premiere: harlem rapper sheck wes drops a high-energy ode to basketball phenom mo bamba
The buzzed about 19-year-old was exiled to Senegal by his mother. Now he’s back and hanging out with Travis Scott.
Born in Harlem to Senegalese parents, Sheck Wes grew up obsessed with three things: basketball, fashion, and music. When he was four, his mother, convinced that Harlem was a bit too chaotic for the young family, moved them to Milwaukee, and Sheck grew up spending the subsequent summers back in New York. The move wasn’t enough, however, for Sheck’s mom, and, convinced that her troublesome son needed a bigger change, sent him to Senegal at age 17. This wasn’t a study abroad trip: not only did she take away his passport and cell phone, but Sheck, who had never spent time in his parents’ country, had to find his own way with previously unknown family members in a village outside the Senegalese capital of Dakar. Mom was not playing around.
Upon returning to Harlem after exactly 100 days in Senegal, Sheck quickly got to work, giving up basketball and fashion to focus on music, which he had begun writing while abroad. He’s been back in the States for almost a year now, and the 19-year-old rapper has wasted no time building a buzz online: he dropped a bombastic, myth-building single, “Live SheckWes Die SheckWes”; modeled for Yeezy and V-Files; and became close friends with Travis Scott, who Sheck calls his big brother. Whatever his mom thought he needed to fix, clearly it worked out for the best.
Today, i-D is premiering the video for Sheck’s thunderous second single, “Mo Bamba,” which is directed by Kanye West’s videographer WhiteTrashTyler (Drake’s “Sneakin,’” Kanye’s “Famous”). The video, which features Sheck prowling around a basketball court in the Harlem neighborhood he grew up in, surrounded by friends, is a fitting accompaniment to the song itself, which is about Sheck’s childhood friend Mo Bamba, currently a star basketball player at the University of Texas and a projected NBA lottery pick. Sheck, who grew up playing basketball with Bamba, wrote the song to draw a parallel between his experience as an up-and-coming rapper being approached by record labels and Bamba’s experience as a high school recruit being hassled by colleges; in the video, he’s seen accepting money from two slimey agents, only to give it right back to his neighborhood.
From the opening shots of the video, Sheck’s poise and charm is undeniable. He stares deadpan into the camera while rolling around on a power scooter and dances in an all white jordan sweatsuit, flexing a practiced charisma rare to most 19-year-olds, especially one with only two songs to his name. Despite “Mo Bamba”’s hairraising, riot-starting energy, the song and video feel tongue-in-cheek, an inside joke of sorts between Sheck and his listener. In a way, Sheck’s music has also served as an introduction to a fully-formed, performative character: anyone who posts photos like this, or starts his songs off like this, knows exactly what he’s doing. And with some big collaborations and a new album, Mud Boy, on the horizon, not to mention an upcoming project with Nike, Sheck, like his friend Mo, is finally ready to make the jump to the big leagues.
We caught up with Sheck to discuss his friendship with Mo Bamba, the meaning behind the song, and why he’s rocking a walking boot in the music video.
How did the track come about?
I made this song at a very frustrated point in my music career. A lot of people were reaching out to me, a lot of labels, a lot of managers, a lot of producers, friends…. I felt like a college basketball recruit. I was comparing what rappers come up to to what basketball recruits come up to, and me and Mo Bamba are from the same place, and with him being a projected draft pick, and me being a projected draft pick, we’re going through the same stuff.
What does Mo think of the song?
The first person I sent the song to was Mo Bamba himself. Me and Mo Bamba grew up together in the same neighborhood where I shot that video [in Harlem]. Those courts were our stomping grounds. It meant a lot to me to go back there and show people where Mo Bamba and I grew up. He was always telling me, “aw man, you gotta throw my name into a song!” So I was like, “why don’t I just make a whole song about Mo Bamba?”
My favorite part of the video is you rolling around with the walking boot. What happened?
I was a very active, avid basketball player growing up, and the day of my music video, I was playing basketball, and I hurt my foot. I was supposed to cancel the video, but I didn’t want to, so we did it — I had my boot on my foot, I had went and got myself a power chair because I didn’t wanna be on my foot all day, hurting. And we knocked out the video!
What’s it like being back in America? A lot has happened since you returned.
I’ve been back nearly a year now. Since I’ve been back… things changed for me a lot. I got a whole different mindset from living in Senegal and being there. I learned a lot of things, met a lot of people, and got to really find out what I wanted to work for, and who I want to be, and who I want to help, and who I’m doing it for.
Are you and your mom good now?
Yeah. We good now. Everything worked out. It took me going to Africa to be a better person, a better man.