Speed on the Beat: In my original inquiry, I promised I'd keep the Wire questions to a minimum, but what made you go out for the show?
Tray Chaney: I was discovered by a women name Linda Townsend out of Clinton, Maryland that specialized in submitting actors for auditions. The Wire was actually my first audition, first time reading for a TV show and I was fortunate to book the role as Malik "Poot" Carr after I was called back 3 times reading for WEEBAY. I'm blessed to be a part of history.
SOTB: I didn't know you'd went out for Wee-Bay too, though. "Poot" was in the cards for you, man. What was your favorite moment from filming?
TC: Just the energy on set from the cast. I learned so much from J.D. Williams, who played Bodie, Idris Elba, who played Stringer Bell, and just so many of the cast members. We are all still family 'til this day. All the moments were great moments.
SOTB: So, from The Wire, we got you and your amazing positive energy and activism. We got Michael B. Jordan, who's doing his thing. We got a lot of people from Baltimore who are doing some big things, at least partly because of exposure from The Wire, such as Trae Harris and Rakiya Orange (Ed. Note: I had to give a shoutout to my fellow City College Knights. Palmam Qui Meruit Ferat). What was it like working with so many people who are making their own mark in the world?
TC: Well I can defitnely say we all worked very hard on The Wire. Everyone had--and still has--a hustle mentality. So, just embracing that kind of energy was definitely a great feeling to be inspired by so many great actors.
SOTB: Alright, now that the somewhat prerequisites are out the way, let's get into things. What got you into music? Was it kind of a progression from acting and all? Or was it something you've dabbled with for a while?
TC: I've always been into music. I just never had the time to put the right amount of energy into what I was actually going to talk about until 2006, when my son was born. That's when it hit me that I wanted to make music that could inspire him and set an example of leadership in Hip-Hop. I wanted to make music that would make an impact around the world so that's why you get videos like "Dedicated Father," "Attendance," "Live (World Aids Anthem)" and a bunch of other dope topics that will be around for years. All my subject matters are real. I don't lie in my music about how I sold drugs or popped 100s of bottles because it's not real. For instance, I tried to sell drugs. But it just wasn't for me. Yes, I like to drink but I know my limit (laughs).
SOTB: True. Definitely feel you on that. I love the positive messages in your music. Was it easy to say "hey, I'm going to use my platform for positive change?"
TC: Yes, totally easy. I was on a huge, impactful show. So, it was only right I used that energy to create change in my journey as a Hip-Hop artist. I'm an artist that can say my videos premiered on MTV JAMS, BET, REVOLT, MSNBC and mostly every other channel because I stay true to myself and they have mad respect for me. People can check my resume, I'm outchea.
SOTB: Has there ever been a "temptation" of sorts to just do a throwaway party song or something? Or has it always been about uplifting our young people?
TC: What people consider my throwaway songs are songs/videos on my website called "Gettin' Money." But, to me, it's still education with a positive way showing you how to get money. Everything from my songs to videos have common sense messages. That's why I stick to my lane. I'm making it to the point nobody can front on what I'm doing on an independent level.
SOTB: In your songs, you have an interesting mix of positive messages over thumping beats. Through your tracks, I get reminded of a Dee-1 quote--apologies to him if I butcher it--"just because you're positive don't mean you have to be corny." Was that "mix" intentional or was it like "oh, I heard this beat. Let me start writing" and a song like "Attendance" just comes to fruition?
TC: It's different because sometimes I usually come with the concept of what I want to talk about and if it just so happens to be a turn-up beat, I go in. It's different ways. Sometimes, I hear the beat first and start the vibe. But, for every lyric or song I write--trust me--it's gonna have a message that young people & adults can appreciate
SOTB: How did the idea for "Fatherhood" come about? The visuals and the song itself.
TC: Fatherhood was the first video that just showed me my dad & my son. It was a responsible record and visual because I didn't see a lot of mainstream artist tackling the subject . I wanted to show a positive image of Fatherhood amongst African Americans and that video happen to actually premiere on 106 & Park. Now, "Dedicated Father" was the video that showed four generations: my granddad, my dad, my son, & myself. No other Hip-Hop artist in history has done that. That video showed up on every network u can think of
SOTB: From there, you started doing some work with the MSEA (Maryland State Education Association). How'd they get in contact with you for songs such as "Radical Readers?"
TC: Well, "Radical Readers" was created in partnership with MSEA. It's a program that encourages young people to read 30 minutes a day. They were inspired by my positive energy, so we linked up through a mutual friend and the rest is history.
SOTB: Are you still doing work with MSEA and other education associations?
TC: Every year, I'm on tour with MSEA. Yes, I'm still rocking with them from day one.
SOTB: Do you make, like, school appearances or anything like that? Can schools reach out to you to set up, for instance, a show or a Q&A with you about your book?
TC: Of course I'm always looking to tour schools. They can hit me up at MrTrayChaney.Com
SOTB: If another artist who was about making positive music wanted to get in contact with an organization such as MSEA to set up something, how would they go about doing so?
TC: They have to seriously work hard like I did. Nothing came easy. I stayed consistent and never gave up. So, that's the advice I would give.
SOTB: How'd the idea of getting actual students to appear in your videos come about?
TC: Well, to capture the essence of the song, I had to have the students in it. It was dope shooting during their school hours at the Maryland Academy Of Technology & Health Sciences Charter school in Baltimore. They were thrilled!
SOTB: So are we going to get a full album any time or are you content with dropping a single or two here and there to keep the messages flowing?
TC: YES! Full album will come this year. I got three EPs on iTunes right now that you can vibe to. I'm dropping another EP on iTunes this year as well. [I'm just] working hard.
SOTB: Sorry, I've gotta ask: I've seen some of your dance footage from those "The Making of Tray Chaney" YouTube videos. Are you still dancing or involved in dance in any way?
TC: NO. I leave that up to my eight-year-old son (laughs).
SOTB: Besides the music and all, how else are you involved in the community? I remember Mo Betta mentioning some things a little while ago when I first heard "Attendance," specifically that you should get a key to the city for your efforts. Care to elaborate on your other efforts outside of music?
TC: I do a lot of giving back by partnering up with the Prince George's County Health Department to help prevent HIV/AIDS, by showing up at colleges and handing out free condoms, and just engaging in panel discussions. I love to educate and inspire as much as possible, on any level.
SOTB: Outside of the music and social activism, what else do you have your hands in? I've noticed acting and authorship, so is there anything else?
TC: Just creating the brand of Tray Chaney into something great. My website is becoming a big deal, MrTrayChaney.Com. There, people are able to engage in all my activities.
SOTB: Will we see a follow-up to your autobiography one day?
TC: One day, you will. But, right now? The focus is music and acting. A whole bunch of that in 2015
SOTB: Where can people reach you at these days?
TC: On Twitter at @traychaney, on Instagram at Mrtraychaney, and my website MrTrayChaney.Com
SOTB: Do you have any final thoughts or comments?
TC: Keep grinding. Keep Hustling. Keep Inspiring.