Bareda aka Mr. Wrong can’t relax. At least not until he finds his weed, which is misplaced somewhere inside the small Detroit flat of his business partner/manager, Ali Wheeler. The two men launch a somewhat frantic hunt for the lost ganja — through the kitchen and living room — that lasts a good 10 minutes. The search is fruitful.
Bareda (born Devon Dowdell), who’s thickset in up-to-the-moment Akademiks urban wear and wheat-colored Timberlands, settles onto the living room couch next to Wheeler. He rolls a substantial blunt with an ease that implies years of practice.
“I’m not being a whiny artist,” Bareda says, his dark eyes fixed on the job at hand. “We just don’t fit their formats. A lot of [major] labels want you to be a certain way. Ya know, that’s wrong as hale.”
Hence the title of Bareda’s solo debut, Wrong as Hale, which has just hit the streets locally. The two-disc set is on the pair’s own label, Singles Klub Entertainment, and sonically and cosmetically it rivals any well-moneyed release on a major label.
Bareda and Wheeler work the blunt, paying scant attention to the Michigan/Purdue basketball game playing on a muted TV, and continue talking.
“We feel like, creatively, we got it,” says Wheeler, whose heavy-lidded eyes give the impression that he’s always sleepy. “If we get radio play here and regionally, get the video out, then we’ll get the major distribution.”
“I’ll be big as a silver dollar under a microscope,” adds Bareda.
So far things are looking good. WJLB and WDTJ have begun spinning the track “Somethin’ About The Yak,” and there’s interest from BET to air the accompanying video.
Wrong as Hale is very Detroit. It’s lyrically intensive hip hop. It boils with spitty rhymes and Detroit-culture couplets. It’s a wedge of anti-record biz, pro-Motor City rap not completely dependent on gangsta cliché and ersatz thugisms. It’s a record that fits Bareda’s personal manifesto too; forget the bling-bling horseshit that’s shoved down our throats from every corner of pop culture.
“It’s not anger music,” explains Bareda. “I just fed up with so many dope dealers seeing the music biz as a hustle.”
Bareda exudes a smoke screen of self-belief in person, but that confidence tends to recede on record. The songs on Wrong as Hale are, largely, open and honest and reveal a guy not so invulnerable. The rap-performer script of the thug-from-the-streets isn’t the centerpiece of Bareda’s rhymes, which are often suffused with personal confessionals and jagged cityscape observations.
“This is about everyday life — the underdog, the average Joe, just gettin’ by sellin’ small amounts of weed trying to make ends meet,” he continues. “I know a helluva lot more people like that than I do people riding around in Benzes and Bentleys.”
The emcee himself may just be gettin’ by presently — he has a 7-month-old son by his girlfriend, Zelah, and he and Wheeler have sunk heavy personal coin into this project. But he’s a guy who’s had success full of promise, and he’s seen it vanish. Not that long ago, life was looking mighty peachy for the emcee.
The sleepy-eyed Wheeler was once a budding rapper, but gave it up and went to school instead, did three years studying marketing at Howard University. Wheeler understands this about the music business: Once you figure out that it’s fraught with artifice, graft and moneyfuckers, it’s rather simple to manipulate.
Wheeler can be credited for spearheading the fertile “In The Mix” hip-hop nights for three years at the Lush in Hamtramck, an event that has since moved to Wednesdays at Alvin’s in Detroit. Wheeler works a temp job in addition to co-promoting the club night; almost everything he earns, he says, is sunk into Bareda. The two have been pals for three years. Their confidence that Bareda’s career will scale heights is seemingly unstoppable.
Bareda’s mother was all of 16 when he was born. His pop was gone before he was a year old. His father, he says, “lost it on drugs” but is “doing well now.” Music in his life started in the home; his mother sang, as did his grandmother, who “was the kind that went to church Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I knew I couldn’t sing … I been rapping forever.”
Bareda’s stepfather kept the nascent hoodlum pretty much on the straight, though that didn’t prevent the lad from hustling drugs at one point. He bailed from Mumford High (“Eddie Murphy wore a Mumford T-shirt on Beverly Hills Cop.”) because he wanted to rap.
With his cousin, Swifty Mcvay, Bareda caught MC Proof (Mekhi Phifer’s battle-rap promoter character in 8 Mile was based on Proof) a decade ago at Detroit’s The Mecca Café. Mcvay later joined D-12. This was the scene that gave rise to Eminem and D12. Seeing Proof changed the teen’s life.
“When I first seen Proof, I thought this is it. Me and Swift was like, ‘Damn, we gotta get on stage.’ Ya know, 8 Mile hit it on the head. If people say that ain’t how it was then they wasn’t there.”
Bareda began his career as one-half of the Rabeez with Swifty. The pair released a single in 1997 called “Beat Don’t Stop” that drew heavy regional radio requests. Bareda and Swifty were teenagers then, and lacked the music biz effrontery to exploit minor successes.
“In my mind [the Rabeez] went far … we was hood legends,” beams Bareda. “That some bullshit now — but back then it was crazy.”
When that sputtered, Bareda relocated to Atlanta on a sizable solo deal with Atlanta-based 2620 Entertainment. He recorded with Cee-lo of the Goodie MOB, Twista, Ja Rule. He’s toured with Outkast. “Hip hop was always in my blood,” says the guy who grew up on Run DMC.
The label and Bareda moved to Los Angeles in 1999. Bareda says he survived in Los Angeles off his $30,000 advance, plus $1,600 a month the label forked over for his Sherman Oaks digs. Life was good. Then the label went into financial limbo and the record he’d completed was shelved. (A song from the lost record [“So What”] later made it into the 2002 Robert De Niro/Eddie Murphy film Showtime.)
