It's still cold in the D for Detroit rapper T-Baby

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

It's so cold in the D, and nobody knows that better than T-Baby.

The Detroit rapper is the artist behind "It's So Cold in the D," the viral hit that began as an Internet joke and has grown to become something of a Motor City anthem. It is frequently heard at concerts and comedy shows in Metro Detroit. Just last week, New Kids on the Block took a moment out of their set at The Palace of Auburn Hills and performed it while standing around a piano.

Th e New Kids weren't alone. Usher sang it at the Fillmore Detroit a few years ago, and Z-Trip opened his set with it at the Movement festival in 2009. Scores of others have worked it into their shows, and "It's So Cold in the D" has become a catchphrase to describe both the chilly weather in winter months and the violent reality of the inner city.

But its popularity — 8.2 million YouTube views and counting — has come at the expense of T-Baby, the east-side Detroiter born LaTonya Myles. Online reaction to the clip was fueled by people making fun of its low-budget visuals and T-Baby's grammatically challenged flow. "It's so cold in the D," she rap-sings, off-key, before falling out of sync with the track. "How the (expletive) do we 'pose to keep peace?"

Even Beavis and Butthead weighed in. When the animated duo's show was briefly resurrected by MTV in 2011, "It's So Cold in the D" was on their playlist. "Is this 'Real Housewives of Detroit?' " Butthead asks early in the clip, later reasoning, "something's off." But by the end of the song, he's singing along.

That's the thing: Even though people are laughing, they're still singing along.

For T-Baby, however, the jokes were difficult to bear. She had to stop reading the comments attached to the clip, which were hurtful to her, and eventually she stopped going on YouTube altogether. Her phone number was posted online, and she was flooded with rude text messages and threats on her voicemail. An extreme introvert by nature, the negativity caused her to retreat further into her shell.

"I didn't have no support, nobody to support me or help me with it or nothing," says T-Baby, seated in a booth at Universal Coney Island on Detroit's east side earlier this week. It's the same Coney Island where she filmed the "It's So Cold in the D" video back in 2008.

"I was hurting because of everything that everyone was saying," she says. But then she turned a corner. "I helped myself, and I was able to get back out here."

Now T-Baby has a manager, a renewed hope and a new video — a remake of "It's So Cold in the D" that was uploaded to the Internet just last week. This time she stays on beat, and she is hoping that is true with her career, as well.

The original "It's So Cold in the D" was uploaded to YouTube in January 2008 and caught steam eight months later. By the end of August, it had racked up 300,000 views, many driven by Internet posts claiming it had to be seen to be believed. One such post from MediaTakeOut squawked, "Now We've Heard Some GHETTO ANTHEMS ... But This Song Here HAS GOTS TO BE THE WORST."

T-Baby wrote the song for her friend Mason Graham, who was shot and killed at Universal Coney Island in 2006 while trying to break up a fight. The video, shot by local videographer Leo Williams on a budget of $300, included scenes shot at the Coney Island, as well as other locations around Detroit.

At first, T-Baby was impervious to the flood of negative reaction, but after awhile it wore her down. The former Denby High School student tried to stay positive, but found it difficult amid the relentless sea of negativity.

Meanwhile, she found out the hard way that Internet infamy doesn't pay the bills. "I made a little something" off the song, she says, but not much. And when New Kids on the Block or Usher sing her song, she doesn't get a check in the mail. (She did receive $4,000 from MTV for the "Beavis and Butthead" usage, she says.)

"I'm supposed to have way more money than what I have now, that's what I know," says the petite-framed single mother, "but we're working on it."

That's where her manager, Bishop — he only goes by Bishop — comes in. He is looking to right her situation and steer her in a positive direction by putting the focus back on "It's So Cold in the D" and the anti-violence message in the song.

"It's cold in Detroit, it's cold in Baltimore, it's cold in Chicago, this whole world is cold," he says. "The message of the song is it's cold, so we need to start showing more love."

Bishop steered T-Baby toward doing the "It's So Cold in the D" remix, which has a richer, fuller sound and is built on a bed of live instrumentation. Despite a plug on TMZ, the clip has only amassed around 1,200 views, but Bishop is keeping an eye on the comments and says they're far less negative this time around.

T-Baby says she's got more music ready to go, and she's enjoying breaking out of her shell. When she popped into Universal Coney Island this week, workers came out and greeted her with hugs, and customers took pictures of her and with her. T-Baby was clearly tickled by all the attention.

Maybe it's warming up in the D.