Interview: How Bari Found Confidence in his Craft

By Ben Moskow

8 Jan, 2020

Many may recognize St. Louis rapper Bari Allen from his affiliation with the Zero Fatigue record label, which includes Smino, Ravyn Lenae and Monte Booker. Bari’s feature on the bridge of Smino’s smash hit “Z4L,” a tribute to the collective, is far and away his most popular song, gaining over 10 million plays on Spotify.

But there’s more to Bari than his collaborators. In fact, he recently shed his affiliation with Zero Fatigue to hone his own craft. He released two albums in 2019 and he’s hungrier than ever to make it big. His goal? Legend status.

WNUR got the chance to talk to Bari ahead of his January 8 performance at Subterranean, his first ever as a headliner. 

Bari: I’m Bari, I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. I’m 27. I’ve just been dropping heat, I’m trying to spread my motherfucking arms around the world, you feel me? I’ve just been putting out the greatest music I can and trying to make the best art I possibly can. I’m trying to touch people and change the game for real. 

WNUR: So, you started making music when you were pretty young. I saw the Zero Fatigue documentary, so I knew you had like, a couple songs recorded on your phone or something like that. When did it all kind of start for you with music? 

Bari: The full story of me, like, my mom’s a lawyer. My pops, he a poet. That ain’t like his day job, but that’s what his passion is. He used to play OutKast albums and Jay-Z albums and shit. When I was like three or four, he looked me in my face and he was just like, “You gonna be special one day.” He’s like, “I told your momma, I told everybody, you gonna do something special.” And for real, that kinda stuck with me since then; put a battery in my back. It really was my pops, you know, his love for writing, his love for music. And my mother always loved music, too. My mother kept music playing in the house. You know, that same old spiel, “every n*gga do music,” like Christmas, cleaning, in the whip on road trips, there’s music always playing. 

When Jeezy dropped Thug Motivation 101, I remember I wrote my first verse ever to “Go Crazy.” I damn near got emotional because the beat was just so cold. Basically, from then, I was just writing. So about like, 13, 14 I’m like, recording freestyles in my phone, and got hella rap books and shit. But you know that J. Cole shit, I’m scared to tell people that I like to rap.

My homie Trell, and I thank God for this shit because that shit changed my life, he went through my phone when I was gone. My momma was blowing me down about doing some old teenager shit, like washing dishes or something. When I come back, they done went through my phone and played my raps. But I’m glad they did it. They laughing and shit, but when they left, after we making the jokes and whatever, Pablo was like, “Man, you actually kinda do got a little something bro, you should stay at it.” 

So, you know, we kind of stayed at it. I remember, I made a mixtape with dude, like low key and so he was cool with Smino. They went to middle school together and I had met Trell in the neighborhood and so he like, “Man, I got this partner named Chris. He got a studio at his crib and he be rapping and shit.” [Trell] played me one of his freestyles and I was like, “That n*gga hard.”

I met him in school and we just got cool from there and from there, me and dude just started cooking. I was coming over to his crib after school every day. He was making beats on this shit called a Trident, a big ass keyboard. We was recording in this shit called NuWindow. It was like a sound program for movies or some shit. And that’s kind of what it stemmed from.

We decided to come up to Chicago together, going to Columbia. He met [Chris] Classick before me. I came up and then I met Classick. From then on, we was like, “Fuck this school shit. We know what we want to do. We want to make music.” So, we just dropped the fuck out and went back to St. Louis, kind of got it cracking in St. Louis.

This is like a part of the story that don’t nobody fucking know about me. At this time, I’m in St. Louis and shit’s getting real hectic. I remember my grandma passed, two of my cousins had passed, one of them had committed suicide. Then the other one who was 30, was completely healthy, like died of heart disease. And this shit all happened, like, my great uncle, my great auntie passed and then I fell in love with my girl, I had two kids. And shit, all of that happened over like four years, from like 2015 to now. 

That’s just the part people don’t know about me, like I was in STL trying to figure out how I was still gonna do music and keep at it.

WNUR: All that tragedy that was happening at the same time, how did you respond to it? Did that light a fire for you? Did that inspire you to keep creating? 

Bari: I feel like that’s what took my music to the level I wanted it to be. The thing that kept me going was like the people. I ain’t gonna lie, I had a lot of doubt. And the people around me, whether they was showing love or just looking out for me because they knew I was trying hard, that’s what really kept me going. That shit, like, boosted me. It made my art real powerful.

If it wasn’t for them motherfuckers who just believed with me, shit, my ass would’ve been in a motherfucking grocery store, working at Schnuck’s or some shit. [Laughs] I’d have been selling weed, for real, and working at Schnuck’s.

WNUR: Who were some of the most important people in your life growing up?

