Ricole Barnes describes himself as a son of Frederick, but even more, as a son of Carver Apartments. Barnes — or "Barnesy" as his mother, Kim Barnes, calls him — could have chosen another place to live as a child. When he was young, his parents moved out of downtown Frederick and bought a home in the suburbs. But the pull of Carver's community was too strong. The public housing neighborhood turned out to be the staging ground for the first rapper to perform at the Weinberg.
If you follow this paper, you know the artist known as Retro/Ricole has been going at it for quite some time. His solo projects began in 2010 with "Passion Park," and that was followed in 2015 with "Mr. Sunshine."
As a child, however, Retro/Ricole had dreams of forming a Wu-Tang Clan of his own. He attempted that with Center of Attention, a rap group that later changed its name to Razor Eaterz from 2005 to 2009. And when it was time to prepare for Ricole's 2016 Weinberg performance, he unknowingly formed the members of daMood, an eclectic rock band that allows Ricole to explore music outside of drum loops and 16-bar verses. The band recently released its second EP, 'Shot A Honey'.
While sitting in his parents' home recently, Barnes was ready to explain everything. Answer by answer, the story of Ricole, and the story of Carver Apartments came together.
Music in his blood
"I was so attached to my grandparents," Ricole explained. "My grandfather, my maternal grandfather, he's the reason why I'm even into music because he was into music."
He can remember his grandfather tapping his feet to soul records in his Carver home.
"He was a drummer," Ricole said. "He actually had the opportunity to play in James Brown's band. James Brown actually offered him a spot to play drums on tour but he was probably about 15 or 16 years old. And his mother was like, 'Nah, he has to finish school.'' So music has been in my blood on both sides."
Surrounded by his extended family and friends, Ricole anchored himself in Carver Apartments while hiis mother witnessed the longing he had for his chosen neighborhood.
"'I want to go back to Nanny and Pappy's, where my friends are,'" Kim Barnes remembered Ricole saying.
That happened despite Ricole's parents, Kim and Anthony "Richard" Barnes, spoiling their well-mannered child.
"His room was like Toys 'R' Us," she added.
The decision came that Ricole would live with his maternal grandparents, Robert and Leticia Logan. His mother and father still raised him — only from a different home.
Three generations in Carver
In some ways, Ricole's love for Carver is unsurprising. Three generations of his family lived in Carver before him.
"You would think we lived in the White House," Kim said. "It was luxury. It was laid to the max."
She lived in Carver from the 1960s to the early 1980s. As a child, her father was an interior designer and carpenter who installed apartment upgrades, including carpets.
Kim can also remember spending her youth socializing in the Back Lane at Carver, which was called Lee Alley after the passing of Carver resident William Lee in the early 2000s. Ricole chronicled the seminal memories he had at Lee Alley on his 2014 "Kid Celestial" EP.
"Back then, it was one big family," Kim said. "Everybody knew everybody. Everybody looked out for each other."
That included Clara Jackson, Ricole's great-grandmother. She lived in Carver since the public housing development opened in 1952. As president of the Carver Residents Association, Jackson organized block parties and spearheaded the installment of a stop sign to protect children from oncoming traffic. Carver's Clara R. Jackson Community Center was dedicated to her in 1994.
"They called her the mayor of Carver," Kim Barnes said of her grandmother. "She knew the drug dealers. They were like, 'Oh God, here comes Mrs. Clara.' They would either hide [the drugs] or leave. One time, she got a hold of some of their stuff and she threw it in the dumpster."
Ricole's great-grandmother was like a one-woman neighborhood watch program who kept drug dealers away from children.
"I know your mother. And your mother's mother. Don't do it when the kids are there," Ricole said of what his great-grandmother told drug dealers.
Today, Carver Apartments is very quiet. So quiet that Lt. Kirk Henneberry, who worked in the Carver area during the mid-2000s, said in a brief phone interview that he doesn't want to jinx how calm Carver has been for the last two years.
