Don't Let Hype Ruin Trinidad James
The first seven days in December are important because they help us remember things. Tomorrow is December 7th, which helps us remember that while democracy kind of sucks, it's way better than anything else out there. December 1st makes us remember that we have to buy presents for our loved ones. December 4th is an important date in hip-hop, because it's both Jay-Z's birthday and the day that Pimp C died.
Though their work is both great and they collaborated upon multiple occasions, Jay and the Pimp represent two different sides of hip-hop's coin--Pimp C was hip-hop's rebel soul, helping us remember that there truly are no rules when it comes to the art, while Jay-Z is constant reminder that if you do it right, you can use hip-hop to make a fucking shit-ton of money. It is fitting, then, that Trinidad James played his first New York City headlining show on December 4th: Like the Pimp, he seems like a free spirit, making up his own rules as he goes along. And like Jay, he's about to make a fucking shit ton of money.
In a little over a month, Trinidad James went from some random Atlanta rapper with a wisp of a mixtape and a music video with a puppy in it to a dude who could very possibly be hip-hop's Next Big Thing. It is more telling, perhaps, that I didn't get into the Santos show than if I'd gotten in (though I arrived well before his set, the venue had hit capacity long before and the bouncers at Santos are categorically not to be fucked with). In many ways, James is a triumph of presentation over performance, buzz over product, a white-hot song over everything else. By all reports, his Santos set was perfunctory (reports say he did four songs in ten minutes and he did "All Gold Everything" twice) but hype as fuck, a display of his pure potent; to the myriad media outlets and labels that were in attendance.
Last night, Trey Songz brought James out at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, furthering speculation that James was on the cusp of some sort of major label deal that will make us lowly journalists cry at how little we get paid in comparison. Simply put, Trinidad James seems poised for the type of line-skipping usually not deigned to rappers with a little under two million views on YouTube and not much else. However, it is possible that labels see something in him more in line with the great Jameses of yore--Brown and Rick, that is--than any current rapper. But potential is only that: potential. When you squeeze James, ten minutes come out.
Looking at Trinidad James, I see a lot to like. He fits neatly within the confines of what for lack of a better term is "Internet Rap." There's something purposefully "off" about his flow much like Lil B's, and his style of dress and beat selection falls in line with guys like Danny Brown and Mr. MFN eXquire (who recently took to Twitter complaining about how James had jacked his style). While those guys have all been rapping for years and have honed their craft, what is attractive about James is his lack of experience--he's been rapping for a little over ten months, and so as an artist he's malleable in all the right ways. Indeed, in "GuWap Nigga," his recent collaboration with Gucci Mane, James displays this perfectly: he's rapping in a completely different way than he ever has before.
But as much as Trinidad James is more than probably about to be paid as fuck, we still haven't heard too much from him, music-wise. "All Gold Everything" is unassailable, yes, but if you spend any amount of time with Don't Be S.A.F.E., the mixtape that spawned that little world-beater, you quickly realize that the thing is so short it's barely worth calling it front-loaded. When divorced from its arresting video and James's jittery charisma, "All Gold Everything" isn't that great a song (here's another song of the same title by Soulja Boy and Young L that's way better, for example). The best song on Don't Be S.A.F.E. is actually "Females Welcome," and it illustrates what James does so well, concisely at that. Much like A$AP Rocky (who came out onstage during the Santos performance), James is a lyrical aesthete, trying to fill up space in as pleasing a manner if at all possible. He'll repeat himself, changing his inflection to make up for the repetition, and when the beat switches up to a straight Bristol banger halfway through "Females Welcome," he just chants the hook a bunch until another vocalist takes over. It all sounds very modern, very trendy, very We Can Turn This Guy Into A Star.
And a star Trinidad James may very well be. But it's important to remember that as of now, James has done little to show for it. He is the apotheosis of Buzz-Rap Culture, the rare rapper who successfully managed to make the transition from URL to IRL. It does not matter if he gets signed, sells a million in a week and spawns four Top Ten hits--he will always be the one who made the music video with the puppy in it that went viral as shit. James is from Atlanta, and there are many Atlantas represented in the city's hip-hop scene. Trinidad James happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I wish him luck in the next few months as he navigates the minefield that is the world of major-label hip-hop. Let's just hope he doesn't end up an indie parable like Lana Del Rey.