, night in and night out, week after week and still never grow tired or show signs of stopping? The answer is love. Countless late nights spent in the studio creating is not work for her at all, but an act of love. This is why she always has her people with her in the studio, to help create that environment and at her shows her friends are ever present. It means the most to bay b. Bop when she is able to create music she loves both with and for the people she loves.
“I know what it’s like to spend hours doing something that I am not invested in [...] I always can make the time for doing something that I love, which is making music. Especially with the people I care about.” she said. “The fact of the matter is between school and making music [I] don't really have much time, so i want the studio to be a social experience, a spiritual experience, and a loving experience, too.”