Rows of manicured lawns and clean porch steps give Carver a pristine appearance. There are toys and strollers on the grass, suggesting the area is safe enough that those items will remain untouched. In the spring sunlight, Carver's yellow-siding townhomes evoke what a real estate agent could describe as charm.
But in the late '80s and early '90s, crack infiltrated Carver. Frederick City Police instituted Operation Crack Down beginning in February 1989. The strategy was primarily employed in public housing neighborhoods to arrest street dealers.
"I remember when I was four, five, or six, the crack era was booming," Ricole explained. "Us as black kids living in an urban area, you don't realize the type of PTSD you have. But it was nothing for us to be playing at the park and they got somebody face down on the curb."
Public housing surveillance increased to the point where then Police Chief Richard Ashton placed himself in a refrigerator cardboard box to look for drug transactions in vacant apartments. This was disclosed in a February 1990 Frederick News-Post article, "Operation 'Crack' Down," which also detailed other police strategies. Undercover cops were planted to purchase and sell crack. Once a transaction was made, an undercover cop would signal uniformed police officers to make an arrest. The signal could be as simple as bending down to tie a shoe.
In a year, 474 arrests were made through Operation Crack Down. That included the 100th arrest, which involved 25-year-old Anthony Thomas in Carver Apartments. According to another February 1990 Frederick News-Post article, "Operation gets mixed reviews," Thomas had a sign with "100" taped on his chest as he was paraded around the neighborhood.
Ricole wasn't aware of all of that as a child, but his view of the police wasn't positive.
"When you're hearing it as a kid about the police, that means something bad is going to happen," he said.
He described his childhood opinion of the police as conflicted because he could remember police attending community events.
"But on the flip side," he added, "at night, the same police that was at the block party was locking up all the neighborhood dudes."
Some of those neighborhood dudes might not have been from Carver. Crack in Frederick could be sold at a higher price than in D.C. and Baltimore. This meant that Frederick was a prime market for New York and D.C. drug kingpins. They could send their underlings to sell drugs and come down to collect.
Somehow, Kim Barnes can remember Carver having much less violence than what was expected of neighborhood with drug dealers.
"We were able to sit [outside]," she remembered. "I guess we were just shielded by God."
Though Operation Crack Down was in full force in 1989 and 1990, Ricole's memory was different. He recalled heavy police surveillance happening after his great-grandmother's passing in 1991.
"There was no more interaction between the cops and the community," he said. "They was patrolling. They was on the hunt."
Ricole also noticed that the hustlers on the block started disappearing — possibly from incarceration or murder.
Though drug deals happened right in front of his porch steps, Ricole described his childhood as being in a bubble. He was protected by his multi-generational family and neighborhood matriarchs who kept him under a tight gaze.
"First and foremost I had to answer to my dad, my father," he said. "He got up and went to work everyday. I wanted to be like him."
Insulated by hip-hop
Ricole was also insulated by hip-hop. His older cousin introduced him to rap in the summer of 1993.
"He comes home one day with this white cassette tape," Ricole explained. "It said 'Protect Ya Neck' on it. I turn it over, and it was a Wu-Tang logo. It was a white cassette. And I don't know. When I look at the W, the Wu-Tang W, for some reason, it just did something to me. It could be for my love of comic books. It looked like a comic book to me. I don't know, and then, maybe like two weeks later, Wu-Tang's 'C.R.E.A.M.' video came out. And I just matched the tape with the image of them. I don't know, it just spoke to me instantly."
At nine, Ricole wrote a battle rap about a girl who made fun of his clunky glasses. But he kept it to himself and didn't rap in public until middle school. He eventually became known for freestyling raps during lunch and recess.
"I could probably freestyle back then better than I can do now," he said. "People wanted me to do it as if it were magic tricks. Because back then, everybody didn't rap."
His crew of friends, including visual artist Bernard Rollins, were not involved in the streets.
"He's three years older than me," Ricole said. "Bernard was the cat in the neighborhood that was funny. He could draw. So that attracted me because he could draw all of the Ninja Turtles. He had all the video games. He watched all the sports like I watched. And with him being older, I was attracted to that because I found someone who was into what I was into."
