Inside the musical funhouse of bbno$

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      It’s 7:45 in the morning when bbno$ calls, and he’s circling his sunny Los Angeles neighbourhood with a coffee. He’s clad in his signature wireframe glasses, handlebar moustache, and goatee, and like just about everything the rapper touches, this interview quickly evolves into a multimedia experience.

      Discussing LA’s perks—the weather and the food—the rapper turns his camera towards a vibrant orange tree: “No one eats them. It’s frowned upon.” When comparing the city to his hometown of Vancouver, he stumbles upon an abandoned fridge and brings his phone right up to its contents. “Look, at least we don’t have it this bad. It’s a full fridge, just chilling.” And later, he shows off a worm. Just because.

      The early-bird routine began when he was a competitive swimmer in high school. But for bbno$, real name Alexander Leon Gumuchian, this high energy is a constant throughout the day. After he hangs up, he’s getting on a podcast, then doing a live stream, then knocking off some admin work. And to finish the day? Flying to China. “I love being busy,” he says. “It makes me feel fulfilled.”

      Luckily for fans, that zeal translates into every aspect of his musical output: uptempo production, ridiculously charming music videos, and sheer volume. In the last six years alone, Gumuchian has released eight full-length albums and a small army of viral singles (“Lalala” with Y2K, “Edamame” with Rich Brian).

      Gumuchian has described his music as “oxymoronical rap,” delivering lighthearted lyrics with a heavy, punchy flow. With bars like “Balls hanging low while I pop a bottle off a yacht/Chain swanging, cling-clang, and it cost a lot,” it’s as if he cares as much about the content of the words as he does the pure joy of alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia. And though he’s borrowing plenty from poetry, he’s not gunning for a Pulitzer.

      “Lyrically, it’s like, fuck, whatever sounds cool, whatever sounds funny,” he shares. “Sometimes my lyrics are really stupid, and it doesn’t mean anything. But it’s weird, because I don’t really have anything to say—but I have a lot to say, at the same time.”

      The 28-year-old attributes his go-go-go ethos to the internet. Though he splits his time between Vancouver and LA, he doesn’t have a home base.

      “I live out of my suitcase,” he says. Whether he’s travelling to Tampa to work with YouTuber MoistCr1TiKaL or to Vietnam to collaborate with rapper Low G, Gumuchian navigates the physical realm as if he’s surfing the web IRL, clicking from one tab to the next.

      “It’s a fun life, but sometimes I would love to be stationary and develop an intimate relationship,” he shares. “But it’s impossible, so it is what it is. Cheers.”

      Gumuchian came of age in the digital world. He began gaming as a kid and got his start in music as a Souncloud rapper. He’s successfully marketed his songs using TikTok, Tinder, and Craigslist. And despite ongoing interest from record labels, he’s remained independent, opting to retain that freedom discovered on the internet—where his video game mentality gives him an upper hand.

      “I almost turned creating and releasing music into a game of online Snakes and Ladders. It was like: if you gain a hundred more followers, then you can message this guy, and you can confidently say that he’s going to reply to you, and then you’ll make a song with him,” says Gumuchian. “The music scene is really just a game where it’s all based on nonsense. It’s all based on analytics.”

      After a decade of building a career as an internet act, Gumuchian has witnessed enormous industry changes, largely precipitated by social media. On the one hand, as he sees it, “it’s democratized the fuck out of music,” which undercuts the “exploitative” and “monopolized” label system. But on the other hand, it’s rendered success arbitrary. And bbno$ makes an exemplary case study for this phenomenon, with some songs at a billion streams, and others in the hundreds of thousands.

      “It’s not how good the song is,” Gumuchian says. “It’s the moment, it’s the timing, it’s the marketing campaign.”

      In the world he’s created for himself online, he’s able to experiment, have fun, and get weird. It’s part of what draws people to him.

      “My fans, they connect with me because I’m just a kid that was awkward and didn’t really know himself, and found himself via making music,” he reflects. “I feel so comfortable in my skin now to just do me at all given moments. I feel like it’s given me the ability to be creative in a way that can define who Alex really is.”

      Growing up in Vancouver gave him licence to start that process of self-discovery. The city nurtured Gumuchian by providing a safe, tree-filled place to discover his creative side.

      “Vancouver is one of the nicest places in the world, just by default,” he says, “whether or not you’re a Patagonia-esque person.”

      Devan Head for The Georgia Straight.

      He’s always wanted to give back to the city, and now he can. On May 26, he’s staging a Malkin Bowl show billed as Baby’s Bonanza, featuring Yung Gravy, Freddie Dredd, Jungle Bobby, Joost Klein, and Eric Reprid, with all proceeds going to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.   

      “That’s me saying, ‘I love my city.’ That’s me saying, ‘I don’t ever want to perform in Vancouver without a massive portion going to the East Side,’” shares Gumuchian. “I don’t care about the money. What matters more to me is being someone with a platform that can actually do something.”

      Gumuchian built that platform from the ground up, using the internet to create a worldwide community of collaborators and fans. He charged into the limelight with a sense of self that he hasn’t compromised, even in the face of ever-increasing fame. And though he discovered his success in the digisphere, everything he does resounds firmly in the real world.

      Baby’s Bonanza takes place at the Malkin Bowl on May 26.