Interview conducted by DJ Heat

It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I am sitting in the home of Maurice McClanahan aka Mo Betta. Or shall I say, the soon to be Artist Formerly Known as Mo Betta. Why “formerly”? Because Mo, err, Maurice, is ready to leave behind the legacy that he made in the DMV music scene and give his full attention to being a family man. Earlier this year, on a snowy day in March, Maurice became a husband and a father by marrying his girlfriend, Adrian, and officially gaining the title of “dad” to her pre-teen son. As I sit in their home, you can still feel the newlywed love in the air. Pictures of them adorn their walls, including an original painting of the couple done by the famed Demont Pinder. At one point during our interview, Maurice yells out to Adrian as she is in the back room. He just wants to simply say to her, “I love you”.

The Maurice sitting before me has come a long way from the Mo Betta that I met back in 2008/2009 thanks to MySpace. We would later cross paths at the many different open mics and artist showcases in the area during those subsequent years. Maurice would usually be rolling deep with his fellow artists in the Topp Dogg Hill Records crew, and he gained a name for himself for his freestyle battles. In the last six years, the name Maurice has made for himself as a philanthropist has far outweighed anything he did as an artist. And that can all be pinpointed to what took place on the night of Saturday, March 5th, 2011. That was the day of the final DMV Awards. What was originally supposed to be a night of celebrating the local music scene ended up being a night of chaos. During the awards, a massive fight broke out and several people were injured, including a bartender at the event that ended up losing one of his eyes. The brawl gained a lot of media coverage, and put a dark cloud over the DMV music industry.

In an effort to change how the local scene was viewed, Maurice started a charity initiative called Santa Cause. His mission was to help raise money for Safe Shores, an organization that assists sexually and physically abused youth in DC. Part of that mission was to also get local artists to donate and show this area that the music community here does care. Santa Cause has received support from the likes of Wale, Raheem DeVaughn, Lightshow, and a range of personalities from multiple radio and television stations in the DMV. Last year alone, the campaign raised over $35,000, and is on track to surpass that number this year.

During these past six years of Santa Cause, Maurice has not only done a lot when it comes to helping Safe Shores, but he has also done a lot when it comes to helping people period. It’s not rare to go on social media and see him donating in various ways. From giving gift cards and shoes to honor roll students, to giving turkeys and clothing to the needy, to hitting other artists in the DMV with what he calls Positive Peer Pressure to get them to give back as well. Yes, Maurice really does a lot. More than we will ever know. Some consider him a philanthropic king in this area. But as the saying goes, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown”. And it appears that Maurice is finally ready to put that crown down.

This is year 6 of doing Santa Cause, and I’ve seen you mention that this will be your last year. Do you really mean that?

Yes.

Why?

I’ve been told I’m quitting or “Why are you quitting? Don’t let the frustration [get to you]”. In previous years I may have been frustrated with friends not supporting. I’m not frustrated right now. I’m like extra happy. Yesterday I was with the Forever Duncans and Sherrell told me, “I’ve noticed your posts this year are more happy and it’s just showing gratitude to people”. I’m like, that’s what you do when you’re leaving, you say “thank you”. I just feel like if we raise $20,000 more or $18,000 more by the end of this year, which I think is possible because that would put us about $35,000 like last year was. Over six years that would be $100,000. That’s a great number to walk away at. That ain’t quitting, that’s…it ran it’s course. It served it’s purpose. I’m good with that number. But, I’m retiring from everything though, not just that.

What do you mean by “everything”?

Being Mo Betta. It’s time to be Maurice. I got married, I’m ready to be Cliff Huxtable. I want to be the family guy real quick. Go to work. Come home. Clean up. You know, she cook the food, I’ll do the dishes.

You’re like J. Cole, “I want to fold clothes for you”.

Yeah, man. I’m too old to be standing in the front row of shows until 1:30 in the morning. I ain’t got it no more.

You know I feel you, we’ve been out here probably the same amount of time.

A very long time.

Is it stressful being you?

