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How lockdown set Dallas rapper Cameron McCloud free

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 3/19/2022 Jonny Auping, The Dallas Morning News
Cameron McCloud of the Dallas band Cure for Paranoia poses for a portrait in Dallas on Monday, March 14, 2022. © Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Cameron McCloud of the Dallas band Cure for Paranoia poses for a portrait in Dallas on Monday, March 14, 2022.

When pandemic restrictions went into effect almost two years ago, it made official what had become obvious to anyone in music: Live performances were on hold indefinitely.

Cameron McCloud’s first thought was: “‘I’m not gonna playanymore. I’m not gonna be doing DJ gigs anymore. We’re not gonna make money anymore.”

McCloud, 28 and raised in Irving, is the rapper behind the group Cure for Paranoia, a fixture of live music in Deep Ellum since 2016 that typically included some variation of Stanley Francisko singing vocals and Jay Analog and Tomahawk Jonez producing the instrumentals.

They established themselves in Dallas with talent, an original sound and McCloud’s ambition, which borders on audaciousness. The first time he ever went to Deep Ellum, years before meeting his bandmates, he saw Kendrick Lamar at Trees. By the end of the night, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He waited after the concert for just a few minutes of face time with Lamar and freestyled for the West Coast rapper, who validated his skills.

Cameron McCloud of the Dallas band Cure for Paranoia poses for a portrait in Dallas on Monday, March 14, 2022. © Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Cameron McCloud of the Dallas band Cure for Paranoia poses for a portrait in Dallas on Monday, March 14, 2022.

A few years later he would be fired from his job at Olive Garden for missing his shift to perform at Trees himself. At one point, McCloud sneaked backstage at the Bomb Factory to freestyle for Erykah Badu, earning Cure for Paranoia an invite to perform at her annual birthday concert.

In 2019, if Cure for Paranoia, whose members lived together at the Kontour at Kessler Park apartments, wanted to perform for money in Deep Ellum, they could, any day of the week. Until March 2020, when the neighborhood went quiet.

With nothing to fall back on, McCloud sprang into idea mode. The day quarantine restrictions were announced in Dallas, he came up with livestreaming the band’s performances from their home in what he called Couch-ella — a play on the California musical festival — and soliciting online donations.

Cameron McCloud of the Dallas band Cure for Paranoia poses for a portrait in Dallas on Monday, March 14, 2022. © Lola Gomez/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Cameron McCloud of the Dallas band Cure for Paranoia poses for a portrait in Dallas on Monday, March 14, 2022.

It was weeks before other streaming music events like Verzuz, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and others began to flood the market.

The Couch-ella sessions were a financial savior for Cure for Paranoia, and they worked for more than one reason.

For one, Cure for Paranoia was already well-established in Dallas, giving the band the ability to provide the feeling of live music early into quarantine. Second, the themes of the music were relatable and welcome to audiences isolated in a way they never had been before. McCloud’s lyrics often deal with mental health struggles.

The music itself sounds upbeat and fun, but concepts like self-doubt, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are packed into his confident delivery.

It was the Dallas music community that McCloud credits for the most financial support. In a show of solidarity, fellow local musicians and regulars at Cure for Paranoia shows were donating $50 or $100 per person to watch the streams.

The livestreams lasted until the end of April, and the band also put out a mixtape of unreleased material in exchange for whatever listeners wanted to pay. As with Couch-ella, the donations were plentiful.

McCloud doubled down. He took a large portion of the money he had made during quarantine and designed Cure for Paranoia masks.

“Those sold out before I even got the orders delivered to me,” McCloud said.

So, the fear that his musical career was over turned out to be short-lived.

“Before I even rapped for Badu, I was basically homeless,” he said of his early days, during which he slept mostly on couches. “I just thought: ‘I’ve been broke before doing music and survived. I can do it again.’”

He didn’t switch careers, but things did change for McCloud over the next 20 months. He became a different type of musician and a different person with recalibrated ambitions. It’s a happy story born of unhappy circumstances.

‘Perpetual loop’

The Dallas music scene has always been hard to pin down, and Deep Ellum is the city’s musical melting pot. Cure for Paranoia didn’t represent a recognizable Dallas sound as much as it was eclectic enough to fit in anywhere. In Dallas the band opened for rappers like Ludacris and Bun B and shared bills with local country acts, punk bands and indie rock and pop groups.

Between residencies at places such as Three Links and DJ sets at Crowdus Bar, McCloud was getting in front of crowds about six times a week in 2019, navigating the center of Dallas music. Cure for Paranoia brought a consistently amped up live energy, and McCloud cruised forward with a mix of swaggering and vulnerable lyrics.

The quarantine, however, allowed him to acknowledge some things that weren’t working.

For all the live performances the group had done around Deep Ellum and the Dallas area, its four members hadn’t sat down to create music in nearly two years. They were in what McCloud called a “perpetual loop.”

He also began to realize that the group’s initiative fell mostly on his shoulders. The other members had their own projects and lives and considered Cure for Paranoia to be his.

In reality, his roommates weren’t full-time bandmates as much as talented and supportive friends. Cure for Paranoia wasn’t making new music because McCloud wasn’t making new music.

