In his last days on Earth, a South African musician and philanthropist whose years-long battle with cancer was nearing its end ensured the philosophies of hip-hop that so significantly inspired him would be made available to young people around the world. Terence Barry’s legacy, the not-for-profit Generation Hip-Hop Global (GHHG), has continued on since his passing in November 2021. He was 62.
Having been diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer in 2018, Barry went on to dedicate his time to ensure his organization would have the resources to reach young people who may otherwise not have had the opportunity to enjoy all that the culture of hip-hop offers, his friends, colleagues and family told Inside Edition Digital. What resulted was an educational and mentorship program of sorts Barry hoped would reach every person who was in need of such services.
“You can imagine once you get diagnosed you must feel your last days are around the corner so I think he definitely operated with that on his psyche,” his friend Ndaba Mandela said.
“Rebel Without a Pause”
Terence Barry was born on Dec. 27, 1958 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, just outside Durban. He went to art school and was a graphic designer and musician and saw the arts in one form or another as his calling.
Described by his family as “an enigma,” according to his fiancée, Elaine Mato, he was one of those folks who knew a little about everything and could do just about anything.
Mato said that when Barry was 14, he beat a world-renowned chess player. His victory at that young age summed up who he was as a person, Mato said, calling him “a visionary, a strategist…and a great motivator.”
He was also a lover of sport and at a young age excelled at tennis, cricket, rugby, swimming and horse riding. At art school, there was no organized sport available to join, and so Barry organized a rugby team to have exhibition matches against other colleges.
Barry worked in the corporate world in both graphic design and marketing, and spent time on the streets of Amsterdam busking as a musician. His being able to connect to many walks both benefited and took a toll on him.
“As with all creatives, we tend to sort of crash and burn,” Mato said of Barry, who she said struggled with alcohol and depression. His struggles saw him lose touch with his daughter from a previous marriage for a period of time.
“That sort of put him into a bit of a spiral and then personally his life sort of fell apart,” Mato said of Barry.
Through what Mato called “his dark period,” Barry learned from his own struggles and turned himself around. He found himself through music again as both a performer and producer. He reconnected with his daughter, and he sought a greater purpose through helping others.
“He could talk to anyone sort of, no matter who it was — be on the street or a drug addict or an alcoholic. And he would take his shirt off and give it to him for goodness sake!” Mato said.
Mato and Barry met at university when they were in their early ’20s, but lost touch after they left school. Forty years later, they reconnected through Facebook and in 2016 they met again for the first time in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, at a little airport, where she said “there was immediate sort of connection that there was no sort of barriers. He took my hand literally and he said, ‘this is what I’m doing.’”
What he was doing was laying the foundation for his new charity and organization, Generation Hip-Hop Global.
Barry was not a huge fan of rap music, but he recognized hip-hop as the soundtrack to young people the world over, Mato said. His belief was that through hip-hop, young people could be taught about leadership, creativity, fostering independence and charity.
“What’s The Scenario?”
Barry wanted to tap into the feeling of community that hip-hop has fostered since its inception at a house party in the Bronx in the summer of 1973, when DJ Kool Herc first uttered the words “hip-hop.”
His work on developing his passion project that would evolve into Generation Hip-Hop Global put him in touch with people both near and far, including Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Ndaba Mandela, who sits on the board of GHHG.
“I respected [Barry] because we come from such different backgrounds and yet he understood what hip-hop was all about. He didn’t listen to the music or was like a major fan but he understood the essence of the culture and its power to truly unite people,” Mandela said.
Rev. Dr. Richard Reeves, who goes by Dr. Rich, of New York City, also found Barry as inspiring as he was passionate.
“I discovered this guy who was passionate about hip-hop,” Dr. Rich told Inside Edition Digital. “I learned over the years that he was a musician, that he had real music in his background, that he had real business in his background. But whenever I would talk to him, he would always downplay those things. His thing was always to me, ‘Rich, we have to be the generation that brings back the dynamic that hip-hop could actually revolutionize young lives.’”
Barry was upfront with him right away, telling the New Yorker, “I know very little about the totality of hip hop. What I know is this thing revolutionized the world. What I know it’s continuing to revolutionize the world’”
That was all Dr. Rich needed to hear.
“I saw a guy shaped by the ’60s and the ’70s. I saw a guy who got it. The grassroot empowerment, power to the people, mobilizing and decentralizing power so that people have a voice. I saw that guy. And that guy got me hooked,” he recalled.
Dr. Rich, who was born in East Harlem, was part of hip-hop’s early movement and saw how it changed not only his life and neighborhood and eventually New York City, the country and the world.
“Nobody thought that hip-hop was going to catch on the way it did. When a popular thing, a fad becomes a culture that becomes revolutionary, you couldn’t create that intentionally,” Dr. Rich said. “That’s the kind of thing that right thing, right time, right moment, right everything. Bam. But Terence was saying, ‘Rich, I want to do that intentionally.’”