It had been. Especially when trying to get the artists to understand things. You know they’re like, “The radio don’t support” and “You should manage me, you know these radio personalities”. But I’m like, you can get to know them the same way I do. You ignore these posts and these suggestions. Which is why I’ve never managed anyone. I really wanted to manage an artist, and it wasn’t neccessarily about the talent for me. I just want somebody that is going to listen and be a good person. The talent can be worked on. I can get a writer, I can teach you things, I can get help for that. That can be worked on. But yeah, it can be stressful. I’ll get calls and people will ask for advice on things. But if you’re not going to implement it…you want somebody to tell you what it is you want to hear, and I’m not that guy. So, it can be stressful. I just think I’ve been who I’ve been in this area and this music scene for like 15 years at least. I’ve served my term. My time is up.

I saw you post online about how people seem to reach out to you only when they want something. But when you reach out just to check on them and say “hi”, you don’t get a reply back. Yet later those same people will come back around and hit you up wanting something again. How does that make you feel? Because I think that people have this perception that since you’re so giving, that makes you Mr. Moneybags. 

Or maybe that I’m gullible or something.  That can be depressing when you’re hitting people just to say “hi” and you don’t get a response. What is that to not respond to? I don’t want nothing from you. I try to do what is that I would want someone to do. I want to see a text where it’s not someone asking for money or asking can I send their song to Wale or can I get in contact with Quicksilva for them.  I do what I wish somebody was doing for me. Sometimes I be questioning if their number changed, but then weeks later it’s like, “Yo, Mo! Come to my mixtape release” and I’m like, are you kidding me?! Scroll up in your thread right there, bruh. The text [I last sent] didn’t come through?! It’s not even with the artists though. It’ll be regular friends. Ironically, I hit people up the day before Thanksgiving and was like “I get off at Noon. Who wants to do whatever?” I think two people might’ve reached out. One girl lived in Detroit, so she obviously wasn’t the one. Another one of my friends was in VA, and I think someone else reached out, but they had to go to work at Noon. Don’t nobody want to hang, alright cool. I went to the MGM and won $1500 on the slot machine. But now [that] post has endless traction. It’s like, “Man, I was going to hit you” and “I was trying to come through” and “Next time you go…”. And I’m like, I’m about to spend all this money on me. I’m not thinking about none of ya’ll. And that didn’t happen, we were in the mall yesterday and it had to be some Jordans that were like $120, $140. And I’m like, why can’t I bring myself to buy these shoes. I like these shoes. Then a friend hit me and needed some money and I Cash App’d that with no thought. It was the same amount that the shoes cost. But then in my mind I was like had I bought the shoes I might not have been able to help him. So that’s really how that thought process goes.

 

Mo Betta sharing a laugh with his wife, Adrian

How is married life?

The married life is lit. It’s perfect. And I don’t think people even be believing me. We will have been together for four years in March. But we got married this March, so it’s been about 8 or 9 months. But, we’ve never argued. Ever. About anything. And it’s like how, why? I like to debate sports, music or whatever. But I’m not the argumentative type with friends and family. Because my thing is, I get headaches easily. I’m not stressing myself out over you, or having health problems because you don’t like something.

And the last thing you would want to stress over is your marriage.

I really don’t be seeing anything to argue about. We debated one time about where an exit ramp was going to take us. And that was just recently. That’s not going to end a relationship though.

When you and your wife first met, did she know who you were in regards to being a public figure?

That’s funny, because we were actually in the same place and didn’t see each other. Ironically, at a charity event. #HashtagLunchbag. Because of that we were both in Sunni’s [mentions] and Sunni said something about not liking grits. And Adrian was like, “Grits are the greatest. You like lamb, how do you not like grits?!” And I was like, “Oh, Adrian you like grits? Oh hey boo, how you doing?” And then we started talking. She says that I added her on Facebook. I don’t remember adding her on Facebook, but if she says so, then maybe I did. So, I reached out to her through there and we were talking and exchanged numbers.  I think I had to do a verse for a song I was on with 30/30 at the Fillmore. So, this is our first date. We go to a rap concert.

Why am I not surprised that a DMV rap concert is ya’ll first date?

We didn’t stay there. I did [the show]. We left. We went to the movies and got something to eat. But, I don’t think she knew [how well known I was]. I took a few pictures at the Fillmore. So she’s like, “Okay, he knows a couple of people” But I don’t think…

…That she knew the magnitude of how well known you are.

