West Baltimore rapper Bandhunta Izzy has been one of the city's most promising artists over the past 18 months, but now the rest of the country is catching on. In 2016, he and his older brother, Bandhunta Jugg, began gaining local traction with their signature back-and-forth lyrical bouts, describing what life in the street was on an average day. The collaborations started to attract comparisons to a couple of their favorite artists, G Herbo and Lil Bibby, whose tag-team contributions to the spread of Chicago Drill music sent a shockwave out onto the global rap community in 2012. That onslaught resulted in new, localized tweaks to drill throughout various regions in the US. Izzy's take is one of those tweaks.
In the fall of 2016, he and fellow Baltimore rapper, Blue Benjamin Sleepy, released "BBB," another bar-for-bar record that went on to become Izzy's first video with over a million views. Since, then the 21-year-old continued to drop loose hits, takes on popular beats, and snippets of songs on his Instagram profile. In 2017, he signed with Republic Records, and began traveling to Atlanta, Miami, and LA to record with producers and artists outside of his local market.
Today, Izzy released his debut tape, Code Blue, a 13-track project filled with pounding production that provides the proper foundation for his tightly-packed bars. The tape was mixed by Young Thug's famed engineer Alex Tumay, who's been raving about Izzy's talent over the past few months on Twitter. What separates Code Blue from much of Izzy's early work is that it gives a peak into his vulnerabilities and missteps—something that his raps about guns, drugs, and money haven't given much of up to this point. One of those situations is played out in his new video for "In Love Wit da Trap," which we're premiering today. The video shows a teenage Izzy having a dispute with his mother, in which she finds drugs in her house that he and his brother had been selling. The scene is described in the tape's intro and played out in the video, which shows what his life became after his mother left he and his brother on their own out of frustration. To talk about the "In Love Wit da Trap" video, Code Blue, and his musical beginnings, we had a conversation with Bandhunta Izzy while he was recording in New York in early December. Watch the video below.
Noisey: What was your introduction to music? What got played around the house?
Bandhunta Izzy: Me and my brother Jugg been rapping since we was young. A lot of older niggas around us rapped. So we did it ourselves and realized as we got older that we actually knew how to do it. We wasn’t introduced to no rap. My father wasn’t with that. He was trying to lead us down the right way so he didn’t want us listening. So,once we did get introduced to it, it’s something we gravitated towards. Like being rebellious.
What were you like in school?
I was quiet as shit in school. I didn’t really say shit to anybody. I was really into art. That’s where my grades was good at. I was good at drawing. I was doing tats before I started rapping. In twelfth grade, I went to a different school and I just stopped drawing. I was bored, basically. After first period, I would always call my man because he worked a night shift. So he got off in the morning and he would come grab me on his way home, go to his house, and play the game.
Was there a specific moment where you gained confidence to pursue rap as a career? Because not too many people heard of you, even in Baltimore, before 2016.
Yeah that’s when I started getting the buzz. Me and my brother, we came out with this shit called “Bandhuntas.” We didn’t make up the group but we made up the song. After we made up the song, people started noticing. Then we made a “Bandhuntas Pt. 2” and made a visual for it. That’s what really started getting the buzz. I started putting music out on Soundcloud in twelfth grade but none of it caught on. It started buzzing after school.
Were they any local rappers that encouraged you to keep pushing? Like did the success of Lor Scoota or Young Moose make it a bit more real to you?
That’s exactly what I said when Scoota died. I ain’t know him but I posted him up. Shorty made it feel like niggas could actually do it out the city. When he died that shit was crazy. They definitely gave me more hope. Mainstream niggas was recognizing them.
When I first caught wind of your music, it was primarily you jacking for beats. What was the transition from that to you crafting your own voice and making original music?
It was kind of hard but it was something I had to adapt to because I’m a rapper-rapper. I like to rap and actually use wordplay and have bars and shit. Making music is a whole different process. People can rap they ass off but if you can’t make a song you not really gon’ get nowhere so I had to learn how to do it.
Talk about the making of “In Love Wit da Trap."
With the song, I was in Atlanta actually in the studio with my man Pyrex. The beat came on and for some reason, the beat just gave me a certain vibe of back in the day. The first words that came out my mouth was “Just made a couple bands on the stove.” So that whole feel of the first line, I took that, and ran with it. Like taking it back.
Looking back to when you first started gaining local traction to now, how does it feel to be able to share your first project? You’ve been building anticipation for a while without a tape. That’s not common anymore.
Yeah I’m not really into that. I feel like anything I drop should be my best or the best I can do. So I just felt like this is the best. It feel good to see people people anticipate it and see my fanbase keep on growing, even when I’m not dropping shit.
How have you grown most as an artist?
Just making different type of music because I really was stuck on a certain lane, certain sound. So I’m expanding.
What were you stuck on?
A strict flow. It was everything. My music sounded the same. But I’m starting to sound different but still talk about what I want to talk about.
Is there something in particular you want people to take away from Code Blue that they haven’t gotten from your loose tracks?
I’m starting to open up more about personal life and shit I been through because, like I said, I was strictly rapping about certain things. I’m starting to allow people to get to know me as a person. Going to different places opened my mind up. I can say more. A lot of people can’t say they been to Miami or LA or New York, Atlanta. So I’m rapping about the shit that went on when I was in these places. It’s more to rap about. More life experience.
Catch Bandhunta Izzy on Noisey Radio on Beats 1 this Saturday at 9am.
Follow Lawrence Burney on Twitter.