You know Tray Chaney as low-level drug dealer, “Poot,” from The Wire, the edgy, award-winning drama that brought profound realism to heights never before seen in a TV series. These days, though, Chaney is taking on a different kind of role—as a Hip Hop Pied Piper who uses meaningful lyrics and hot beats to inspire children and affect change in the lives of black kids. His motives are pure: the married father of a 6-year-old son, Chaney chose to tackle fatherlessness, reading and bullying on his new album, Be Inspired, with the hope that his music would inspire parents and black children to do the right thing—and leave a lasting musical legacy in a genre that all-too-often sacrifices core values for salaciousness. Here, Chaney talks to MyBrownBaby about his new career, affecting change with his music and why he wants African American parents to be inspired by his work.
By TRAY CHANEY
There is this perception of me that people have because of the character I played on on The Wire. “Poot” was a low-level drug dealer involved in a lot of negativity, and even though he turned his life around in the fifth season, there is still this perception I battle because of that character. My involvement in Hip Hop gives me the chance to come to the art form as Tray Chaney, and not Poot from The Wire. That was a character from television, but Be Inspired gives me the chance to talk about issues that have deep meaning for me.
What I’m talking about on my album—fatherhood, bullying, education—all of that is something that even the hardest gangsta rapper can relate to because many of the rappers out here have kids. So do the people who listen to their music. And so I decided I wanted to use my music to touch on issues that don’t really get talked about—to encourage people who love the art form to really think about the everyday things that matter. Like, with my song, “Fatherhood,” I wanted to encourage fathers to be there for their kids. I was fortunate to have both of my parents in my life, and my father was always there for me. My grandfather was, too. And with me having a 6-year-old son, I wanted to use my music to show him and other kids like him and fathers like me to be there for your family—be there for your kids.
The same is true of my song, “Radical Readers.” I wanted to take on the issue of education because our kids are looking at the videos, seeing half-naked women, seeing guys talk about being shot, going to jail, how many times they’ve been locked up. Music has been giving them the wrong form of education. “Radical Readers” is saying, “take education serious.” I partnered with the Maryland State Education Association to go directly into the schools to talk to kids about how important taking education seriously is. A lot of them look up to me and my success as an actor, and I tell them that if it wasn’t for me getting the education and learning to read, I wouldn’t be doing what I do—I wouldn’t be able to read and memorize scripts, I wouldn’t know how to talk on interviews or get my job done.
My latest song, “Mike Bully,” is really special to me because it tackles bullying. That’s another record that’s really personal to me, because I was bullied in school. I was always the shortest guy at school, and the bullying started in the 6th grade and went through high school. I come from a very religious background, my parents didn’t let me do a lot of things, like hang out at night like other kids. And I got bullied for that. I want “Mike Bully” to talk about the kids in school getting bullied—to tap into the everyday lives of kids who have mothers working two jobs, got bills overdue, no father in the home and they’re trying to do the right thing when they go to school and they’re facing danger every day from kids who pick on them and they get depressed about it. In the video, we thought it was important to show the son [played by my cousin, Christopher Munson] being supported by his mother [played by Jae Boddie], and having options. He goes to peer mediation so that they can squash the beef and get the lesson. In the original version of “Mike Bully,” though, the kid actually commits suicide, because that has been the story of way too many children. That’s a tough reality. But I also thought it was important to show a positive outcome in the video—to show that the end doesn’t have to be the end for kids being bullied.
I’m an independent artist right now and I’d be lying to you if I said writing, producing and marketing my music is easy. I’m on Twitter, Facebook and email everyday, pumping positive messages about being a good father, getting a good education and overcoming bullying, but it gets overshadowed by things like what happened at the BET Hip Hop Awards with Rick Ross and Young Jeezy fighting. You got these millionaires in music fighting, and here I am, with my business partner and producer, Don Cox, and with the help of video director Lamar Tyler, trying to get a bigger platform as Tray Chaney, an artist making music with no profanity, no cursing, but still with hot beats and club hits that adults can get into. I’m making the type of music that if we did a concert, you could come with your kids, you could come with your grandparents, my son could see me perform. I can’t let my son listen to some of this music on the radio or watch cable without having to close his eyes while certain videos are on. I want my music to touch a broader audience in the right way. I don’t want parents to say, “turn that off” when my music comes on. I want everyone listening to be inspired.
Support Tray Chaney and his uplifting, positive music by purchasing his new album, Be Inspired, on iTunes, and his book, “The Truth You Can’t beTray” on Amazon. MyBrownBaby is deeply honored, too, to present his latest video, “Mike Bully,” below. Enjoy.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.