The only retirement for an artist is death. Art isn’t a hobby, it’s a calling. A way of living, seeing, and synthesizing the world. For real musicians, the melodies never cease. For a serious MC, the words don’t stop flowing. But sometimes their creations aren’t ready to be shared with the world. This is the paradox that dominated the last dozen years of Paradime’s life – a sabbatical that has been graciously snapped with the release of his Mello Music Group debut, Period.
From the mid-‘90s until the dawn of the last decade, the Detroit rapper and producer established himself as a battle-scarred avatar of gritty Midwestern hip-hop. In a culture that prized rawness, authenticity, and soulfulness, Paradime became one of the most widely revered figures in the D. The Metro Times declared that “few are more widely respected in Detroit’s underground,” a scene that then included J Dilla, Slum Village, Proof, and Eminem.
During his initial ascent, the artist born Frederick Beauregard wrote songs for Kid Rock, and collaborated with Uncle Kracker and D-12. The Detroit Music Awards named him “Outstanding Hip-Hop MC” so many times that they had to bestow him with a “special honoree” title – just to let the competition have a shot. He was an early influence on the future super-producer, Apollo Brown, and a close confidante of the Motor City’s unofficial mayor, Hex Murda. A local legend when the term actually meant something.
But after the release of 2011’s Breaking Beauregard, Paradime knew that a break was necessary. He was frustrated and burnt out from the grind of survival: all too aware of the difficulties of balancing family with the sleepless nights of the recording studio. So he set his solo career aside to treat music strictly as a profession. He had no plans to ever rap again. What mattered more was cultivating a strong family and a thriving DJ, production, and songwriting career.
It was the wisest decision he ever made. Paradime never stopped being Paradime. He never stopped rapping. The lyrics to Mobb Deep’s “Nighttime Vultures” and Nas’ “The World is Yours” remain tattooed into his long-term memory. His connection to the streets of Detroit is indelible. And even if he wasn’t rocking to crowds, he was still putting in work. As he recorded more and more demos in his free time, his rhyme schemes, flows, and cadences became even more electric.
In retrospect, the next step seems obvious. As the recordings cut in his basement studio went from rough to polished, a return became inevitable. Paradime reached out to collaborate with musical geniuses: the songwriter and session guitarist Wayne Gerard (Stevie Wonder, Bob James, Stanley Clarke) and the producer, Charlie Beans. Crazy 4 a.m. voice memos became regular. At first, they’d roll their eyes ¬– then inevitably what once seemed strange started making sense. Whenever Paradime would “go dark,” they’d hit him up to remind him that he couldn’t quit now.
Paradime found himself writing songs about his children, his family, his wife – about struggles with addiction and struggles with faith. These were testimonials to remind the hip-hop world who he really was and what he wanted out of life. It was what you create when you think it may be the last document that leave behind. Nothing and no one were spared. Posterity was omnipresent; he wanted his kids to understand what type of a man their father was. At every turn, Paradime took chances that he wasn’t previously ready to take. He said the difficult truths often left unsaid, and made it abundantly clear that it’s still not safe in his waters.
The friends closest to him ¬– Big Urn and Hex Murda– told him that he needed to share his evolution with the world. But it wasn’t until Paradime sat down in the studio with his kindred spirit, Apollo Brown, when the real epiphany arrived. On a freezing Detroit morning, the pair sat in near-silence, listening to what Paradime had painstakingly assembled over the last few years.
It begins with “The Porch,” where a son asks his dad about the better world that existed before he was born. The narrator, Paradime, reminisces on a different time, where rappers wore chains down to their belts, t-shirts down to their knees, and where they could actually fight. Then like a spine-tingling gust from Lake Erie, minor piano keys hammer like a Prince Paul loop. The vinyl scratches echo vintage DJ Premier. School is back in session.
Welcome to Period., where Paradime raps like fist-meeting-nose bone. With vivid imagery, he paints a picture of the D. A cradle of beat breaks and sweetwater sauce, Coney dogs and addicts shivering in the cold, Buffs and visions of dying broke. On “It’s Okay,” he admits to drinking a fifth a day, praying the IRS will forget his number. There are lean memories of selling caps, dubs, and blotter sheets in the trenches. He describes himself as part Akinyele, part Makaveli. Over a sun-splintered organ, he unspools the intricate rhyme schemes of a meticulous writer.
Every time that you expect only one thing from Paradime, he quickly changes course. There is “Annie,” a gorgeous love song that attests to Paradime’s tender streak. “Heart on Tape” is a gentle quiet storm burner where he wishes for the voice of John Legend while lamenting looking like a “chunky Jon B.”A songwriter’s soul with a rapper’s mouth. (“I wish for half a day, I could be Donny Hathaway.”)
If you tried to distill the emotional core of the album to a single track, “September 22” might be your best bet. Disguised as a break-up song, it’s a poignant, soul-baring confessional about alcoholism, where Paradime struggles with the fact that he’s put “20-plus years down the drain.” The beat is a canvas for personal catharsis. The pain, agony, and regret are unmistakable. It’s about as heart-wrenching of a break-up song as hip-hop has ever produced. By the time, we arrive at the finale, “Make My Way,” there is resignation counter-balanced with hope. Paradime wonders if it’s time to permanently hang it up, but he knows that he’ll be enamored with this life until his last breath. This road, however deferred, was his only option.
After the album stopped, Apollo Brown paused for a second and hit Paradime with a “BRO.” It was the type of phrasing that speaks volumes when a close friend says it. He told Paradime that this body of work needed to be heard. He asked him if he could play it for the powers that be at Mello Music Group. A week later, MMG boss, Michael Tolle, called Paradime and told him that he couldn’t stop listening. The rest is history. The world may have shifted, but Paradime has returned. This is it, Period.