Pittsburgh rapper Eddie Barnz opens up about his ups and downs, beef with Wiz Khalifa in "Dollar and a Dream"

Written by Scott Mervis on .

barnz 2

Eddie Barnz has gone where no Pittsburgh rapper has gone before and self-published his autobiography, at 31.

“Dollar & A Dream” is a compelling 300-page account of his life so far, offering a cinematic glimpse into the frustrations and small victories that come with trying to break out of the hood as rapper in Pittsburgh.

He grew up on Somers Drive in the “tight-knit” Hill District with a strict, hard-working mom and laid-back dad who saw that he got some of the nice things in life, like the new Nintendo on Christmas. It was rare among his friends.

Barnz, brimming with self-awareness and honest about both his arrogance and insecurities, admits to being a bit of a bully, saying he was just trying to be “funny and fun.” At 9, he was rapping songs by Run-DMC, Rakim and others, pretending they were his own. At Brashear High School, he became immersed in the East Coast rap of Nas and Jay-Z, and he got by on charm: “I rarely went to class, but for some reason the teachers loved me, so they gave me passing grades.”

His gangsta life began at 18 when he and friends moved into their own house, hustling weed, packing guns and shooting dice. “But we were not bad dudes,” he writes. They had a room he called The Desert that served as a spot for outrageous sexual escapades (Barnz loads his book with porn), but was also equipped with a mini-studio where he made beats for the 20-some rappers on Chauncey Street. He released his first music, “Empire,” at 19.

When the Feds cracked down on the Hill District drug game, putting many of his friends in jail, it opened the door to a new, more violent class of dealers. “Death was all around me,” he writes of losing many of his friends. He moved to Wilkinsburg, got a job at CMU, and had a brief bout of domestication with a single mom, who didn’t care much for his rap ambitions and nearly got in the way of his recording a track with Philly rapper Ab Liva.

The juicy part begins when that single, “Welcome to Pistolvania,” ends up being a title -- coincidentally? -- also being used by a young rapper he calls Lil Tazz (Wiz Khalifa). It creates a beef between the rappers, with Tazz getting the bulk of media support. Barnz manages the stem that tide with a diss track called “I Be on the Block,” which he promoted on Myspace. His first single, “Meltdown Love” would get play on WAMO (thanks to some heavy-handed arm-twisting on his part), opening more doors for him and getting him nominated for Best New Artist at what turned out to be a hostile and tense 2008 Pittsburgh Hip-Hop Awards.

He didn’t win, and the hard luck extended to a gig at Club Deja Vu, where he was sucker-punched and beaten in the middle of performing his song. At that point, Barnz was unemployed and practically homeless, finally moving back with his mom. All the while, he was getting the sense that he was being “priced,” or sized up for a mugging. It finally happened one winter night around 11 p.m. when he was going to borrow a movie from a friend for a date he had with his girlfriend. He was pistol-whipped, relieved of his keys and cellphone (containing all his music contacts) and when he fell on the ice, a bullet went through his oversized cap. “I had been feeling as if God was making me pay for something.” God also spared him by a few inches there.

When he formed what appeared to be a promising label of rap artists called Hood Democrat, it withered when the artists either turned on each other or left to concentrate on day jobs.

“Throughout my life, I had many people try to hold me back from being great,” he writes. “It was the story of my life, either someone was trying to hold me back or turned on me.”

Although he gets lots (and lots and lots) of action, he has a hard-knock life with women, as relationships falter (sometimes his fault, sometimes not), including one that takes place in an East Hills project where bullets fly near their door on summer nights.

Barnz credits his father for teaching him persistence and that pays off when countless record offers and collaborations with producers and rappers fall through.

What he learns in the modern rap game is that “DJ's only played what was hot, which was why there were so many ‘clones’ in music. Future and Young Thug sounded like Lil Wayne and Lil Wayne sound like T-Pain. Everyone was using auto-tune or rapping as if they were from down South or Chicago. This was not the rap I grew up with. I was stressed every day thinking about how I had to be like everyone else, so I had to come up with a kid dance song or rap like I was Young Thug or Migos.”

After all the misery, “Dollar & A Dream” ends on an upbeat note with his song “Uh Uh On” receiving hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube (even though it’s taken down a few times) and Barnz working out a distribution deal with  RBC Records/Entertainment One Music for the single “Get Rich.” He ends up in Hip Hop Weekly and the freshman issue of XXL Magazine.

“Some nights I wanted to kill myself, but I remained strong and fought through it all. The underdog was finally on top… I guess God had a plan for me all along.”

If he can get “on top” a little further, someone just might want the movie rights.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.