Photo courtesy of Hardo
Over the summer, while most people were busy asking T.I. his thoughts on protégé Iggy Azalea, another one of his cosigns was more subtly creeping into public awareness. On his hit song “About the Money,” T.I. raps “I’m doing it for black and yellow, free Hardo,” a reference to the city of Pittsburgh (whose sports teams wear black and yellow) and a local rapper named Hardo.
Hardo caught T.I.’s attention, as well as that of others in the industry, off the strength of just a couple songs. He still isn’t exactly a household name, but his 2011 song “Cut Throat” has generated more than half a million views on YouTube, and a 2013 song, “Stressin’,“ has more than 400,000 views. Those numbers might be higher, or Hardo’s discography might be deeper, if not for the fact that Hardo has also spent much of the last four years incarcerated on various charges and has yet to release any kind of full-length project.
Right after “Cut Throat” came out, Hardo went to prison; he recorded “Stressin’” in a brief period in which he got out in 2013, but he returned to prison on charges of possession of drugs with intent to deliver after heroin was found in his car during a traffic stop. He’s finally been cleared of those charges and released.
Hardo went to school with Mac Miller, and he started making music with Mac around 2009, riding the school bus home with his fellow rapper to record at Mac’s house. As Mac blew up around 2011, Hardo was inspired to get more serious about music and follow in his friend’s footsteps. But while Pittsburgh’s breakout stars Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller are known more for their fun, party-oriented raps, Hardo offers the promise of showing another, more street side of the city that audiences may not be as familiar with. It’s also a cautionary tale.
During his time in prison, Hardo wrote a book detailing his experiences in the hope of shedding some light on the shortcomings of his lifestyle. “Everybody ain't been through every single last aspect that I have, from just constantly going to jail, being shot, shooting at, losing friends, robbing people,” he explained, offering examples like: “Your girlfriend uses your car, and your car gets shot up with your girlfriend in it because they think it's you that's in the car.” He’s more keenly aware of the stakes now, too, because while he was incarcerated, a number of his friends became the target of a federal investigation for running a heroin ring and have since been convicted of crimes that carry a minimum sentence of at least a decade.
With an eye on avoiding further legal trouble, Hardo is now focusing on his family, which includes two children of his own, aged one and three, as well as on building a career and becoming “be somebody who is really like an impact player in the industry. “ He’s already working on a project called Trapnati. The title track, which is also the first song Hardo has released since leaving prison, is premiering below, along with some more thoughts from Hardo about his jail time.
Noisey: Were people in prison aware of your music or did you keep a low profile?
Hardo: It was too hard to keep a low profile. The second I walked into the jail, people already knew who I was. Somebody even—in processing you lie on concrete—some dude made a pillow out of little grocery brown bags so I could lie comfortable in processing while everybody else had to lie on concrete. So it was all love. In the penitentiary, everybody knew, like ‘that’s Hardo right there.’ With the T.I. record with the big shoutout that was getting played on the radio heavy, everybody knew what it was.
What has it felt like over the last few years, getting these big cosigns from T.I. and Mac Miller and having these songs that have done well but being unable to promote your music?
Sometimes I feel like God does things that are blessings in disguise. Because at first I felt like ‘damn, look what I got myself into. I’ve got two powerful cosigns, and I could be doing something positive with my life.’ At the same time, I feel like if I didn’t get in trouble and God didn’t sit me down to see the bigger picture—because even with the cosigns, and if I would have signed a deal—there's no telling what I would have done down the line. I figure God sat me down beforehand to understand like ‘look, you’re going to have to do the right thing or you will end up back in here.’ And then I just sat there watching the news, watching all my n—as get indicted. Like, motherfuckers I’m with every single day. It really made me get my mind right.
So all your friends ended up going to jail while you were in there. What happened?
I went to jail in August, and a federal investigation started up on them in December. And it lasted all the way until May. But me being in jail, and not being out through none of that, I skipped all of that. When I was in jail, I really had no clue what was going wrong, what none of my niggas had done to get the federal agents to be all on their tail, man. It's a bad situation for my boys, and I feel for them every day. But luckily God blessed one of us to be able to be here to help them out while they're in their situations, and when they come home, everything should be fine, they should be able to come home and walk on the red carpet.
I'm just trying to just support them, for them to understand, like, there's people who've got life who ain't never coming home. And we're all young. Ain't none of us older than 25. So it's like, okay, if you go do ten years, you're still young. You're 35 years old. You've still got a lot of time to get it together. So that's just the way we all look at it, getting those times down. Time flies, so as long they stay solid and accept consequences like a man and not try to bail or put it on the next person, they could come home with a good name, and everything should be laid out for them.
What would you say is the message of the music at this point?
The biggest, biggest, biggest thing I want to get across is this is my life, and it ain't influencing nobody to go through what I've been through. When I rap, it ain't just like 'I'm rapping, I'm trapping, I'm getting money, I'm happy.' No, when I'm rapping it's like 'oh, if you're trapping you might get money, but now the feds watching, now your best friend just got killed, now you're doing ten years or life in prison.' So my message is you don't gotta be in this life because at the end of the day it doesn't amount to nothing. There's like no way out of it. There's probably like one in a million people who make it in the streets, who stacked up a lot of money and really retired and who are now living happily ever after. It's like a rare thing.
When and how did you get involved in that world?
I wouldn't have a proper answer for it, and that's what makes my story interesting. Like a lot of people are like 'I ain't have shit, my mom was on drugs, my dad wasn't there, we ain't have much, so I had to hustle.' Me it really wasn't like that. I had a mother and a father. I ain't have a silver spoon, but I was all right. I had everything I needed and a little more, but I think it was just where I lived at, living in the hood, being around shit. Next thing you know, you don't even know it, but you're just involved.
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