Worse, the loop of constant performance was driving him to alcoholism. He had quit drinking for two years, but relapsed in 2019. He was tired of performing the same songs over and over again but couldn’t get off the ride he felt fortunate to have a ticket for.

“I’m at these shows that I don’t want to be at,” McCloud said. “And I’m basically drinking until I feel like being there. And then the next day, I’m hungover all day until it’s time to go to the next show and I start drinking to feel better.”

A 100-day journey

Quarantine gave McCloud what it gave most people: time.

He got his drinking under control, and began to deal with business matters he had put off. He created an LLC for Cure for Paranoia.

He started coming up with new music again. He was writing verses that didn’t require accompanying melodies. He was soliciting beats to rap over instead of waiting to collaborate with his roommates. Original music was piling up in fragmented forms.

By February 2021, he had gone nearly a year without performing and was looking to get back on stage.

Johnny Bee III of a local music collective called the Leo Sun Project had put together a series of shows at Trees themed around unexpected collaborations. He asked McCloud to participate. He would be performing with a bass player, drummer, keyboard player and saxophonist. McCloud sent them songs and they turned it into sheet music.

With vaccines still a rarity, McCloud sneaked out of the venue before people “got too drunk to remember personal boundaries” and obsessively sanitized his hands.

No one else from Cure for Paranoia was on the stage with him for the first time since he had formed the group.

“It was all new music, all of my own original music,” McCloud said. “It went really well. It was just affirming to me that I could do it this way.”

The affirmation sparked an even more ambitious idea. Shortly after the Trees show, he publicly dedicated himself to a #KeepIt100 Challenge in which he would write an original verse and post a recording of it on Instagram for 100 consecutive days.

The verses themselves were a tremendous showcase of his lyrical ability, but the greater challenge for McCloud was making sure the accompanying videos were unique.

Jay Analog and Tomahawk Jonez helped him conceptualize and record the videos, which got more visually creative as the project went on.

On Day 16, the viewer looks out from inside McCloud’s refrigerator as he raps in a disassociated sleepwalking state.

On Day 60 he’s rapping from the median on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge with traffic roaring by on both sides.

On June 15, Day 100, he raps while walking downtown, removing articles of clothing. After his final lyric, he collapses, naked, face down at Dealey Plaza next to where John F. Kennedy was assassinated, an homage to Erykah Badu’s 2010 music video in which she does the same.

‘You don’t have to create from chaos’

When Angélica Rahe was in Austin from Los Angeles in early 2019, working with Adrian Quesada of the Black Pumas, she checked out the South by Southwest lineup.

Born in Spain, Rahe is a singer, professional songwriter and was the musical director for the California-based recording artist Kali Uchis. She made a list of the five artists who excited her most before the event. On the list was Cure for Paranoia.

That same year she sent McCloud a song called “Como Yo” off Reina, the debut album she was recording, and asked him to add a verse. McCloud went to New York to deliver it and the two went further, recording a music video. Rahe told him she wanted to work together in future.

In August 2021, Rahe, by then living in Austin full-time, welcomed McCloud to her home studio where she produced his debut solo album 7 Days in the Life. It’s set to be released this spring.

Originally drawn to McCloud’s paradoxical ability to exude swagger while articulating his vulnerability in his lyrics, Rahe said that she noticed his personal growth over the course of the pandemic.

“When you’re in performance mode and gig mode you’re giving so much of yourself,” she said. “When you’re on stage, it’s just pure output.”

Rahe said she could see his excitement to work in the calm environment of her studio. “You don’t have to create from chaos,” she said.

McCloud previewed the album, which Rahe described as, “a musical picture in the week of Cam and his ups and downs,” to a live audience with her at the Austin venue 3TEN on Jan. 13.

“Of all the artists I’ve worked with, he’s in the great category,” Rahe said.

Bolstered and supported by fellow musicians and fans, McCloud regrouped and entered a post-vaccine Dallas that was ready to welcome back musicians, some of whom not only survived the break but are also hitting their strides.

Musicians are performing regularly in Deep Ellum and across Dallas, and listeners, tired of the pandemic, are coming out to shows — some masked, some vaccinated, some not.

“Deep Ellum is heavily congested,” McCloud said. “People are just itching to go back out. It’s packed. There’s a need for these musicians.”

But don’t expect McCloud to get back on the perpetual loop soon.

Rahe took him on the road to perform in Houston and New York, and Erykah Badu brought him to the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in October, giving him a taste of performing before a wider audience.

“I don’t take this place for granted by any means,” McCloud said of Dallas. “But, in a sense, I feel like I’ve already won these people over.”

He has released a book called Keep It 100 with every lyric from the #KeepIt100 Challenge and illustrations by local artists. The World Famous Tony Williams, the vocalist and cousin of Kanye West, wrote the forward.

7 Days in a Life will be released under McCloud’s name alone, and he says there is an unreleased Cure for Paranoia album coming out later this year.

His roommates, collaborators and idols can all lend their own talents to his vision. But he knows now that he alone is responsible for it.

“One thing that I have learned is that I am Cure for Paranoia.”

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Visit dallasnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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