EXCLUSIVE: Tray Chaney Talks Fatherhood, “The Wire” & Leadership In Hip Hop


(AllHipHop Features) Tray Chaney is a man of many talents. The actor best known for his turn as “Poot” on HBO’s groundbreaking drama series The Wire, has also tapped back into to his Hip Hop roots in recent years. The DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) native’s first taste of show business came early on when an elementary school aged Chaney danced at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater.

Two decades later, the actor/rapper/author is no longer breaking on stage, but he has embraced another element of the culture by releasing several rap projects. Just don’t expect to hear lyrics reflective of his character’s drug dealing ways on The Wire. Chaney’s brand of Hip Hop is uplifting, celebratory, and socially conscious. Tracks like “Mike Bully” tackles bullying while “Live” is a song that shines a light on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Tray & Malachi
Tray & his son Malachi

Chaney’s latest single, “Dedicated Father,” is an ode to the power and importance of fatherhood. The song’s video features four generations of Tray’s family – his grandfather Samuel Chaney Sr., father Samuel Chaney Jr., his son Malachi Samuel Chaney, and himself.

AllHipHop.com connected with Chaney to get his take on his “Fatherhood Movement,” his transition to music, the state of Hip Hop, which season of The Wire he believes ranks the highest, and what the future holds for him.

AllHipHop.com: You’ve been acting for while. What led you to want to pursue a career in rap music?

Tray Chaney: Well, I always had the passion for rap music since I was 8 years old. I remember coming to New York City performing at the Apollo Theater as a Hip Hop dancer and meeting Big Daddy Kane. Watching Kane perform inspired me so much to want to write music/perform, and as the years went by I just always wrote and recorded music. Once the recognition came from me becoming an actor, I always said when I get the chance to show the world another side, which was my music, I’m going to come strong, and so far independently it’s a great experience.

Big Daddy Kane with a young Tray
Big Daddy Kane with a young Tray

What was the inspiration for your latest song “Dedicated Father”?

Well, back in 2012 I dropped a record called “Fatherhood” and the song was just to uplift men/fathers to be there for their kids, but to my surprise I got a call from BET’s 106 & Park to come premiere the video on a special show called “Young, Single & Parenting” that was based on my video. So I knew then that I had something that really wasn’t being talked about in Hip Hop music.

Fast forward to “Dedicated Father,” it’s the continuation of my “Fatherhood” movement in Hip Hop, but this time I’m doing something no other Hip hop artist has done by introducing four generations which is my real grandfather, my dad, and my seven-year old son. Then I take it further talking about me being a step parent, which I hate to use that word, but it’s just extra motivation/inspiration for all the men/fathers to step up for their entire family. It’s very powerful.

Most of your songs focus on presenting positive and uplifting themes. Why did you decide to take your brand as rapper in that direction?

Because it’s time for change, and it’s time to take leadership in Hip Hop. I dare to be different. I’ve never been one to live my life like someone I’m not. Meaning, I’m not going to sit up here and lie to the fans about how much dope I sold to get on. That may be some artists’ case, which is fine if they had to do whatever they had to do to get on, but I’m the kind of artist that wants to keep it real with myself and the fans. That’s why I tackle issues like “Dedicated Father,” “Mike Bully” and HIV/AIDS records. Even when I dropped the video “Getting Money,” it’s still showing you a positive way to get your money. It’s giving you the real me and everything I represent which is why I chose this direction. It’s a fanbase for it.

When can fans expect a full album from you?

Definitely this year, but my three EPs are available on iTunes right now – Hungry Humble Honest Vols 1 & 2 and The Curriculum. Nine videos are shot that you can view on mrtraychaney.com. I have so much new material recorded, and I’m just piecing everything together with my team. Trust me, it’s coming 2014.

What’s you opinion on the current state of rap music?

