Waleed Coyote presses for peace in a new Middle East

by Amy Kingsley

The brand new music video for Ricco Barrino’s single “Bubblegum” opens with executive producer Waleed Coyote being detained and searched at airport security. Meanwhile, two of the stars of his record label, Barrino and P-Wonda, waltz through the metal detectors and down the terminal.

It’s a joke, of course, and not meant as a heavy political commentary for viewers to ponder while they nod their heads to the infectious groove of “Bubblegum.” But the scene certainly illustrates a definite shift in the racial attitudes of Americans that Coyote, who came to North Carolina from Lebanon at 8 years old, has sensed during the last five years.

“My race really became an issue after 9-11,” he says. “After that, we were the new niggers.”

Right after 9-11 the hip hop producer, DJ and radio personality started receiving harassing phone calls during his graveyard shift at 102 JAMZ.

“That was so long ago,” he says. “It seems like a lifetime ago.”

A lot of things have happened during the intervening five years, both in the world and in Coyote’s career. The producer and recent Western Carolina University alum saw Barrino play at a little place called Club Candlelights in High Point and signed him to the then-fledgling Othaz Records. Then, more apocalyptically, war broke out between Israel and his homeland Lebanon.

The time was right, Coyote concluded, to yoke the juggernaut of his career to a project that would benefit all children of the Middle East and perhaps change prevailing attitudes about Arabs. He’ll be collaborating with MC Serch, who is Jewish, on a compilation CD made up of Arab and Jewish artists. The proceeds will benefit the children of Palestine, Lebanon, Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. It will be political, Coyote says, but the message will emphasize peace.

“There’s been enough finger-pointing and I don’t want to do that anymore,” he says.

It’s a surprsingly moderate sentiment for an artist who says that NWA’s Straight Outta Compton changed his life. Then again, being unexpected is part of Coyote’s ethnic and musical identity, and the upcoming CD isn’t the first time the two have intersected. He chose the name Othaz for his record label based on the racial identification questions he so often encountered on census and school forms. As an Arab, and not black, white or Hispanic, he usually fell into the “other” category. He decided that it was not a bad place to be.

“Everything that everybody does is target marketed,” Coyote says. “When you’re an other they don’t know what to do with you.”

Coyote’s identity today is tied up with hip hop and his Middle Eastern heritage, a byproduct of his introduction to the United States. He was actually born in England, where his parents fled on a medical visa. During the late 1970s in Beirut, at the height of the civil war, warring factions were bombing hospitals.

Coyote remembers the crazy parts of war, like when a military barracks housing hundreds of US Marines was blown up in 1983, but also recalls some of the nicer things about Lebanon.

“It’s a beautiful country,” he says. “The area really is paradise for the Middle East. Like Miami.”

His family fled to North Carolina to escape the violence. When Coyote started school, he did not speak any English, but he learned the language through music and television.

“It didn’t take me a long time to make friends because I used to watch so much MTV, so I was always into music culture,” he says.

Back then Greensboro was a mecca for hip hop. Payroll Records, producer Mark Sparks and others called the Gate City home.

When Coyote moved to Western Carolina, he discovered a music scene and college radio station seriously deficient in the ways of hip hop.

“They were letting the records skip and all this stuff that was just a no-no where I came from in Greensboro,” he says.

Coyote got a show at the college radio station and quickly developed a hit formula.

“I was more into just playing the music,” he says. “I very seldom talked. Next thing you know the ratings were just crazy. I was playing frat parties, everything.”

He started interning during the summers at 102 JAMZ, where he developed his on-air personality. His formula does not appear to have changed much since his college days. Coyote crossfades the playback, tweaks the monitors and cues up promos, only occasionally slipping on his headphones for a quick air break.

The DJ wears his goatee divided into three braids that extend about two inches past his chin. The top of his head is a shiny pate.

Although he hasn’t been back to Lebanon since he left more than two decades ago, he keeps a reminder of his country close, in the Arabic tattoo on his left arm that translates as “thank God.”

Before he starts working on his project for the Middle East, Coyote is focusing on the other Middle East, which is what he calls North Carolina (because its the middle of the East Coast). He’ll be re-releasing 2.3, the Ricco Barrino album on Othaz Records, through a new distribution deal with Universal. It’s not as overtly political as the Arab/Jewish project to follow, but a hit record can’t help but prove Coyote’s point.

“Arabs, Middle Easterners, we’re always depicted like we’re trying to destroy everything,” he says. “But here I am trying to build something.”

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