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Reality TV devotees with short memories may not remember "Sisterhood of Hip Hop." Not to be confused with VH1’s ongoing "Love & Hip Hop" franchise of shows, the T.I.-produced program aired for three seasons on the Oxygen network between 2014 and 2016, chronicling the comings and goings of a number of female emcees navigating the competitive rap game.
Fast forward to 2019 and, at least to some extent, things have changed for the better. With a broadening field of women of color competing alongside the usual surplus of male spitters, the industry’s maddeningly persistent suppression of female emcees appears tentatively — but hopefully — on the wane.
With former "Love & Hip Hop: New York" cast member Cardi B now one of the biggest hitmakers around, "Sisterhood of Hip-Hop" alum and Medford native Bianca Landrau — better known to her fans as Bia — could very well be next in line.
She'll be headlining at the Middle East in Cambridge on Sunday, Feb. 17.
“It’s that constant search for identity,” she told hip-hop personality DJ Vlad about being a mixed race kid growing up in New England, not feeling white enough to hang with Italians or Latina enough to hang with Puerto Ricans. “I just got a taste of everything and I feel like that made me who I am.”
The 27-year-old rapper’s well-deserved come up has been long in the works. Tapped by Pharrell Williams, she made waves with 2014’s #CHOLASEASON mixtape, which boasted beats by the Neptunes maestro and Harlem producer Crystal Caines, among others.
Signed to RCA Records, she proceeded to drop a pair of singles in the spring of 2016, first via the brash narco-metaphorical “Whip It” and then with the trap godfather homage “Gucci Comin’ Home.”
“They found me off YouTube and they just groomed me,” she told NYLON of working with Pharrell and manager Fam-Lay. “I would've never really known who I was if I didn't take that leap and go find myself.”
That same year, Bia appeared as a featured vocalist on Colombian urbano act J Balvin’s Pharrell-helmed “Safari.”
In an overt nod to the Puerto Rican part of her heritage, she presciently employed a bilingual flex on the track, the likes of which would shortly become the wave as trap en español joined its English-language counterpart. At the time, the track proved a hit throughout Latin America as well as here in the U.S., where it peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart.
While Bia certainly could have parlayed that “Safari” appearance into a promising Spanish hip-hop career, she opted to primarily stick with English, as evidenced by subsequent singles like 2017’s Cardo-produced banger “Badside.”
Like so many rappers past and present, she proudly reps her American hometown through her work. While Boston may not be as renowned on the national scene today as, say, Atlanta or Memphis, she described a threatening hardness present in the city on 2015’s “Bobby Brown,” calling out trap wannabes, over a reworked Future beat no less.
For her latest single “Hollywood,” a highlight of 2018’s "Nice Girls Finish Last: Cuidado EP," she casts a scathing side eye on the stereotypical Los Angeles types over an opulent instrumental by Murda Beatz, of Drake “Nice For What” fame.
Having moved westward no doubt to make a concerted go at her career, Bia’s evident distrust of the scenesters in the music world’s concentric circles reaffirms that, no matter where she lays her head at night, she’s still very much from here rather than assimilating or conforming out there. (Incidentally, the music video for “Hollywood” is credited to producer Kevin Boston, a fellow transplanted New Englander.)
Listening closely to the far too brief "Nice Girls Finish Last" subtly reveals the handful of ways in which Bia holds tight to her roots even as she makes a play for rap stardom. She’s self aware of how L.A. impacts her established lifestyle choices on “Blue Bank,” another Murda Beatz cut.
Teaming with Kali Uchis for “YAKWTFGO” after first collaborating on the singer’s eclectic Isolation album a few months earlier, she exhibits Latinx solidarity with assertive bars supported by the Colombian-American artist’s foreboding hook.
Nonetheless, Bia isn’t remotely shy about her ambitions, snagging a Kodak Black feature for the woozy pop trap “Vibes On Me” and switching things up for the unexpected piano ballad “Drown In My Cup.”
Even with solidly up-to-date production and a keen sense of contemporary flow, it will take more than that to get Bia to the proverbial next level. To that end, she’s previously scored strategically advantageous opening spots for everyone from Ariana Grande to Pusha-T in recent years.
Bia was Grande's main supporting act on the 2017 "Dangerous Woman" tour when a bombing killed 22 people as a concert ended in Manchester.
Though she hasn’t exactly pushed her Latinidad as heavily as some U.S. based traperos, the U.S. market’s embrace of Latinx artists like Anuel AA, Bad Bunny, and the aforementioned Cardi B possibly gives Bia more of a chance to stand out than many of her competitors.
That said, it took more than two years from Bia’s first RCA single for the label to release an EP’s worth of her tunes, less a reflection of her skills than a likely example of the industry’s wariness around letting relatively unproven rap signees drop longer works.
Someone with her talents and connections assuredly could put together a commercial mixtape of new material, something up-and-coming male rappers in her major label midst appear to get with some regularity.
Still, even if some of the institutional struggles present during the "Sisterhood of Hip Hop" days remain, Bia has what it takes to rise above.
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