Bareda did a year-and-a-half stint as a writer and performer on Lyricist Lounge, MTV’s clever hip-hop show of comedy sketches, a spot he won after a nerve-racking audition. The $2,500-a-week gig ended when the show was canceled in 2000. He also snagged a part in a Pauly Shore turkey called Bogus Witch Project.
“That place is gaaas” says Bareda of Los Angeles. “I love L.A., I just hate the fakeness of it.”
After “Lyricist Lounge” collapsed, Bareda had had it with sunny California.
“The show was done and I was missing home, missing Detroit. I felt like I was missing so much here. When I came back I had $900 in my pocket and $500 in the bank. So I was broke. Ya know, I’m blessed. It’s funny, when I was on the plane coming home I said to myself, ‘Lord, if I have to return to Detroit, don’t let me work a normal job.’”
Back in Detroit, Bareda hooked up with Wheeler (“his business smarts and my talent”) and joined the Raw Collection, a rousing collective of storied local emcees. In 2002 the group released the inner-city heavy Private Circle, which received stellar press nods in national and international circles, was name-checked on MTV’s TRL and BET’s Rap City. Raw Collection has a new record due out this year.
In the interim, Bareda sharpened his production skills (he produced a few songs on Private Circle) and made cash selling tracks and began working on the solo record. Wrong as Hale has been in the making for a year.
What’s good about the record is it’s not adhering to some radio-ready subgenre invented to take in weak talent. It’s rooted in storytelling with undercurrents of gloom-stained hope. On “I’m From Detroit,” Bareda points to the vagaries and futility of Detroit life: “Straight off 8 Mile where shit stay foul … I guess I can’t escape it/plenty niggers never made it/If I’m sick I’m just a product of what my city created …”
Sonic tableaux of simple, unhurried beats are sprinkled with elements of soul songwriting (“Something Bout The Yak”), requisite sexist poppycock (“I Know You Home”) and moments of diffidence and self-effacing wit (“New Year’s Resolution”). On the latter he vows to rid himself of love handles, to stop smoking so much weed, to stop blowing money on whores, to basically stop living life for song fodder. There’s even a tongue-in-cheeky quest for the girl, “Got What I Want” — which features a satiric guest trade-off vocal from girlfriend Zelah and such memorable lines as “Just because I’m Mr. Wrong don’t mean it ain’t right.”
The autobiographical “So Tired” documents the despair of living in Detroit from the vantage of a guy who’s so mastered his craft, it’s too late for anything else: “Until I win I’m gonna hustle ’til the struggle end/And I got a seed to feed/little Malik gotta eat/I’m sellin’ beats and weed, …” The depiction of rote existence is as real and honest as anything to come out of Detroit.
The record is a manifestation of the spirit of local hip hop (it sports a guest list of feted locals, including Raw Collection members Lodown and Reddbone, Executive Board plus Big Herk, Swifty, Guilty Simpson, King Gordy and Miz Korona, Marv Won and others) and it’s a glimpse into the psyche of the MC, alter ego or no.
Both Wheeler and Bareda insist that Detroit has found its hip-hop identity outside of the narrow confines of the music business. Bareda and Wheeler are fiercely pro-Detroit, but share an allegiance with the city that isn’t without self-interest. They see in the coming year(s) a flurry of major-label activity descending upon Detroit hip hop, where many who’ve been slugging it out in the trenches will finally get a piece of the action. Their point is valid: The scenes in Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York are played out, and the labels are coming here out of necessity.
“This is Detroit. If it was New York or Cali you can find the opportunity — here you have to get yourself heard,” says Wheeler. “By the time the Super Bowl hits here, the scene will be huge nationally.”
“Once we get it in the game — you’ll see nothin’ but Detroit artists getting signed,” adds Bareda. “I like Fat Killaz, Big Herk, Wolfpack and a lot of others. If they blew up it would not surprise me right now.”
Bareda says he can’t be bothered with personal tiffs, says he’s all about community spirit and loyalty to his hometown.
What about the ongoing flap between Eminem and The Source magazine’s co-owners Ray “Benzino” Scott and David Mays who leveled charges of racism against Em?
Bareda shakes his head.
“You mean do I think Em’s a racist? No. I know Em. He says a lot of things. Ya know, I might say, ‘fuck my mama’ — I’ll say it around my boys — but I wouldn’t say it around my mama.”
Was there ever a frustration over the fact that it took a white guy to bring black rap to the suburban masses, that the biggest Motown export is Eminem?
“There was never a frustration,” continues Bareda. “He coulda been Indian! He’s dope as fuck. If he was black he’d have sold as many records. Em is killin’ ’em. And once he got on — he just helps out the next. But there’s so many in Detroit, he can’t help all of ’em.”
When the conversation ends, Bareda slips on a jacket that says so much about local pride, and about the pervasive identity-branding commerce common in hip-hop culture. His is a loose-fitting black Da Codest fleece emblazoned with green rectangles, each clearly identifying a Detroit “hood” — 8-Mile, Van Dyke, W. Grand Blvd., Puritan, etc. It’s Detroit trademarking that could easily furrow an anti-corporate brow or two.
Wheeler and Bareda see the clothing — emblematic, larger-than-life garments designed to make the wearer look powerful, aggressive, invincible — as fiscal festoon to local hip hop. If someone can make a dime off that, great.
“In Detroit, you have to make the opportunity, take the promotion to another level,” says Bareda. “That’s the only way.”
And what if he had never seen MC Proof that night 10 years ago? If the life-changing show had never happened, what would he be doing now?
“I’d probably be working at Ford,” he says, shuddering at the thought.
Bareda aka Mr. Wrong will perform Wednesday, Feb. 11, at Alvin’s (5756 Cass Ave., Detroit). Call 313-831-4577 for information.Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]