It's a Monday evening at Beans & Bytes Café in downtown Detroit. The place is full of Internet surfers and cappuccino slurpers, just like any other night. Moody is hunched over, elbow on table and chin on fist, listening quietly as his manager Kasha Story and label head G-Raw discuss his future with the same vigor as if the rapper were an NBA star. Moody's latest single, "Old Schoolz," is his new calling card, a bouncy song that drops rhymes about cars, rims and girls. The catchy tune's getting love on WJLB, which, in turn, has led to a healthy list of upcoming area shows. (It's amazing what local airplay can do.)
The single father of two girls is the personification of his rap moniker; one moment Moody's talkative and upbeat, and other times he's withdrawn and short with his words. And his music is as diverse as his moods: His flow moves effortlessly from humorous to hard, framed with lots of metaphorical narrative and wit.
The Detroit-born, 26-year-old (né Duane Evans) who was raised by Mom and his military-man stepdad has lived in more cities than Chauncey Billups. He's gone from Texas to Italy, to Romulus, Taylor, Inkster and now Detroit. And like many emcees, he started rapping young. He christened himself Tragic by high school and battle-rapped other teen emcees on the schoolyard. But as his passion for hip hop evolved, Moody couldn't stay out of trouble.
The rapper shrugs his shoulders, shakes his head. "I was just young, doing stupid shit," he says.
After getting the boot from Romulus High, Inkster High, and Wayne Memorial for fighting, Moody finally graduated from Romulus Community High School.
Following his 2001 graduation, Moody moved to Vancouver, Wash., to live with his cousin and to attend community college, where he majored in computer science. He participated in a few open-mic sessions there, but nothing too serious. A year later he was back in the Motor City. His days were spent trying to get, and keep, money in his pocket. Moody was driven.
"I started making my own mix CDs," he says, "and hanging out at the coney island on Livernois and selling them for five dollars."
Moody was also hitting hip-hop open-mics at the Cotillion Club and Coco's. A performance at the C-Note Lounge led to a deal with Ricochet Entertainment (a local upstart label). The rapper knew about Ricochet; his cousin, Lil' Dooley, was its only artist. In 2003, the label released Moody's first studio album, Beside Myself, which featured local star guests, including Eastside Chedda Boyz and Big Herk.
Moody says the album sold in the neighborhood of 5,000 copies and says it had potential to do much more. "We sold everything we put in the stores. But they [Ricochet] didn't do Lil' Dooley's project right and I think they were scared to put their money behind another artist."
Moody's frustration with, he says, the lack of promotion behind Beside Myself was offset by the valuable experience in its creation props from peers and the opportunity to work with quality producers and artists. One such producer, Bird, has ties to Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy and produced 50 Cent's massive 2003 hit "P.I.M.P."
"We got cool and I wound up writing lyrics, and working on a group album for his F.B.C. label (Founded by Criminals)," Moody says.
Around this time, G-Raw, a DJ at St. Andrew's, had been itching to get into the music biz. He became Moody's manager after the rapper's Ricochet contract expired.
"When I first heard Moody, I thought this was the type of artist I needed," Raw says. "There was a show where he opened for Nas at the State Theatre in 2005. He managed to rock a crowd that seemed determine to show mixed love to local acts."
Moody found himself working on two albums at the same time: Bird's group album and new solo record that G-Raw was overseeing. Moody's days were filled with studio sessions and rhyme writing. But, just as it seemed everything was falling into place for the young rapper, a feud rose with producer Bird.
Moody smiles. "Bird started seeing how sweet my solo album was and wanted me to say the hell with G-Raw and sign with him. But G had been looking out for me and we had an agreement."
Raw adds, "Moody should have been paid or given free studio time to compensate for all the lyrics he was writing for Bird's group album."
Moody's and Bird's personal and business relationship ended. Moody claims that Bird withdrew several beats that he'd allowed him to use. Bird also cut off Moody's contact with other FBC artists. Worse, Moody accused Bird of possibly trying to sell one of his tracks to Young Jeezy.
"Jeezy has a song similar to my single, 'Old Schoolz,'" Moody says. "I originally did that song for Bird, but Bird took my lyrics off. I heard he tried to sell it to Jeezy." Moody believes that Jeezy may have heard "Old Schoolz" and stolen the hook to use in one of his songs.
"It could be a coincidence, so no disrespect to Jeezy," the emcee continues. "But it was a shady thing for Bird to do." (After numerous attempts, Jeezy and Bird could not be reached for comment.)
The beef troubled Moody, but it didn't slow his progress. In 2006, Moody dropped Road Rage, a mix CD that showcases the rappers lyrical aplomb and diverse array of beats. In the meantime, G-Raw started his own indie label, Tru Hu$la Entertainment, to release Moody's new stuff. He has also stepped down as the emcee's manager.
Did Moody get any interest from the major labels?
"We had a couple of labels talk to us but they wanted to see us push some units first," Raw says.
"Get Money," the second single off Traffik Moody's soon-to-be released album should be hitting local airwaves in the coming weeks. Moody and G-Raw are excited about the future, but say they want to see other Detroit emcees step their games up as well.
"Everybody thinks once Motown left, Detroit fell off, but cats just gave up," G-Raw says.
"We (Detroit emcees) just need to stop trying to be like everybody else," Moody says. "Everybody be trying to be like them down-South artists instead of who they are."
Thursday, May 10, at the Zoo Bar (415 E. Congress, Detroit; 313-961-5005), as part of WJLB's "Whats Next On The Menu" show. Other performers include Stretch Money, Doc Chill, T Da Pimp, Monica Blaire, K-Deezy, Al Nuke, L 'Renee, Charm and more.
Kahn Davison is a freelance writer and music critic. Send comments to [email protected]