I feel Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Wale, and I could name a list of others who are bringing Hip Hop back. I watch these guys and applaud them because it’s opening up the lane I’m in to introduce real music that means something. Jay Z, Kanye, Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Eminem, Black Thought, Talib Kweli are my professors in the game. I’m the student sitting in back of the class learning. I’m excited for Hip Hop.

What about the rap movement coming out of the DMV. What do you in see in the future for that region’s Hip Hop scene?

Wale opened up the door. Love all of Wale’s music. Much respect to Fat Trel and the homie Shy Glizzy. They’re bringing light to our city, so it allows me to present the kind of music I’m bringing. I rock with my home team all day. They’re doing them, and I’m doing me.

[ALSO READ: DMV Hip Hop Artist Oddisee Breaks Out The Box]

What were some of your favorite Hip Hop projects from 2013?

Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail. Wale’s The Gifted. Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Drake’s Nothing Was The Same. J. Cole’s Born Sinner.

2013 was a good year for alum of The Wire. Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan were lauded for their respective movie roles last year, and Mack Wilds broke out as a music artist himself. Do you still keep in touch with any of your co-stars from the show?

I keep up with pretty much everyone. We see each other from time-to-time, but everyone is on their hustle which I love. I congratulate all The Wire alum, because their success is my motivation to keep going. It’s all about time, and we truly motivate each other.

Do you have any new acting roles coming up?

I’m in a new film called Jamesy Boy starring Ving Rhames and Mary Louise Parker. It comes out in theaters January 17th, and I have a song called “Self Made Star” featured in the film. I just dropped a film called 6 Hearts 1 Beat. It’s a different type of role which allows me to play another character that falls in love with a women with four kids. Very family oriented film. It’s coming out this year, but I can’t share the info. It’s going to be huge.

Any plans to write another book?

Yes, I’m writing The Truth You Can’t Betray Part 2. So much has happened in my life, and I just feel when I release my second book it’s going to touch hearts. I love sharing inspirational dialogue with my fans. Thanks to everyone the copped the first The Truth You Can’t Betray.

You’ve been an outspoken advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and bullying prevention. Why have you taking on those particular issues as your personal social causes?

Well, I have a family member that has HIV/AIDS, and to see my family member go through everything that they have to go through made me want to speak about the issue through Hip Hop to just encourage people to practice safe sex and get tested. It’s always good to know your status. As far as “Mike Bully,” I was bullied as a kid, and I handled it by engaging in physical altercations, but I found out that wasn’t the right way to go. So when I see young kids committing suicide and going through emotional stress because of bullying, it made me want to inspire again through music for our young people to just know they can stand up against bullying and be encouraged.

Going back to your time on The Wire. Some people consider it the greatest T.V. show of all time. When you first started on the series did you have any idea that it would become such a highly celebrated program?

Honestly, I didn’t! It was my first television gig ever and looking back I knew I was a part of something, but I didn’t know it would be considered historical. I’m blessed to be a part of such a wonderful cast with cast members that I consider family. The show displayed reality, and it was, and still is, the realist show ever.

The Wire's Dope Boys: Chaney, J.D. Williams, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Michael B. Jordan
The Wire’s Dope Boys: Chaney (Poot), J.D. Williams (Bodie), Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (D’Angelo), & Michael B. Jordan (Wallace)

I spoke with Tristan (Wilds) a few months back, and I asked him what he thought was the best season of The Wire. Since Poot was one of the few drug dealing characters that survived all five seasons it would be interesting to know your answer to that question.

First season hands down. We introduced the world to what they would see four seasons later. Period.

[ALSO READ: EXCLUSIVE: Tristan “Mack” Wilds Talks Mini-Doc ‘New York: A Love Story’ & The Best Season Of ‘The Wire’]

What can the world expect to see from Tray Chaney in 2014?

Mrtraychaney.com is my brand. I’m dropping films and music all year. I’m on my way to shoot my tenth and eleventh videos now. February 1st I’ll hand a new exclusive video over to you.

Follow Tray Chaney on Twitter @traychaney.

Watch the video for Tray’s fatherhood anthem “Dedicated Father” below.