Hannibal the Great
STATEN ISLAND, NY — Anthony Messado is tired of walking around Park Hill, even if it made him who he is.
“My legs hurt!,” he yells after manager Kenny Williams, who’s moving down Targee Street ahead of the small entourage of North Shore rappers walking the block and making stops at the hat store and the barber shop. “Come on, man. I can’t be running after you like this.”
Messado, a bulky MC called Hanz On, is probably most famous for punching rapper Joe Buddens in the face in a convoluted dispute over lack of respect shown for Raekwon and Method Man that went viral online last summer. It may always be his calling card; after all, lesser-known Wu-Tang-affiliated rappers like Hanz seem unlikely to re-scale the heights of Wu’s rise from the street to the hip-hop Pantheon in the 1990s.
But that isn’t stopping Hanz On from trying. He’s been moving around his old Clifton neighborhood all day, filming a video for his new song, “Can’t Change.’ A painful and anthemic recount of his life thus far, a third of which has been spent behind bars, the song lists the things he cannot change, and reflects what Messado says is a new outlook on life.
“I’ve never been a good criminal — that’s what my aunt always used to say,” Messado says. “Right now I’m trying to gain stability for me and my family. I put a lot into this album, so I’m going to work it hard. I ain’t looking to get rich. I’m not looking for big mansions, big cars. I just need stability.”
Right now that stability is coming $5 at a time, as he goes to the same neighborhoods where he used to hawk drugs, and instead tries to sell copies of his new CD, “Out of Chef’s Kitchen.” Featuring a familiar group of appearances from Raekwon and his Icewater crew — of which Hanz On is a member — it’s the type of gritty stuff you might imagine: Vivid pictures of the street, from those who have seen it. Messado says the songs hold his own experience, and his message.
“I’m not making my music from a standpoint of somebody out here selling drugs and driving big cars in expensive clothes,” he says. “There’s still a lot more people out here selling drugs just to get by. But it’s just to late to get that dream people see on TV, where you’re going to get rich off of doing something illegal. They’re a hundred steps ahead of you.”
That kind of knowledge is what convinced Messado to try and saddle up with members of Wu-Tang and get out of Park Hill when he came back from jail four years ago. It’s a painful relationship — on the one hand, his old neighborhood offers the real story of his life. On the other, it offers the temptation to fall into the same old trouble, the same old habits.
Hanz says that Method Man helped him get a relaxation of his parole when he first got out of prison four years ago, so he could go on tour with Wu-Tang Clan and help sell merchandise, load equipment, and do all manner of tour-related grunt work. It was that brand of kindness that made tensions flare when rapper Joe Budden declared he would beat Method in a battle of MC skills, and resulted in Hanz punching Budden in the face.
Off that tour and home now, the rapper is stepping out on his own, away from Icewater and Wu-Tang to try and prove himself as a solo talent. Raekwon makes an appearance on his album, and Icewater members are present at the video shoot, but this is Hanz’s time to make his bid in a tough market. He says he appreciates all the support from his friends, but at some point a man has to make his own fortune happen.
“He has something going for him already — he punched out one of the most popular rappers on the Internet,” says Emilio Medugno, the WSIA DJ and self-described ‘Charlie Rose of Hip-Hop,’ who has interviewed Buddens about the incident. “From what I see, dudes who really put the grind in and really work to get their material out there, they have the best chance. I’m a fan of music and lyrics that reflect the person’s mood and life experience, not what the current trend is. The hook (of “Can’t Change”) is catchy, and the beat is solid.”
BACK ON THE SET
Out behind one of the Park Hill buildings, stress levels rise as the light fades. Cameras roll and speakers boom as Hanz On removes his shirt to boast a stomach puckered with bullet scars (he’s been shot 13 times by three different people). Flanking local wordsmiths like Nik Damez and Fes Taylor, hold Styrofoam cups filled with all manner of drink in the frame.
It’s a familiar sight — a local artist filming in his hood to show his cred, surrounded by peers. A familiar story too; Messado’s single mother was addicted to drugs by the time he was 8 years old. He went to live with his grandmother a few buildings down, but he says he was raised by his surroundings.
“I ain’t gonna say that it didn’t hurt me that my moms was on drugs and stuff like that,” he says, “But it just made it seem like it was OK to do. (Expletive) it, my moms is doing it, why not?”
As the sun sets, Hanz On moves down the street, through the smoke of backyard barbecues and the smell of street-side tables where women in dashikis sell charred barracuda fish wrapped in circles, tails in mouths, like small sleeping dragons. His impatience is palpable, and even though he politely greets people who know him every 50 feet, he seems on edge. This place knows his failures as well as it knows his fight for a future.
“I know I have a good album. I think I’m gonna be able to catch more people,” he says. “Things are still hard for me, you know? That’s who I’m trying to be the voice for. My family lost a lot of respect for me when I’ve been on the street, and doing crimes. This is something positive. I want to let them know that’s one of the reasons I’ve been pushing. To get my family’s respect back.”
Original posting on SI LIVE