Pittsburgh rapper Hardo’s long walk to redemption | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh rapper Hardo’s long walk to redemption

“You can’t tell somebody, ‘Don’t be bad, just be good.’ You have to show them the steps, show them how you know.”

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In 2011, the dual lives of Joseph Barnett would finally intersect.

In March of that year, Barnett was arrested with two bricks of heroin and charged with possession with intent to distribute. Because of his previous interactions with the court system, however, he wasn’t too worried about it. “I’d been through this already, and I decided to handle it myself again without a lawyer,” he says.

In April, while he was out on bail, Barnett decided that it was time to get his music out to the public to see what kind of reception it got. “At that time I didn’t have connections, but I had money,” he says. “So I started looking into how to make videos.”

One of the videos Hardo made was for “Cut Throat.” It showed the young artist and others waving handguns in the air, backed by lyrics about running the streets. Or as Hardo refers to it, “real life” at the time. 

While the music side of Barnett’s life was coming together, the criminal side got a huge wake-up call. When he went to his last hearing prior to his trial on the drug charge, probation wasn’t on the table. The only offer being made was for two to four years in prison with a chance for early release if he was accepted into a boot-camp rehabilitation program. He initially declined the offer and sought a lawyer, but the case was so advanced, the attorney told him the deal was his best option.

As he prepared for prison, his video was released. To date, the video has more than a million views combined on various websites, including more than 750,000 on YouTube. “So here I was getting ready to go upstate, and my video was released. … I grabbed a fan base off of that and kept them because they liked what I was doing lyrically,” he explains. “Also, I think people connected to it because I was writing about and showing them real life.”

Lessons from falling

In the past, Hardo wrote about life on the street because that’s what he knew. But now, his music has taken a new direction. He wants others to learn from the mistakes he’s made and the beatings he’s taken, and he’s taken a few.

Released from prison in 2012, Hardo would connect with Miller, who was impressed by his “Cut Throat” video. He met industry players and got a management team, but within two months, he was back in prison on a probation violation. In 2013, he was arrested after being stopped in a vehicle with 250 stamp-bags of heroin. Hardo said the dope wasn’t his and that fingerprints and DNA evidence would prove it. He was acquitted, but spent more than a year in jail awaiting trial. In 2015, he was cleared of allegations that he battered a woman, but he was again jailed on probation violations. He served the remainder of his original sentence and was released in October 2015.

“These are the things I want to teach people through my music,” Hardo says. “I got out of the life but I didn’t change the people around me, and that almost got me another 10 years in prison. But I talk about all of that in my music. I have to.”

Hardo recently had a listening party for tracks off his new album, Trapanati II. While there’s not a date set, Hardo says the record will likely drop next month. The tracks will have a different vibe because this is a different Joseph “Hardo” Barnett. There will be songs detailing his struggle to escape the life. The newest cut, “Represent,” gives a shout-out to inmates who lose everything when they go to prison. There’s a song honoring women who hold things down while their partners are in prison. Basically, it will be a representation of both the life he’s led and the one he plans on leading.

“I’ve always tried to be real with it because I can’t show you the ins and outs of my life … unless I’m honest about it. You can’t tell somebody, ‘Don’t be bad, just be good.’ You have to show them the steps, show them how you know. If they can’t see and understand all of the negatives connected with something, they’re going to want to try it themselves. I couldn’t have avoided the road I’ve taken. If I hadn’t been arrested and gone to prison, my life would probably be way different. The money lured me in like it does a lot of people. People think they can get in, make some money and get out scar-free. It doesn’t work that way.”

Follow Hardo on Twitter and Instagram at @trapnhardo.

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