Naw. She found out maybe the second or third time [we went out]. Because every time we went out, we seen somebody. We saw Tony Lewis Jr. and his wife the first time we went out to the movies…I think after people start seeing you at the grocery store and people start calling you Mo Betta and you’re at rest stops, then you kind of figure it out. She figured it out soon.

Throwback Mo Betta mixtape

Do you think that you will ever put out music again, or are you really done? You’re just really ready to be Maurice and not Mo Betta?

I am definitely done. But I don’t know, sometimes I get the urge and the desire. I hate writing though. I want to record, but I never want to write.

Nobody writes anymore. They just go in there and punch in.

I hate punching though, because the energy is not the same. You’ve got to keep that same energy, B. *claps hands for emphasis* Certain times I get inspired, depending on what I’m listening to. Chyi the Prynce’s new music is like…the wordplay is different. The freestyle series that Funkmaster Flex been putting out, some of those artists go up there and show off.  And because I watch rap battles, there is often real good wordplay. Somebody asked me an hour ago to come to the studio. Sometimes I just want to sit there, I just like the environment of the sessions. I’ve been in on people’s sessions where I’ve actually sat there and wrote a verse in my phone because I’ve liked the song that they were doing.

And the beat is probably playing over and over in the studio, so as an artist you just can’t help it.

Yeah. Sometimes I might be tempted to write a verse under a picture I post on Instagram. So, [wanting to do new music] is there. I had bars the other day just randomly when I woke up. I don’t know where they came from, but they were there. So I can see a freestyle or something [being released] randomly or periodically.

I look at it like this, if you think about all the people that you know…if you were to put out something with all of these different people that you know…

And I am well aware. I am well aware. Sometimes I feel like I owe it to the city. I feel like I owe it to myself.

That can be your mic drop. That can be your official transition.

Yeah, it could. And I’ve been tempted. I really, really have been tempted. I think I’m good for that favor from a few people. I laugh when I see people pay an artist for a feature, and I’m just like, “I’m not paying nobody from here”.

And then most of the time that featured artist doesn’t promote it.

Right, that’s the other thing. You paid them how much?! And he didn’t share it?! I mean, it’s one thing when you pay it, but that’s not gaining you no fans if you’re putting a song with you and whoever on your timeline. Those people are already your fans. [Promoting the feature] would have to be in the stipulations for me. A music video or something.

I’m sure people would do it for you, because you’ve done so much for them.

Eh.

It’s a thought.

Yeah.

I know you’re not going to do it.

Eh. More than likely not. More than likely not. More than likely not.

I just had to give you the idea though, but I know you’re not going to do it.

I don’t know, I fee like I fell off though. I don’t think I’m as good as I once was.

But we don’t even know that, because what can we compare it to? These youngstas don’t know. Maybe just the people in our age group that was around at all of these open mics years ago.

That’s what’s crazy about that MadeInTheDMV [freestyle battle] event. I went in there, I was sleepy. I had a headache. I was hungry. I did not want to rap. And I actually told Byrd that I wanted to be a judge. And then I see the flyer and my name is not only on it, but I’m the first one [listed as a freestyle contestant]. So people are in the comments, “Oh, Mo Betta’s freestyling. I’m coming”. I was like, I don’t even know if I’m going, but now I felt obligated. And then to find out that day was the 44th anniversary of Hip-Hop. I was like, I can’t let Nas down. To get in there, and then I’m just like, you know, I’m feeling like I fell off. But then I realized that everybody isn’t good at freestyling though. So even me not at my best might still be a little above average. I’m tempted sometimes [to do music]. I really am.

Mo Betta back in the day with .000001% of the members of Topp Dogg Hill Records

So let’s touch on that for a second. Because you and I both have been out here for many moons in this DMV music scene…

Sheesh.

What’s your opinion on where the scene is now?

It’s different. It’s different.

Compared to what?

