North Carolina has a historically rich musical tapestry, and Charlotte has a big appetite for hip-hop and R&B with internationally known hometown acts Jodeci, Fantasia and Anthony Hamilton. But the city has yet to claim a big name in the rap game.
That may change soon with Deniro Farrar, a westside-raised emcee who caught the attention of bloggers at Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan and Spin Magazine and had two videos in rotation on MTV Jams this summer.
Spend a few minutes with him, follow his Instagram feed (which alternates between self-promotion and photos of his 1-year-old sons), or watch a couple of his cinematically filmed music videos, and you’ll likely be convinced.
There’s something about Farrar that screams star. Even when pleading with fans to contribute to the current Kickstarter campaign to finish two new videos that were shut down and rained out during filming in August, he oozes charisma. It’s obvious he’s got a knack for acting.
“Having eight brothers and sisters we’d act out movies in the backyard – mostly violent movies,” he recalls, perched on a bench at Freedom Park. “I’d always be the main character.”
“The most important character was who I wanted to be,” he adds with a laugh.
“Deniro’s live show is what captivated me for the first time,” says his manager Meko Yohannes, who has worked with Snoop Dogg and Mystikal. “He’s able to convey a level of sincerity and passion while performing and recording that I haven’t heard since Tupac.”
Farrar embraced his underground status by cultivating a following and dubbing himself the Leader of Cult Rap. But with singles like the recent “Notice,” in which he laments the struggles of single mothers in his signature deep, gravelly tone, he may outgrow cult status.
“Notice” is an “aw” moment for female fans in league with LL Cool J’s 1980s rap ballad “I Need Love,” but with more sincerity. It’s a struggle he sees firsthand as a single father of two small children (three months apart in age – “You know what that means,” he says with wide eyes) and as the son of an often absent working mother who raised eight children in the Little Rock Apartments near Tuckaseegee Road.
“Notice” is only one side of Farrar, though. On other tracks he’s downright gangsta. There’s a dichotomy to his work. In contrast to “Notice,” for instance, his verse on fellow emcee Duru Tha King’s recent “New Charlotte” single contains the most sexually explicit lyrics in the song.
On the other hand, poignant videos for the Ryan Hemsworth-produced “Reasons” and “Separate” depict the inner struggle and consequences for lives lived in close proximity to drugs and crime. Farrar’s path could have easily gone the other way. He dropped out of high school in ninth grade.
“I hustled, ran the streets, went to jail for a couple weeks here and there,” he says.
When former manager David Luddy heard Farrar freestyle outside a bar in 2010, he saw something Farrar wasn’t even aware of.
“He believed in me so much,” says Farrar, who wrote his first track with Luddy’s encouragement. “From the gate, he had a studio, a great team, money, equipment, videos.”
That first year Farrar opened for Wiz Khalifa, Damien Marley and Nas.
With his new “The Rebirth EP” Farrar, who later signed with NYC-based Yohannes, has his first release on Vice Records – the Warner Bros. affiliate and media conglomerate whose music division backs diverse acts like the Black Lips, Action Bronson, and the Raveonettes.
He and Denzel Curry embark on a co-headlining tour that brings them to Neighborhood Theatre Halloween night.
In contrast, his brother Anthonio Farrar is awaiting trial for the alleged drug-related 2013 New Year’s Day murder of Benjamin McDaniel and attempted murder of Jerik Simmons. Farrar closed 2013’s “The Patriarch II” with the track “Free Tune,” referencing his brother’s nickname.
“Deniro has no fear about writing about whatever is going on in his life. He’s a true example of ‘write what you know.’ Nothing is off-limits to him if you listen to what he’s saying you can tell they’re all his stories. That’s far too rare nowadays,” says Charlotte-based engineer/producer Michael Pepe, who has worked on five albums with Farrar.
“It’s all about what you’re trying to convey. Is that me in the strip club making it rain?” he says of rap lyrics that glorify vanity and materialism. “The industry is saturated with that. Everybody is making what I call mirror music – what they see being made.”
Farrar isn’t just etching out a lyrically compelling path, he’s using tracks that are more in line with ambient trip-hop than beat-heavy hip-hop.
“He’s naturally drawn to a certain type of music that he vibes on that’s not typical to his genre,” says Pepe. “Most of his beats, if you put a female vocalist on it, could be an ambient indie rock song when it comes down to it.”
His sound isn’t the only thing that’s unique about his approach to career and lifestyle.
The muscular rapper works out regularly – on a budget, in public parks instead of gyms – and reads self-help books like “Rich Dad/Poor Dad,” “The Richest Man in Babylon” and “The Untethered Soul.”
“Every day you got a choice to make,” he says. “A lot of people feel they don’t control their own destiny, but rich or poor, you choose how you spend your money.”
Fatherhood and career are part of the reasons he turned things around, but he’d already changed courses by the time sons Kaidyn and Britain came along.
“I wanted to be on a higher vibration,” he explains. “Lower vibrations are more prone to random acts of violence. I wanted more positive things to surround me. I wanted better for myself.”