On Thursday, on my way to meet James, Streetz 94.5 spun his breakout single immediately before B.o.B.'s "Still in This Bitch" and 2 Chainz's "I'm Different." The slowly swinging "All Gold Everything" was a natural fit for its rotation, although the rest of Don't Be S.A.F.E. is far from formulaic. His countrified flow warps and slumps its way through the groggy "One More Molly," only to perk up and relay a joke his mom told him at IHOP in "Sneaky vs. Selfish."
James spoke with CL about the making of Don't Be Safe, the delay leading up to his first-ever A3C performance and how he feels while navigating the rest of Atlanta's rap scene.
How did you feel when you heard your song on the radio?
I don't remember the exact date to be honest with you, but I remember when I heard it I was like, "Damn." I think it was Streetz 94.5 who played it, like six times back to back. That was crazy.
Is it true that you tried to do music before, but you didn't take it seriously until this year?
My cousins and friends do music, so they're on the come-up. They had an in-home studio, so I would stay over there from time to time, because it would be more convenient for me to get to work from there. I mean, I love rap music and I love music in general, whatever, so I laid down a couple of verses on a couple of songs last year.
People ended up liking it, so we did a couple of talent shows here and there, but I like to make progress. I like to see things actually go somewhere. It wasn't going anywhere, I felt - and that was, I think all the way from November of last year to the Super Bowl this year, I was like, "I'm done with this. I'm not rapping no more." Then a couple of months went by or whatever, a few things happened in my life, and I said, "I'ma do my own thing. I'm not doing a group thing. I want my own thing and see what happens, whatever."
So in June, it took a month, month and a half to do that tape [Don't Be S.A.F.E.]. It didn't really do that well, but a few of my friends that didn't know I rapped, they liked it a lot. They were really, really showing me in love in Marietta. I had a little family in Marietta, you know what I'm saying? Then things just started escalating. Key people heard it, and then it spread like wildfire.
Tell me about your A3C gig. You were outside Star Bar for a while, waiting for and trying to find people.
I must have had 100-plus people, and they were actually people who I just really rock with, so I couldn't do a show without them. So, I had to wait for them to get in. I said, "I'm not doing it until I get my people in, because these people really care about me." They came all from all different places in order to come see me perform, so I felt it was only respectful of me to let them in. I guess this happens because I'm a rookie artist per say, and I should just go on when I'm supposed to, but it doesn't work like that with me. I'm a man. You gonna respect me because I respect you, so that's what it was all about. It's not like I was trying to get in for free; I got 100 people that was wiling to pay, you know what I'm saying? These people are trying to pay you. Other artists were trying to get in there for free - me, I got a million people literally trying to get in to pay because that's how hard they rock with me.
Was A3C was one of your first performances?
Yeah, that was a big thing for me. Just last year I went to A3C just to go look; I wasn't even doing music. So to be coming back a year later and be performing for A3C, that was a big thing, to me at least.
Who were you listening to, once you started recording your own music?
I'm 25. I've always been a fan of music, for as far back as I can remember. I'm not really big on calling names, because subconsciously I just do music off the basis of everything I've ever heard. I'm more into genres than artists, because I'm all about how music is supposed to make you feel inside. I'm not thinking about what you say, because people lie. If I don't know an artist, I don't really know if they're telling me the truth, but at least you told me a story or something that felt good. That's what matters to me. Rap music sometimes lies, or it's music is based on imagination, what people would like to have - like they would like the Lambo.
That's understandable. A lot of rap music is very -
Repetitive. That's not a diss to rappers, because you're doing what you gotta do and what you know, you know what I mean? But for me, if you're talking about me personally, it has to sound good before I really take the time to listen to what you say.
Tell me a little more about the making of Don't Be S.A.F.E.
"Team Vacation" might have been the only song that was actually done, because I did that with my cousins. It was just a hook and my verse, and then my boy Snake liked it so much that he put a verse in it and gave to me, to see if I liked it. The other songs, I was just hearing different beats. My cousin [Juke], who is actually on the song "Madden on Game Cube," helped me find some of the beats; they were free online.
Track two, "Females Welcomed" - my boy who works around the corner from the boutique where I work, he made that beat. The intro just came to me one day when I was high. It wasn't an intro at first; it was a song where I was talking, chanting singing then - explosion! One day I was really upset at work, so I wrote "Givin' No F*cks."
The joke on track seven, "Sneaky vs. Selfish" - I wanted to have something to make you think, "What the hell is he talking about?" I'm talking about my cousin, the dude on number eight ["Madden on Game Cube], on number 7. It was me and my mom sitting in an IHOP, and she told me that joke, but it didn't hit me as a joke. It hit me like, "Women are really sneaky, but then men are really selfish at the same time," so like an ongoing battle between men and women. Sometimes women win and sometimes men win, you know what I'm saying?
"All Gold Everything" was the last song I wrote. If you listen to the other songs, there isn't really anything hood hood on there - no banger, no trapped-out type shit. So I was like, "Damn, I need something for the hood," because that's where I come from. My cousin sent me the beat, and I started writing at work. I finished writing it in the car and finished the song that night. I kept telling my cousin, "This song hard, man. I fuck with this song" - but, I didn't even think that was going to be the song. I thought "One More Molly" was gonna be the one, because molly is really popular right now and I didn't make it like your regular trap molly song. I made a molly song about how molly makes you feel.
On Twitter, it seems like all you're doing is arranging collaborations. What's in store?
I don't know. Right now I just want to focus on that tape, because I love that tape; it's my first one. I really want to get out more visuals, but in the meantime, any artist that wants to do good music, I'm down. I'm not really big on calling names, because I feel like people are really sensitive - like, "Oh, you want to work with him, but you don't want to work with me?" - so I don't like to talk about what I'd like to do. I like to do it, and then we can talk about how we did it.
Part of the reason I ask, though, is that Tree Sounds video of you with T.I. He seemed stoked that you were there, for whatever reason.
It's not like I'm hiding from you. You see T.I. kicking it with me, you look at my Instagram chilling with different artists or whatever - that's how the game works. You do your thing, make your own lane and then you go see how artists do it. You go to a new school, whatever, and you got to make a name for yourself, so then you go hang with different kinds of people - - like, "Oh, who's the cool kids?" I don't know nobody, I don't act like I know nobody. I've met them, out of mutual respect. They like my songs, I like their music, you know what I'm saying? If it works, it works. If it don't, then it's okay, because I did a tape with myself anyway. I'll do another one by myself again, and that's all that matters.
You say [on "Tonk for the Money"] that when you were young, you had to hustle. What exactly were you doing?
Just in general I've been working even since I was 14, a real job or whatever. It wasn't easy, and in general life is a hustle. I've always wanted to be able to take care of myself, as far as being able to buy the type o clothes that I wanted, so before I really had a job, I used to sell Pokemon cards in middle school and Dragon Ball Z pics in elementary school. In high school I would sell clothes, and when I started a real job, I always had a bunch of side jobs. I've had to hustle my whole life.
I didn't grow up with an allowance, so I was the same way.
Same here. That's what it's really all about, just doing what I do to take care of myself and make the best out of life.
Trinidad James plays MJQ Concourse tomorrow (Saturday, November 17). $10-20, 11 p.m. 736 Ponce de Leon Place.
It's a pretty weak crop this year. So much of this stuff has been out…
As usual, Zano is articulate and insightful. Nice piece! Also, good questions, Chad.
Nope, that's just a house around the corner.
Is this Stankonia???...
The song "Fire!" from their first album is still an indie classic.
The sampling, production, and live instrumental performances on the Claimin Tru track might have been…