Okay, so when we were at open mics, it was 500 people there. My label came 35 deep when we weren’t being supportive. And it seem like we were going to concerts. It didn’t seem like an open mic. We were a fan of one particular song, or two songs by an artist, and we made them perform it every week. We didn’t care that you made a new song this week. You can perform one of them, but you’ve got to perform THIS. That was more exciting to me than listening to industry music. We were on MySpace listening to each other’s songs all the time. But whereas now, you’ve got a list of artists with record deals. There is regular people in this city that aren’t a part of the entertainment scene that can list artists. These kids that are in schools can reel off a whole entire list. And I’m just like, this wasn’t even possible in recent memory. To just watch it is crazy to me. To see Shy Glizzy and GoldLink be on a song. For one, [to see] two artists on a song together from here instead of beefing with each other…to have the number one requested song on Urban radio, and you’re like they’re from here. What showed me how big it got is I seen a girl from Memphis tweet about “Crew”. Now, I know that she follows a lot of DMV people, so I was like I understand how she came across the song. But she said they were playing it on the radio all the time there too. I was like, I don’t think this area realizes this song is being played like this everywhere else. They just thought that [radio here] finally showed some locals some love, and that’s now what it was. And then for Logic to go three times platinum with his single, and [all of] this is at the same time. And then you mentioned Tank…

Yeah, GoldLink, Logic, and Tank all had a number one song at the same time.

I’m like, this is crazy. For Wale to be on album five…we got it here now. We’ve got Chaz French with a deal. Fat Trel with a deal. WillThaRapper with a deal. Noochie with a deal. I [told him],  “I remember you being at the open mic with your father. Your father [Boobe] was doing Gangsta Grillz mixtapes”.

These youngins don’t realize how much Noochie’s father did for the DMV music scene.

You’ve got to do research. To them it doesn’t matter. Just like how Lil Yachty or whoever was on the radio and was like, “these old people don’t matter”. Where you come from always makes a difference. When I first started rapping there were people before me, and what meant so much to me is when I finally met some of those people that were around before me. The Nonchalants and the Tony Blunts and all of them. To meet them and them vouch and brag about me and my freestyle ability or my battle rap…and I wasn’t just listening to them on some CD, they was on the radio. Nonchalant was being played everywhere. I didn’t realize initially that “5 O’Clock” was a national hit. She’s talking about Minnesota and Benning Road. That’s crazy to me. To see Morgan Freeman in a Section 8 Mob music video.

That was a big deal.

That’s Morgan Freeman! This was the movie 7 Morgan Freeman too. That wasn’t I’m Not Famous Morgan Freeman. He was Morgan Freeman. This is post Lean On Me. Even to later when Wale had him narrate a video, you see we study where we came from. I love watching what’s going on in the city now. To see somebody go to the schools and the kids all know their lyrics. To see these youngings come up rapping. The Chelly the MCs and the 3OhBlacks with 50,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram, [back then] it wasn’t like that. I might’ve had like 500 followers on MySpace. At the time it was Wale and Tabi [Bonney]. That was it. To see what it is now, I hope the youngings do some research or see some documentary and reach out to them and say “Thank you” because they did that for them.

I like what GoldLink did with his album, because he kind of did what you mentioned by having Kokayi on there.

OG. That’s a legend. I like to call people legends, because I hear [people call me] the term, but I’m like what did I do. You know that meme that says, “When everyone is proud of you, but you still don’t feel like you’ve did enough”? I epitomize that feeling. I don’t feel like I did nothing, for real. [Even with] a bio. I know I do it all, but I don’t do nothing.

You’ve done a lot. You have raised almost $100,000 over the years for one organization.

Fair enough.

I’ve seen people every year that wonder if Santa Cause is going to fall short of that goal for the year. But then I think of it like this, that is still a lot of money to raise for just one D.C. based organization. It’s not like you’re raising it for a national charity that has tons of locations. What you’ve raised is a lot for one local organization that is doing great work. How do they feel about all of this?

They’re extremely grateful. There’s been employees that come and go, but there are certain ones I get real close with. And they’re excited because they are following me on social media and watching it as it happens. That may have been the reason I did [Santa Cause] this year. Last year I really, really was done. But when you see an employee at the place say in April, “I can’t wait until August for Santa Cause to start”, I’m just like aww man.

So you’re done for real with everything?

Yeah, I’m done.

No more Mo Betta?

No.

Maurice.

Maurice.

Like Jay-Z at one point, no more Jay-Z. You’re Shawn Carter now.

Maurice. Regular guy now.

Well, ain’t nothing wrong with being a regular guy. You’ve done a lot. You deserve it.

Thank you.

You’re welcome.

You know if you see me in the grocery store I still might donate some Fudge Rounds for something. Buy some Little Debbie snacks for you.

To donate to Santa Cause, visit: http://www.santacausedmv.org/