When Vivian Bolden enrolled at Roosevelt University in 2015, her plan was to become a surgical dentist like her grandfather. He and her grandmother were huge influences on her and paid for her education. But when Bolden developed a passion for sustainability while learning about it in school, it took some talking to help her grandfather understand the change in career choice. “I had to really sit him down and do a PowerPoint on it because if it don’t make sense, he’s not spending money on it,” the 25-year-old says. But it worked: Bolden is on pace to get her degree in biology and sustainability this December.
Bolden’s grandfather had his own dentistry practice, and she was specifically interested in how businesses can reduce their carbon footprint. But five years in and with 16 credits to go, Bolden has shifted career goals again: Her brand-new single, “Shake Dat A$$,” featuring platinum-selling, Grammy Award–winning recording artist Chance the Rapper, is her most successful song to date in what has become a fast-budding rap career under the name Baha Bank$, with more than 50,000 likes on YouTube and a viral clip at 42,000 likes on Twitter in less than two months.
“[Rap] was never initially the plan,” Bolden says. “My grandpa still knows nothing about it.” That’s partly because she has only been rapping since January. The thought of pursuing a career in rap didn’t even exist for the mom of a 3-year-old until her freestyle in the #SoBrooklynChallenge went viral last summer. When she posted her version, which had a Chicago spin, on Instagram, she received an overwhelming response from friends telling her to consider pursuing the craft in earnest.
While Bolden’s rap career might have come out of nowhere, her talent didn’t. Growing up in Chicago, she was showered with artistic nourishment by her mom and grandparents: She participated in choir and musical theater, and also played keys and alto sax. You could even attribute her ability to spit rhymes to her family background. “My aunt used to teach spoken-word classes and my mom used to do poetry,” Bolden says. “Her pen name was Southern Comfort because my mom is from the South.”
While most of her content thus far “has a lot of sex appeal,” Bolden maintains she can do it all, from Chicago’s classic drill to alternative. “I love pop music. I grew up listening to Demi Levato and Hannah Montana and I still do,” she says. “I realized that I need to make diverse music because the culture is constantly changing.”
Industry connections didn’t hurt either. She grew up knowing prominent local videographer LVTR Kevin and got her first chance to model as a video vixen in his production of G Herbo’s 2017 hit “Everything (Remix),” which also featured Chance the Rapper. Similarly, the director who shot the “Shake Dat A$$” video, Armani Martin, has not only helmed music videos featuring Wale, Megan Thee Stallion and other heavy hitters in hip-hop but also a friend whom Bolden knew through an after-school program. But when asked whether working with Bolden was a case of doing a friend a favor, Martin insists it was much more. “She knows what she wants and she goes after it. Her edge is what makes her seem like she’s been rapping all of her life,” Martin says. Same with Chance: Baha tells me their collaboration was as random as him showing up to one of her sessions, liking a song and asking to get on it. “We went to high school together,” she mentions casually.
A big part of Bolden’s success has to do with her being right on time. Women are having a moment in hip-hop, from mainstream artists like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj to indie acts like Flo Milli and Tierra Whack. A study headed by Prince Charles Alexander, a Berklee College of Music professor and recording mixer–engineer in partnership with Hit Songs Deconstructed, found that there has been a trend of women charting more frequently. In 2017, women across the board had 17 percent of the No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100; in 2019 that number rose to 22 percent. Similarly, No. 1’s for all-female duet/groups rose from 14 percent in 2019 to 29 percent in 2020. Alexander says that while there has been an uptick in interest in female artists in general, the activity is centered on hip-hop or hip-hop-adjacent artists. Which could be a very good thing for rappers like Baha Bank$ when it comes to attracting investment from the industry. “Record companies, notorious for their desire to chase after a good thing, have been convinced by Cardi B’s huge success that investing in female artists is lucrative,” Alexander says.
As for what comes next, Bolden is excited to get her degree in December and says she still wants to develop sustainable property while pursing a career in rap. The only issue now is explaining that music video to her grandpa.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Bolden as a single mom. She is not single.