Spotlight on a Star

Melissa Ramirez

April 2, 2014

Senior Ambrell “Bella” Gambrell, is a corporate communications major, member of the Lambda Pi Eta National Communication Association, a writing fellow, tutor for the Academic Enrichment Center and editor for Dominican’s Campus News site.

What some people don’t know about Gambrell is that in the spare time she does find for herself, she is working on fulfilling her aspiration of being a female rapper.

“It started with a poem,” Gambrell said, explaining the roots of her rap career. “I’ve always loved writing and I’ve loved poetry for a very long time. I wrote poetry for a really long time, so that was the foundation of it.”

By the age of 11, she formed a group with her cousins called “The Thug Angels.” Gambrell, who went by the name “Young B” at the time, wrote all of the songs for the group. The group eventually disbanded, but Gambrell continued to write poetry on her own.

“I started going to spoken word events,” Gambrell said. “I went to YCA, Young Chicago Authors, for the first time when I was in high school. One of my friends introduced me to it.”

Around the same time, Gambrell became friends with an aspiring rapper, leading her to be around music and its production in a way she had never been before.

In her mind, she was always rapping along to beats and feeling the urge to write her own raps. She tried convincing her rapper friend to allow her to write for him, but he refused to use someone else’s work. It never crossed her mind, at the time, that she could just rap herself.

A few years later, her boyfriend, Phil, challenged her to write her own rap song.

“I finally made a song because Phil said ‘You don’t have the patience to write a rap. You could write poems all day long, but you could never write a rap because you don’t have the patience.’”

One day, while Phil was away on a fishing trip, she found the perfect opportunity to prove him wrong. She got a beat from one of her friends, wrote a rap to the beat and performed the rap for Phil when he got back.

“That was Youthful Part I,” she reminisced with a smirk. “He said I wouldn’t do it.”

Gambrell’s biggest musical influences include Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Tupac Shakur, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, Prince, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco and King Louie.

“Oh my God, there’s so many. I draw from so many artists. But my biggest influencers right now aren’t famous. They’re my peers,” Gambrell explained.

Today, Gambrell goes by the stage name “Bella Bahhs.” She released her first EP, Power Hall, back in September of 2013. Believe it or not, it was all initiated by a student conduct hearing that she was a part of.

“I had a conduct hearing and I was impelled to write a song about it. So, I wrote a song about it and then I was like ‘I should make a tape that is an articulation of my experience in college. That’s something I could talk about.’”

Bella was living in Power Hall at the time of the conduct hearing, which influenced the name of the tape, but that wasn’t the only thing that influenced her music.

“My music is caritas veritas. Music is a method of exploring truth and love. I’m from Austin, a neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. Austin is less than 10 minutes away from River Forest, but they couldn’t seem further apart. I realized that many people in River Forest, many people at Dominican, are completely ignorant of my truth,” Gambrell confessed. “A majority of the people in neighborhoods like Austin feel confined. So many people never leave. School was my opportunity to leave. Unfortunately, most families from Austin, and neighborhoods like it, cannot afford to send their children to college.”

Since the release of Power Hall, she’s had several performances and has received positive feedback from family, friends and peers. At “Dominican’s Got Talent” last week, she won third place after opening for the show.

With plans to graduate in May, the question of a post-graduation plan lingers, just as it does with most prospective graduates.

“I will continue working at the Office of Marketing and Communications for the summer of 2014. In the meantime, I will be trying to find a grown-up job, I suppose,” she laughed. “But of course, the entire time I will be a striving artist. I honestly think whatever job I get is to support music. Being an artist, making music is a life. The job is to support the life.”

To learn more about Bella Bahhs and listen to Power Hall, visit YeahBellaRaps.com.