The way Cassidy described the fatal April 2005 gunfight he was involved in sounds like something out of "The Bourne Ultimatum." He had moved to Philadelphia's quiet Providence Street right next door to his mother to escape the carnage that has often plagued the busier areas in his hometown. He just had a newborn son, so why not keep the whole family together? It was supposed to be peaceful and serene, a hideout from the craziness of the music biz as well as the streets.
But what happened on that day was catastrophic. His onetime close friend, 22-year-old Desmond Hawkins, was part of an entourage of men who Cassidy said were in a minivan, posted up in a very narrow alleyway behind Cass' house, in front of his garage. When Cassidy and his friends pulled up in a Yukon Denali, gunfire erupted. Several dozen bullets lay on the ground, in cars, even in some people's homes.
"Since the minivan was parked, there was no way to get past it," Cassidy said, standing in the alley, replaying the whole scenario. "You had to back up or turn around to get out. The dudes went through it ... boom, hit my house. I don't really wanna get into details, but at the end of the day, there were like 90 shells [lying all over]. My truck had holes in it, a bunch of driveways, windows, people's homes got shot up. Then there was also a bag found right here by the truck, a plastic bag found with a bunch of shells in it. The cases were the same shells that were fired. Eventually they got a warrant for the house I was living in, and they found an SK clip and a lot of bullets. The bullets they found were the same as the bullets in the house and in the bag."
Cassidy admits that the bullets the police found in his house belonged to him.
"That's the reason why they had a case against me," explained Cassidy, who served eight months in Philadelphia's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility for Hawkins' death in the incident before being released in March 2006. "That's why I did the time for involuntary manslaughter. That's the reason why they said I was tied in. My team went through it with somebody, so they were my bullets, I'm not gonna deny that. But everything else, I don't wanna get into detail about. But that's why they even had a case, or I would've beat the case altogether.
"I don't have no regrets or remorse," he added. "I believe that everything happened for a reason. I don't believe that I initiated anything, I always tried to bring a solution to the table. The guy that died used to be my friend. I took him to Jamaica and places that people around here have never been, and maybe never even gonna go. I used to take him around for free. It cost money, but he was just cool with me. It's not like I used him for anything — he didn't rap, he didn't produce — I just did it off the love, so I definitely had love for him, and I'm definitely sad that it had to happen like that and wish it went a different way. At the end of the day, that's how it happened, and I just wanna send respect out to his family. Regardless, if either one of us could've made different decisions, they had nothing to do with it. I know they probably hurt from losing somebody in their family, so that's the only people I'd like to give respect out to. And if there's anything I could do to help them out, I'm willing to do it. I've never had a problem with no one in his family. I just was protecting myself, and that's why I'm able to be on the streets right now."
The court case was just the beginning of Cass' troubles. His life was put in jeopardy and almost lost once again when he was involved in a horrific car accident in October 2006. He was on his way to the studio and traveling with friends. Cassidy was the only one seriously injured. He still has a scar by his left eye that goes all the way around to the back of his head. There's a small dent in his head, and some of his hair hasn't grown back yet.
"I was in a coma for about seven or eight days," he said. "And then they put me into a medicated coma, so that if I woke up I wouldn't be traumatized by what I went through. When I first woke up out of my coma, I had amnesia, so I couldn't really remember everything. I didn't have full amnesia; I could remember certain things. The only people I really knew were my mom, my son, people that's real close that you knew all your life. I knew their names but even certain experiences I couldn't remember at first. I couldn't remember none of my raps, even the songs I performed — 'Hotel,' 'I'm a Hustla,' none of that. The doctor told me that I suffered brain damage, but it was temporary, it wasn't permanent. So the same way it takes time for your body to heal, he said it's gonna take your brain time to heal."
The Philly rapper was informed it would take at least four to six weeks for his brain to get back to normal. After a month, he remembered everything — including his rhymes, of course.
