Veteran Rapper Paradise Gray believes that children are the future. That’s why he’s working tirelessly to ensure that they have a bright one.
“I used to be a youth myself. I lived in the South Bronx and someone stood up for me to give me something to do and I’m returning the favor to the youth,” Gray said. “The old DJ’s and rappers taught me to use art and culture to use creativity to take care of myself and be a man.”
Gray, who grew up in the South Bronx and Brooklyn, sites Afrika Bambaataa, Disco King Mario and DJ Grand Imperial among others as mentors.
Armed with what he learned from old-school disc jockeys, Gray went on to found and produce records for the socially-conscious rap group, X-Clan.
In the 1990s, Gray got frustrated with the rap scene in New York City and traveled to Pittsburgh to visit a cousin who was attending the University of Pittsburgh.
He has made the Steel City his home ever since.
“There’s no difference between New York youth and Pittsburgh youth,” he said. “Pittsburgh is a microcosm of what’s wrong with the nation. There’s a lot of opportunity for young people. A lot of old people want to blame young people for what’s going on, but whatever they don’t know is because no one taught it to them. You only get out of them what you put into them. If you don’t want bad apples then don’t plant bad seeds.
“If someone hasn’t been taught what a parent is, they don’t know how to parent. It takes more than sex to raise a child.”
Those are just some of the lessons that Gray, who resides in Pittsburgh’s North Side, teaches Pittsburgh’s youth through various creative mediums.
He has worked as a photographer for numerous hip-hop magazines, producer of an underground Hip Hop Video Magazine and proprietor of The Underground Lounge, a hip-hop art gallery and performance space.
Gray also directs Almost Home, an after school mentoring program for youth. In recent years Gray has picked up the paint brush and has been painting murals—along with kids—in many of Pittsburgh’s inner-city neighborhoods. Gray says he created over 200 murals in Pittsburgh and 500 internationally throughout the years.
“I ran into some really talented young people and I learned how to paint from them. The mural project gave me the chance to watch a child contribute to something they put their hands in. I was a wood carver and ceramic worker but I had never picked up a paint brush. The energy of young people is a wonderful thing. It’s great when young people learn something and the light goes off,” Gray said.
An exhibit of his painting work was on display at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in January.
In addition to mentoring Pittsburgh’s children, Gray is a proud father in his own right. He has two biological children, has mentored hundreds of kids and has raised more than 40 over the years.
Currently, he is working with local rap artist, Jasiri X, whose music is reminiscent of X-Clan’s sound. He has also worked with Pittsburgh rapper’s Mac Miller and Wiz Kalifa.
“Pittsburgh has such a rich history and young people of today need to see themselves through my eyes. They need to be empowered when they do something good. When they are hungry, give them food, when they are naked give them clothing,” he said.
Gray is currently penning two novels: one on his life in the world of hip-hop and another about his life as entertainment manager at the Latin Quarters, a New York City nightclub that helped launch the careers of rap greats Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest. In his spare time he is also planning his upcoming wedding.