Baby Osama is ready to blow up

But she’s still gonna shop at Ross.

Baby Osama. Art by Tyler Farmer.

“Everybody was just mad confused on what my ethnicity was. One day I was in school, and for me, I was the only girl in the group, so n****s was just cutting ass, we flaming each other. That n**** said, ‘You look just like Osama Bin Laden daughter.’ I was like, ‘Oh nah I’m running with that one.’ Baby Osama.”

This was before Baby Osama (‘03 baby, July Leo, from the Bronx) started making music four years ago. It’s early June and we’re at the basement studio in Greenpoint run by production team Cavity; I recognize the space because Osama frequently hosts Instagram Lives there, playing snippets of unreleased music and dispensing life advice. Even dressed down (“No photos,” her manager relayed earlier in the day), she screams streetwear cool — the baggy sweatshirt is incidentally trendy olive, her patchwork Nikes have zippers on the tongue. A face tat (half of a red butterfly next to her ear) is obscured by thick square glasses and her curly hair.

Calling yourself “different” is cliche, especially for a rapper, but Baby Osama wears the mantle convincingly. Your fav rappers might be into fashion, but they aren’t stitching together their own garments (These pants remind me of this Walter Van Beirendonck jacket). They might say they’re spiritual, but they aren’t pulling up to Ravi Shankar masterclasses. And while yes, a lot of Baby Osama’s songs would slot comfortably between Bear1boss and Babyxsosa on a playlist, the nuances of her sound make direct comparison less than satisfying.

The pants! (She made them herself.)

“I felt like nobody was making music I like… I just be zoned out in my own world so I used to just make music just to listen to, no funny shit. And then people started fucking with it so I started going crazy.”

And she does go crazy. Baby Osama’s riotous music makes her provocative stage name seem passé by comparison. On “FUK DA GRAM” she carves out a melodic pocket amidst cacophony before flipping into her upper register, shredding up and down a lurching A1denxo beat like Eileen Gu in the halfpipe. “ghetto punk” with John Maclane feels like the future Lil Wayne saw when he was making Rebirth, distorted guitar and autotune layered atop each other to delirious effect — Paramore wish they sounded this cool.

Friend of the blog Alphonse Pierre wrote about “RX Baby” back in October; Evilgiane and jonboyice co-produced “NO HOOK.” And then there’s “No Label,” a frenetic song flipping Drake’s “Over My Dead Body” that immediately landed in my On Repeat and has not left since.

Baby Osama – “No Label”

“I didn’t even know about the sample. I never heard that song until after,” Baby Osama laughs. “I thought it was some anime shit.”

From anyone else, this would seem like facetious marketing. Soft spoken and lightly fried from a pre-interview spliff, Baby Osama details how frequent collaborator $AINT had the entire beat, Soul Plane dialogue and all, prepped before she even stepped in the booth. “The last thing he was adding was the drums.”

Chantal Kreviazuk’s nightcored vocals take on the same evocative texture as chipmunk soul, and Baby Osama’s never-lazy rapping is especially on point. She is resigned about friends she’s lost (“Why we ain’t stick to the plan?”), manic about real estate investment (“I’m gon buy some laaaaaand”), making the daily grind sound like a sugar rush with a totally straight face. Her focus on writing helps to differentiate “No Label” from the ocean of forgettable songs built around cheat-code samples available on streaming these days.

“Everybody be run and gun on those beats. Run and gun flows, run and gun words — they’ll say the same word back to back, over and over again. Me, I’ma give y’all a couple bars, you feel me? Different flows too, how I switch my shit up.”

Baby Osama – “only girl in the nba”

Take July’s “only girl in the nba,” which twists “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” by Katy Perry into a triumphant backdrop fit for Chief Keef. Where another rapper might lean more heavily on the source material, interpolating or harmonizing with the cribbed melody, Baby Osama only refers to it obliquely (“Last Friday night was just like yesterday”). Instead, her autotuned lines soar and swoon in sync with a commotion of bells and Lex Lugerian hi-hats. “He wanna meet my dad, I said ‘hell naw,’” she moans on the hook. “Even when I’m rich, I’m gon’ still shop at Ross.”

“That sample shit fake popping, it’s bringing attention,” Osama adds. “N***as is doing Jersey club sample beats, samples is getting used in pluggnb beats.”

In May, Baby Osama released her first tape Tank Girl, named after her childhood favorite sci-fi flick. In the 1995 cult classic Lori Petty’s titular heroine is bawdy and badass, forcefeeding lecherous goons hot lead one minute, leading an elaborate musical number the next. But Tank Girl remains endearingly human, hurting and horny, petty and selfless. Across Tank Girl, Baby Osama is similarly lovelorn and lovestruck, ambitious and unconcerned.

Those emotions are encoded in her vocal approach, inspired by older artists like David Ruffin and The Temptations. “I listen to the instruments and it’s gnarly,” Osama explains. “You could deadass sound like that.”

Her choice to treat vocals as instruments is front and center on “Tank Girl (Interlude)” and “Osama 4 President,” where mumbled lyrics and repeated “yeah”s are mushed into primal earworms subsequently percolated through autotune. She records and engineers her own vocals, though she’s generally unconcerned with mixing and mastering: “As long as that shit booming in the car, I’m good.”

Baby Osama – “Diff World”

Elsewhere, Baby Osama’s strain of pluggnb is frictionless: tripled-up harmonies glide across “Grow My Brain” like the puck on an air hockey table. The unhurried bounce of “Diff World” is set off by verdant woodwinds and wooden drums, Osama’s voice slithering up and down in volume so the “Wow” really pops when she sighs, “I hate the way they steal, that shit got me like ‘Wow.’” And “Build A Boy” will ring familiar to any woman who’s upgraded her boyfriend’s closet (“make him look good, make him look fly”), but there’s a wrinkle — her man’s new threads are all straight out of Baby Osama’s own closet. “He try all my clothes on, he look like me baby/I got drip for days, go in my closet and see baby,” she croons. 

“This being my first tape, it was on some heart to heart shit,” says Osama. “I was fake going through a lot, so I threw it all in the tape.” 

Near the end of our conversation, she teases the idea of putting out a new tape every year, not just to show off her growth as an artist, but as a time capsule of the self. And when it comes to the future, Baby Osama is sanguinely optimistic about a career beyond music.

“I’m probably gonna be so up to where my old music hit better than my new music,” she says matter-of-factly. “Once I really get up to the point where I’m getting all my royalties, I’m gonna branch into different things. I’ll probably be a scientist or some shit, you never know.”

Okay but if you were a scientist, what would you research?

“The effect of positivity and negativity on the mental landscape.”