While Tray Chaney is recognized for portraying the role of loyal Barksdale drug dealer Malik “Poot” Carr in HBO’s The Wire, the actor has since kickstarted a second-act career as a rapper. Initially making his way into the entertainment industry as an R&B and Hip Hop dancer in the late 1980s, Chaney performed at venues like The Apollo Theatre, mingling with and admiring emcees like Big Daddy Kane. The dancer-turned-actor's music, which mimics the positive-outcome story of Poot himself, is a mirror to his real-life role as husband and father as much as it is his pride for the DMV.
Speaking exclusively with HipHopDX this week, Chaney described his transition into music as an emcee, his upcoming role as a producer and actor in a scheduled Mac Dre biopic, and initially reading for the part of Wee-Bey for David Simon's The Wire.
Like some of his fellow Wire actors, Chaney has flipped his recognition into self-described positivity as he promotes the role of sound fatherhood in his lyrics. Planning a full-length follow up to a string of EP’s he released last year, Chaney says his motivation is to get other rappers involved.
“With this ‘Dedicated Father’ movement, my goal is for cats in Hip Hop, some of my peers who I might not can’t get at right now, is to look at this video and possibly before Father’s Day, even though it’s kind of short notice, do a huge remix and give it out for free to the community,” he said. “Let’s put some positive energy out there. I’m not looking for no money from it...I really would love for T.I. to get on the remix. I’m just throwing it out there. Just think about it, most of us are fathers. At the end of the day, when we finish these tours, when we finish doing whatever we doing, we still gotta go home to our kids.”
Tray Chaney Details Music Career & Fatherhood Movement
Explaining his career transition, Chaney, who is from Maryland, detailed his role in several direct-to-DVD films like 2011’s Streets which stars Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill.
“I guess when The Wire ended in 2008 I was like, ‘Okay,’” he said. “In the midst of me doing that film with Meek Mill and putting out a slew of independent films, like straight to DVD, I said, ‘In this process, I’m going to introduce my Hip Hop music.’ It’s the type of music that the industry is not used to hearing. The first record that I released was called ‘Fatherhood’ in 2012. I wanted to talk about issues in my music that really affect today’s society. You might see records like on the Curriculum album like ‘Fatherhood,’ ‘Dedicated Father,’ the anti-bullying record and things like that. When I did the video for ‘Fatherhood,’ kind of like expressing in Hip Hop how fathers should definitely be there for their kids, be there for their families, I shot the video on my own. It was directed by a good friend...and BET was calling me like two weeks later, like ‘Yo, we wanna do a show called Young, Single And Parenting based off of the video. That was my first time being on ‘106 & Park’ in 2012 actually like post-The Wire.
“I put out three EPs towards the end of 2012,” he adds. “One is called Hungry Humble Honest Volume 1, [the other is] Volume 2, and I put out this joint called The Curriculum which features a continuation of the fatherhood movement in Hip Hop and it’s called ‘Dedicated Father.’ This time I was like, ‘When I shoot this video, I’m gonna do something that I’ve never seen no other Hip Hop artist do and that was introduce my Grandfather, my Dad, my son, along with myself.’ We had a chance to shoot that joint down at the legendary Martin Luther King statue right here in DC where I’m from.”
“When I go from ‘Dedicated Father’ to ‘Get Money,’ it’s still showing a positive aspect to getting money and not the same old same old that you see in Hip Hop," he continues. "There’s nothing wrong with [that]. I listen to everybody...My situation is, it’s better to just be myself. I can’t sit up here and lie and say, ‘Oh yeah I sold dope all my life on the streets of DC. That’s how I made my money.’ Nah, I’m showing more a positive side and a positive image, but at the same time killing beats.”
Tray Chaney Details Upcoming Mac Dre Biopic & Documentary
Referencing a contractual obligation that bars him from revealing much about the project, Chaney also chronicled the development of an upcoming Mac Dre biopic to be produced in partnership with the deceased rapper’s mother.
“With the Mac Dre thing, contractually I can’t really let out but so much,” he said. “But I can say a mutual friend [introduced me to] Wanda Salvatto. We call her Mac Wanda. That’s Mac Dre’s mom. We were discussing the Mac Dre biopic, like a two picture film deal about The Crest—a Mac Dre biopic—and a documentary. Just being in discussion and knowing some of the same people. When we start talking about film I start putting on my producer thinking hat, it’s me bringing a couple cast-members from The Wire to the table that I can’t let out of course. Just being in the early stages of production and knowing that it’s gonna be huge, we’re gonna represent for the underground. This is not gonna be one of those Hollywood-type films that big studios backing it or whatever but it will be talked about. I can say, I’m one of the producers and I’m playing the role of Curtis ‘Kilo Curt’ Nelson, which is Mac Dre’s best friend. With her giving me her blessing, Mac Wanda, it’s something I can talk about to that extent. It’s coming, it’s gonna be huge.
“It’s like a two picture film deal,” he added. “It’s just gonna really focus on—right now we’re on the Mac Dre biopic. It’s so much undisclosed stuff that it’s gonna touch on, the biopic. Then we have a documentary, it’s just a lot of stuff that’s getting ready to come from it.”
Tray Chaney Speaks On Playing Poot In The Wire
“A lot of people don’t know this, but The Wire was actually my first television gig as a professional actor ever,” Chaney said of his HBO role. “That was my first audition. When I made the transition from being an R&B and Hip Hop dancer to wanting to be an actor, a woman by the name of Linda Townsend actually submitted me for the show back in 2001. I’ll never forget it, it was back in 2001, she said, ‘We have this show called The Wire. I know you said you were interested in doing some acting even though you don’t have an acting background.’ When I went in I read for the role of Wee-Bey. I read for the role of Wee-Bey, I had to read like monologues and stuff that of course he eventually ended up saying...I got a callback to go back in to be in front of David Simon, the guy who created it. It was crazy. he created The Wire, Ed Burns, all the producers. I never even knew what a callback was.
“I went back in. I remember stumbling over my lines,” he continues. “The [casting director in Baltimore] said, ‘Okay, we understand that you’re new to this. But this time, do not mess up.’ She said it just like that in front of everybody. I remember this monologue. I don’t know how I got through it. I know it was through the grace of God. I remembered it and then I left thinking, ‘I know I didn’t get the part. This ain’t for me probably.’ So it’s sort of like I kind of gave up which I shouldn’t have did. But, I [got] a call two weeks later, they were like, ‘Well, you didn’t get the role of Wee-Bey, but you got the role of this character named Malik ‘Poot’ Carr. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’ I was only supposed to be in the first three episodes, but when you look back, I end up being in all five seasons, being one of the last people standing. The Wire is like a part of Pop culture. It’s a huge thing on my resume, just to say, ‘I was a part of that show.’ People recognize me not just in DMV, not just in Baltimore, not just in New York, but all over the world because of the show.
“I learned so much,” he adds. “Being around people like J.D. Williams who plays Bodie, being around people like Idris Elba, Wood Harris who played Avon Barksdale. Being around these people and constantly asking them questions just about acting period, I probably got on some of their nerves. I was just a young dude trying to learn ‘cause that’s all I’m about. I’m just about exploring and learning when it comes to any craft that I take under my belt.”