Rollins was a close neighbor who had a strong family structure, much like Ricole did. Rollins considered Ricole and himself as creatives who were influenced by art and hip-hop more than drug dealing.
"A lot of what was going on around us honestly wasn't that appealing," Rollins said. "There was nothing glamorous about a drug dealer around here. Everyone that was dealing was just trying to make it like everyone else. I think we both knew this early and were either wise, mature, or smart enough to figure it out at that young age."
As Ricole was drawing people in with his talent, he observed that Carver's community was being dispersed.
"Around '94, '95, some of the original families moved out," Ricole said. "It all changed. The village aspect started to change but also, I think that was a part of the trespass laws coming. I remember as a kid, everybody would be out! Like, you run through the rows [of yards between buildings] and everybody would be out. Once those trespassing laws came in, you didn't see anybody. It was like a ghost town."
The Carver trespassing laws were instituted in 1994. According to Frederick Housing Authority attorney Shirlie Lake in a 1999 News-Post article, the intent of trespass laws was to inhibit non-residents from loitering and to prevent convicted criminals of drug dealing or violent crime from visiting friends and family on Frederick Housing Authority property.
Despite Lake's assertions, Federal Judge Catherine C. Blake ordered in a July 1999 ruling that Frederick City Police no longer could arrest visitors unless they committed a violent or drug-related crime on property owned by the Frederick Housing Authority, according to a News-Post article. That led to the removal of over 900 names from the Frederick Housing Authority's trespass log.
"Everybody wasn't a criminal. And 900 people on the list? There wasn't 900 criminals in Carver," Ricole said. "You see what I'm saying? That was a little bit shady right there."
Feeling unfairly treated
Ricole likely has his perspective because he felt unfairly targeted by some Frederick police officers in his teenage years. According to Ricole, there was a black cop that Ricole described as coming straight out of "Boyz In Da Hood." Ricole remembered the police officer searching a field near Carver for marijuana he claimed Ricole had discarded. According to Ricole, no drugs were found.
"He didn't put his hands on me, but I felt lesser," Ricole said.
He recalled another moment at Carver when he was sitting on a friend's car eating sunflower seeds with his peers. He explained that two white police officers asked him what his friends were doing.
"Ms. Bobo [Mary Thompson] kind of took over after my great grandmother passed," Ricole said. "Ms. Bobo comes out and gives [the cops] the third degree."
"She said, 'Why are you talking to them?'" Ricole reflected. "Y'all so worried about them and these boys don't do nothing. The whole time you're doing this, there's about three transactions up the street that you missed."
By the late '90s, Ricole and his friends were caught up in the go-go music that expanded outside of D.C.'s borders and into Frederick. He learned how to play keyboard and was a part of a go-go band called Bomb Shelter with his friends. They included Eriq Brown, a Frederick rapper who now goes by Bead Gawd, and Ricole's cousin, drummer Darrell Rollins Jr.
Both members eventually became a part of Center of Attention and later Razor Eaterz alongside Ricole. Though he was recruited to rap in Bomb Shelter, Ricole wanted to be like RZA, the producer of the Wu-Tang Clan. He thought being on keyboard would help him do that.
The group was mentored by Gerald Lattimore, who is now a part of Junkyard Band, a collective who looms large in D.C.'s go-go scene. With Lattimore's guidance, Ricole's band performed around Frederick and Hagerstown.
"Eventually, I moved to the mic and became the lead talker because nobody could lead talk," he said. "I taught somebody else to play keys. Now I'm performing in front of an audience on the mic. I was 15 years old when that happened. I'll never forget it."
Ricole's formative years at Carver exposed him to toughness and tenderness. The same person who defiantly posed in front of a no trespassing sign now also mentors youth in the Carver area. Much of the cinema that happened right outside Ricole's door became folded into the multi-layered lyrics he raps today.
"He's a wordsmith who puts a lot of thought and effort into his writing," said Uriel Collins, Ricole's manager of 10 years. "His grandparents, at the same time his mom and his dad ... raised a person I can relate to. He was a different kid. He's not the usual rapper."