Bari: It was my moms. [She’s] like a machine. When I was three, I got diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, it’s like a neuromuscular disease. Like, the messages don’t send correct with your nervous system or some bullshit. I got like a real light case, but when I was younger, it was real serious. She juggled that, worked, and just kept moving on up. It was just really me and her the entire time. I’m an only child, I ain’t got no brothers or sisters. All my aunts and uncles, they was having babies a little early, so all my cousins like eight years older than me. And then my pops had moved to Cali when I was five; he went to pursue his dreams, so I didn’t really see that n*gga for nothing but two weeks out of the year until I was eight. It was just my moms.

WNUR: So, you mentioned OutKast as somebody who was playing a lot when you were younger. Who else has kind of shaped your sound?

Bari: If you ask anybody, they’ll tell you, it’s Future. Sonically, it’s Future, it’s Wayne. I could say that I drew from everybody but like, the first favorite rapper I ever had was Kanye. Then I got older and it was Wayne, then it was Drake, then it was Future. I would say all four of them. And the Dipset, Dipset & Jay-Z, they kind of like, grandfathered me into music in a way. I wouldn’t even say them because I wasn’t focused on being a rapper at that time. I was strictly a fan. But them six, them the people that kinda shaped how I look at music and my approach to it. 

I feel like Future personally don’t get enough credit for his artistry in general. Future in my opinion [is] like the new Biggie. I feel like I had a family tree in hip hop. I feel like Biggie the top of the family tree; like if you listen to how everybody rap, it stem from how he was busting and how he was spinning. I feel like the changing of the guard was Future, now everybody got his DNA in their shit. So, I just feel like personally, I want to give that n*gga his flowers.

WNUR: You put out two albums this year, MSTRGLSS and Neva Look Back. Neva Look Back dropped a couple of weeks ago. Sonically, they’re two very different albums. Monte Booker I know had a lot of production credits on [MSTRGLSS], but there were no songs with Monte on [Neva Look Back]. What was it like working with different producers? I know you have a ton of songs with Monte, but do you have a different process with each of them?

Bari: For real, the game don’t change. Shit, put me in the lab, them n*ggas gonna get to mixing on them computers making greatness, I’m finna be smoking weed, talking shit. They gonna send me that shit and I’m gonna take it to the booth, smoke some more weed, go in the booth, and whatever God give me, that’s what come out into the song. 

It don’t matter who you is, I’m gonna give you 100 percent, and we gonna try to change our lives every time. Every song, every time I get in the booth, every time we cook, that’s an opportunity, we can change our life. All it takes is one and now motherfuckers gotta talk to you different. When n*ggas walk into the room, the cameras snapping, the champagne, Ace of Spade and the cars is Rolls Royce. All it takes is one, that’s just what we’re working for. Like when athletes go for the championship. You lose a million times, but you go for that ring, though. It’s the same goal with everybody.

WNUR: Is there any song that you’re particularly proud of, anything where you look back and you’re like, “This is the best I’ve done so far”? 

Bari: It’s different songs, but I can say, like, when I made “Stay,” that’s on Neva Look Back, I feel like where I was at with everything, financial wise, hard times with my relationship, with my kids, with the business, with Zero Fatigue and shit, just with everything. I was feeling real low, you know what I’m saying? And shit, I just took all that and I bottled it up. And I went to the booth and I did “Stay.” 

I feel like “Make ‘Em Sick” was another one of them days. Me and my girl, we’d gotten into it hella bad. We was staying here in Chicago and I ended up taking my kids back to St. Louis, just off the strength of how stressed we was. And I was going through some label shit, trying to get my paperwork and shit together. And they just holding my shit up. 

What people don’t know about music is like, you know, yeah, you make music, but in the business, don’t nobody really give a fuck about you till everybody give a fuck about you. So, all your business is at the whim of any human being, cause they just looking at it like a number or a paper or some shit. So, you really don’t know and you just got to stay on the ball and shit. 

All that shit was on me, I got literally like 30 dollars at the time to my name. N*gga done went hungry, had two blunts, fed my kids, went to the [studio] and I made “Make ‘Em Sick” and “Iite Shawty,” and I just remember when I did that, I was like, “if I could make that going through this, then the sky’s the limit.” It ain’t really no limit. I could really take it to where ain’t nobody ever took it.

It be them times where I feel like my back against the wall and I’m like “this might not be what the fuck I should be doing. I might need to go punch the clock and go back to school, learn me a trade or something.” Then I go in the booth and I make magic. And I’ll be like, “alright, bet. This what I’m supposed to be doing, can’t shit stop me, because life can’t stop me from being hot.” So, shit, I’m gonna be on fire, straight up.

WNUR: When you’re in this studio with Monte, seems like you’ve got chemistry. How quickly are you pumping out songs? Does it ebb and flow? Can you get a whole project together in a certain amount of time?

Bari: It’s exactly what you said, ebb and flow, especially with Monte because he’s just like an artist, like for real for real. Shit, some days, I might pull up on Monte. It might be three days and the third day we make six songs, but the first two days, we ain’t do shit but smoke weed, talk shit, watch movies and eat chicken. It takes that with certain situations just to get a rhythm. It don’t take that in general, like it just depends on the two people, where y’all are at at the time. 