“Ain’t No Half Steppin”
The five elements of hip-hop are MCing, DJing, Breakdancing, Graffiti and Knowledge. The roots of the culture created in the Bronx of the 1970s has transformed itself as one of the most, if not, most popular genres of music and accompanying philosophies around the world.
These elements inspired Barry when he founded GHHG in 2016.
“Youth of today especially need empowerment through something they can relate to and believe in. GHHG aims to harness the progressive talent of otherwise disenfranchised youth into a collective, dynamic, and productive international program guided by a central committee,” the organization’s mission statement reads on their website.
The organization has a foothold in over 60 countries, including South Africa, the United States, Argentina, Algeria, Ghana, Colombia, Canada, Iran, France, Jamaica, El Salvador, Tanzania, Mexico and Egypt.
“Initially, the aims of the program will be to set up infrastructures that address what the world lacks relative to our youth. Our network will enable us to design community arts workshops, youth empowerment initiatives, cooperative events, programs for conflict resolution, hunger alleviation, edutainment, and especially refugee assistance,” the organization said on their website.
Generation Hip Hop Global teams up with other organizations around the globe in order to empower and educate young people. For instance, when funds are available they link up with MAATH (Music Appreciation Arts and Healing) and rapper Chip Fu to bring support to the different chapters in the use of music education and produce workshops and training.
Like its founder, GHHG also sees the value in art, producing murals in some of the countries they operate in that include the word “Humanity.”
Though he worked to ensure the organization had a global reach, Barry wanted to make sure GHHG’s roots remained entrenched in Africa.
“[Barry] was a proud African and he felt that GHH headquarters should be in the birth place not only of humanity but its birthplace as well – Hip Hop’s essence are undoubtedly from Africa & African people who managed to go across the world and combine, jazz, soul, punk, rock, dance, electro genres to form what we now call Hip-Hop,” Mandela told Inside Edition Digital.
“Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop”
In 2018, just two years after Generation Hip Hop Global was founded, Barry was diagnosed with cancer. He fought longer than many expected, undergoing chemotherapy treatments and anything else that could extend his life.
“You can imagine once you get diagnosed you must feel your last days are around the corner so I think he definitely operated with that on his psyche,” Mandela said.
With the love of his life by his side helping him, they put all their chips in Generation Hip Hop Global.
“We have sacrificed everything for this and I’m not just saying money-wise, but it’s just everything we sort of like put into this to build Generation Hip-Hop. And it was almost to the point where people couldn’t be around us because you know, all we could talk about 24/7 was Generation Hip Hip Global,” Mato said.
Despite stresses from his worsening illness and the devastation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barry pressed on. Mato recalled how Barry would be on Zoom calls with people from around the world trying to secure funding or in meetings with the board of GHHG, doing his regular business and she would be next to him with a garbage can so he could vomit off screen due to the side effects brought on by the chemotherapy.
“He was keeping face to keep the thing going,” Mato told Inside Edition Digital. “He was incredibly caring on me and he did say to me, ‘you know, if it wasn’t for [you, I] might have actually sort of handed over a long time ago,’ but he didn’t, he held on for me and he held on for the youth, this whole thing that he had driven this for.”
Two months before he passed away, Barry asked Mato to marry him. The couple planned to wed after he got out of the hospital.
“That surprised me as we had both agreed that it wasn’t necessary, we loved each other anyhow,” she said. “Unfortunately he continued on a downward spiral.”
Mato added, that despite never saying “I do” to the man she loved, “it hasn’t made me feel any less disconnected from him.”
In the summer of 2021, Barry understood that his illness was going to take him. He had tested positive for coronavirus and his cataracts had led him to lose his vision. But he continued to press on.
“I’m sitting here always floored by the reality of anybody that has to come to terms with their own temporariness and deal with terminality in the moment. Not progressively, but in the moment that your window could be a day. Your window could be a week. Your window could be a month. And you are dealing with that and not allowing yourself to become so discouraged, disheartened, disappointed that you keep going,” Dr. Rich said. “And that to me is just courageous and phenomenal.”
Before his passing, Barry requested that Dr. Rich take over his role as Executive Director for Generation Hip Hop Global.
“He said, ‘Whether I’m here or not, there is something you bring that I trust in, that has been the other side of me, and has helped to keep me grounded,’” Dr. Rich said. “This is something he said to me, ‘I think that it’s what we need for the next cycle. So whether I was dealing with this illness or not, you were going to be much more involved than you anticipated.’”
In his final days, he met with Mandela, who by then had become a close friend.
“Terence Barry was a man that believed in the power of hip-hop to unite people across the globe. He understood its history and what it stood for,” Mandela told Inside Edition Digital. “He worked tirelessly even when he was sick and doing chemo, he was always committed. It was like nothing could ever get him or his spirit down. He had my back no matter and was very patient with me, which I appreciate so much from him.”
Mato shared the final text message her Barry sent to her with Inside Edition Digital where he wrote, “I love you my girl, as much as any man can love.”
“We’ve gotta get back to our humanity,” she said of the lessons her husband gave the world. “Kindness, you know, connect with people around you.”