"It was a crazy rap," he said about the first song he wrote coming off the hip-hop disabled list. "Actually, I think I put it out on a mixtape or something, but everyone was impressed. They were like, 'Wow, how did you come back from all of that and just write a rap and have it sound incredible? You might've just stepped it up even more.' It was hard for people to believe. Even family, people like Swizz [Beatz], were questioning if I was gonna be able to go in the studio again. He was asking the doctors questions [like that]. 'Cause at first it wasn't looking good, it wasn't looking like I was gonna be able to rap again."
Cassidy has quashed all questions about his comeback with another wave of heralded underground freestyles and his club monster "My Drink N' My 2 Step," the first single from his upcoming release, B.A.R.S.: The Barry Adrian Reese Story, which hits stores Tuesday. (The album title features his real name.)
"I didn't want to come back from my trials and tribulations and go too in depth because there wasn't time," he said about leading off with a party joint. "You know, my project wasn't gonna come yet, my album wasn't gonna be done, I wasn't gonna be on TV. I had to get my buzz back in the 'hood, because you can't just rely on one song, I'm attacking the 'hood, dropping freestyles — three, four, five freestyles every week. Not only do I have a successful radio song and a successful club song, but I've got a street-song smash. I wanted them to know that I went to jail, I wanted them to know that I got in the accident, but I still wanted them to have fun. It was summertime, people wanna go to the clubs, they wanna party."
Cassidy's second single, "Innocent Man," features an unbelievable — unbelievable as in where did he find him? — collaboration with Mark Morrison, who made the popular '90s jam "Return of the Mack."
"Swizz Beatz put something together," he said, sitting in the 609 Studios while Beanie Sigel and Freeway were listening to each other's music in another room. "We were fighting hard for it for a minute. It actually was a record that he already had out overseas similar to that with similar type of words, and we just flipped it around and did it our way. And, you know, dealing with Swizz, he has a lot of connects, so he put it together.
" 'Innocent Man,' " he added, " is talking about the situation I went through when I was locked up for the murder and two attempts. It talks about what I was going through and how I was feeling before it happened, after it happened, and how I feel now. I think it says a lot, and it tells you a lot about me. It's definitely going to be my second single because it brings my story to light. And this is what the album is based on — the Barry Reese story. I wanted to tell my story, my real life story, not just about being an entertainer, but the story about [being] Barry Reese."
Cassidy once again mixes up alter egos to start off the album, as he did on his I'm a Hustla album with "Problem vs. the Hustla." He goes at it with himself again on "The Hustla vs. B.A.R.S."
"That's just the intro, something I give the streets 'cause I really don't wanna battle nobody else because I feel as though I'll just be taking advantage of them because I'm so experienced," he bragged. "I know how to do this. And there's no one worth battling any more than myself. So I just do that on every album and go at myself, hard as anyone could ever go at me."
Other than Cass himself, John Legend is also featured on the album, on a track called "Celebrate."
"It's just a big record, man," Cassidy said. "I've always wanted to work with John Legend — he's a good artist. He has plenty of fans, and I've always loved how he puts emotion and feeling into his music. So we put together something crazy — big music. And it's something different, something that you're not used to hearing me do, and something you wouldn't expect from me. But we didn't do this together. He sent me the record with the hook already done. And then I did my verse and sent it back to him. But we did two records together. We did another record that Swizz produced called 'Searching,' but I just felt as though this record was the best for now."
On Tuesday, another banger from B.A.R.S. hit the streets: the remix to "My Drink N' My 2 Step" featuring Kanye West, Ne-Yo and Swizz.
"I got a flow that sits right next to Big, and all these old rappers don't know where the exit is," Kanye raps on the remix.
Ne-Yo laughs about men who have questioned his sexuality: "All these shots that I can't see straight, all these women around cats still saying he can't be straight/ Give me your girl and some platinum Patrón/ When she comes home, you can ask her, 'Is me straight?' "
"You know a lot of dudes say their album's hot, but then when you hear it, it's like, 'Eh,' so they come up with a gimmick to try to get you to buy it?" Cass said. "It's my third album. It's the best project I've ever put together. It's called B.A.R.S. 'cause I was locked behind bars, I was known for spittin' bars and Barry Adrian Reese is my biological name, so I just felt like it was the perfect title."