It’s like life, you know, someday you might be on. Why you think Steph Curry will go like 7-21 one day and then the next day, he making like 15 threes? That’s just how it be, like someday we’ll bust out like three or four and the next day it’ll be like a cool little one. But you never know, that one might be harder than all three of them songs you had made that day. 

With music, it ain’t no formula. You just kind of gotta feel it and go with it, go with your heart. But you still gotta try to learn. Even when you put out a hit record, well, that was one hit, n*gga. That was last year. You feel me? That’s how people gonna be with you, so you just gotta keep it going.

WNUR: This is your first headlining show. What does that mean to you?

Bari: I ain’t gonna lie, that shit feels awesome. Especially just this venue, cause like, when I first came up to Chicago for college and shit, me being a little country n*gga at the time, ain’t really seen no big city life, to me, this shit was a movie. Like we was in this bitch and I was like, “what the fuck?” I came up here off of dreams of being a rapper. It’s 2020 right now, that was 2010, that was a decade ago. 

But damn, like, some days I wake up feeling like, “man, I don’t know if this is moving how I want it to move.” But just think like, it was a time you was in this bitch and it wasn’t no way you was finna even get onstage, n*gga. You would’ve had to run up and take the mic type shit. Now, you leveling up.

WNUR: What do you want the world to know about you?

Bari: I want to be the greatest rapper ever. I want to be so cold, I want people to respect me like they respect Elton John. I want people to respect me like they respect Michael Jackson, like they respect Prince, Drake, whatever. I want my shit to play like how they play them Earth, Wind & Fire records. That’s what I want. I want people to know that I ain’t bullshitting, I ain’t doing this just for like, shits and giggles. And I love diamonds and all that shit but I ain’t doing it just for trinkets or some shit that wear off over time. I’m doing this to add substance to my life. When I leave, I want to be able to say I did something, that I accomplished something, I made something happen. I changed my family life, I changed the course of all these people’s lives. I was something. I didn’t just give up. 

I want people to know that if you believe in anything, shit, even if you do fail, doing that shit gonna make you powerful because you ain’t live your life on nobody’s terms. I want people to know I’m in it for the big. I ain’t in it for the little. Like 10 years down the line, n*gga 38, Bari doing something else, Bari doing something bigger. Bari on some like “Damn, I never thought that n*gga would’ve did that shit.” That’s my plan.

WNUR: You feel like people have been sleeping on you in a way? Do you have an “underdog” mentality?

Bari: I mean, I had that in my life, I kinda carry that approach, that chip on my shoulder. It keeps my battery going. I can’t all the way say people sleep on me though, because I really ain’t gave them nothing but two projects. It’s only like 24, 25 songs, and I dropped all them singles. 

I do feel like I want people to respect me as an artist more. But that ain’t sleep. That’s just something you gotta work for. But like I said, I want people to look at me like Prince. I want people look at me like Mike Jack. I don’t want people to look at me like just another n*gga putting some words together. Sonically, I want my music to carry, like I want my shit to be in commercials and movies and the hit of the year. I want that. But it’s something you gotta work for.

I do feel like if somebody bigger would have made like some of that shit that’s on Neva Look Back though, they would have been like “Fuck.” But that shit just takes time. I feel like people gonna look back and be like, “Damn, this nigga been spinning,” and it’s just part of the story.

WNUR: If you got the chance to work with anybody, who would it be?

Bari: We talking rappers or producers?

WNUR: Anybody.

Bari: One person? Fuck…

WNUR: A couple names if you want.

Bari: I gotta get one in with Future, Pi’Erre Bourne, Cardo. For rappers, Future, Drake and Thug. And then on some side note, I wanna work with Pharrell of course. Other than that, I wanna get a song in with Billie Eilish. I wanna do a song with Tame Impala, I wanna do a song with this band called The Exes. I want to work with Post Malone.

Everybody can get this work though. We can spin with everybody. The goal is to spread. This a game of chess not checkers. It’s Battleship. So, everybody, we can work, it ain’t shit.

WNUR: Anything else you’d like to add?

Bari: Neva Look Back out on all platforms. MSTRGLSS out on all platforms. “Make ‘Em Sick” video out everywhere. We got more shit coming in 2020. 

It’s all love with Zero Fatigue, but I’m no longer officially with them on the paperwork. I’m on my own shit now, it’s Awesomeness. From here on out, 2020 on, Bari Allen is Awesomeness. Just fuck with me, it’s finna be a ride.

WNUR: Awesomeness? 

Bari: That’s finna be my whole imprint. It’s finna be like, Awesomeness lifestyle company. It’s finna be more shit than just music. But that’s what I’m going with. Everything awesome. Try to be the best person you could be. Trying to live healthy, get fucked up, get this money, fuck the most beautiful people you can fuck on. Fuck everybody that counted you out and don’t let nobody control your destiny. That’s awesomeness.