Rapping ability is a difficult thing to quantifiably measure. You can break down a rapper’s technical merits, as Paul Edwards has done in his How To Rap series. On a less granular level, you can even discuss an individual artists delivery, as we recently did. But at some point, the concession is made that a rapper’s ability (or lack thereof) is subject to individual tastes. That said, by most accounts, Hip Hop’s intelligentsia, the purchasing public and even a significant amount of media outlets have come to the conclusion that Trinidad James is not a good rapper. He shared some accomplishments with emcees who have been deemed good rappers—mainstream media coverage, a hit single, and a deal with Def Jam for his own label. But the spoils of a Rap career and even the popularity that sometimes accompany such spoils do not equate to skill.
Trinidad James is neither the first nor the last artist who achieved commercial success and/or popularity despite a perceived lack of rapping ability. So why was the announcement he was dropped from Def Jam met with such vitriol?
“Great, now he can sit his broke, untalented ass the fuck down,” wrote Malik Affortu via HipHopDX’s Facebook page when the news broke. He wasn’t alone.
Odell Robinson added, “This need to happen to alot [sic] more rappers soulja boy asap rocky. Young thug lil wayne all them garbage artist only real people kno [sic] what im [sic] talkin bout”
They were joined by the likes of Ian Sotoloff who wrote the following:
“HAHAHAHA, thank god they finally realized Trinidad James is a joke and an insult to hip hop”
And Dontae Donnell chimed in as well, writing, “Great move for hiphop and an iconic label.”
As with all polarizing arguments, the truth probably lies in some kind of grey area. But in terms of simplifying things, here are some of the most obvious reasons Trinidad James is stirring up so much commentary among his fans and detractors.
He’d Been Rapping Less Than A Year Before “All Gold Everything”
Trinidad James’ formal Rap career started in 2011. That means James’ gold-selling hit single “All Gold Everything” was released within less than one year into his Rap career.
“I started playing around in November of last year , and I just stopped messing with it,” James told Hot 97’s Ebro Darden in a December 2012 interview. “Then two months after February [of 2012] I decided to do the tape.”
Given that he’s a mainstream neophyte, his style—from dress to emceeing—didn’t fit the established Rap mold. As well, the single “All Gold Everything” is a lampooning of the zeitgeist, from Rap blipsters-turned-EDM-intrigued turn ups blithely using MDMA for the first time, to yes, Rap’s perpetual obsession with the traditional ideal of golden opulence. Two “wrongs” don’t make a right in the game of life, but in 60 years of Pop music history, it’s the “golden” rule.
He Said Atlanta Runs New York
For the guy who many considered a lampooning of Hip Hop itself, with a single that became a hit because of his making fun of Hip Hop by doing Hip Hop while making fun of himself, to say that “Atlanta runs New York,” while at the time true, was disturbing. He had already made it clear that this record proved he had outsmarted just about everyone. The garish bling, open shirt, and hypebeast sensibilities created a caricature of an image. Of course, considering his identity as a rapper was still in flux, and he happened to strike, ahem, gold, as he was trying on faces, he chose to experiment with a sound he wasn’t sure of to begin with. To this day when you watch that grainy video of him on that SOB’s stage it feels like he was some sort of run-of-the-mill Internet commenter that hit a soft vein with a rogue comment. Unfortunately for him it would be the beginning of the end.
People Have An Unrealistic Perception Of Def Jam
The name Def Jam is historically associated with some of the most iconic emcees ever. I don’t think that statement is mere hyperbole. From LL Cool J to Public Enemy, Jay Z, Slick Rick and the Beastie Boys, some of Hip Hop’s finest have inhabited the house that Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin built. But no label is immune to a brick, and the good folks at Def Jam are also responsible for Bo$$, Flatlinerz, Tru Life and some other trash if you care to do the research.
“Def Jam prides itself as both a cornerstone of Hip Hop’s rich tradition, and as a vital, forward-thinking label dedicated to breaking and nurturing emerging artists,” noted Def Jam President Joie Manda in a December 2012 statement to MTV news confirming Trinidad James signing. “Trinidad James represents the cutting-edge of what’s happening in the culture today. We are thrilled to have him at the label, and look forward to growing his already massive buzz.”
If you view Def Jam only through the eyes of being a “cornerstone of Hip Hop’s rich tradition,” then yes, reportedly giving Trinidad James a $2 million deal seems like a sin against Hip Hop. But record labels are businesses, and their ultimate goal is to make money not preserve the sanctity of Hip Hop. The Trinidad James signing and subsequent release happened for the same reason: the almighty dollar.
He Had “Rapper” Accolades Without The Perceived Skills
A person who rhymes Spelman with Freshman isn’t exactly the best rapper of all time. And that’s what made the song so hypnotizing. Here was something anyone could have done and didn’t; it’s simplicity was intoxicating. So was it’s just reckless use of the word “nigga,” which seemed like a parody of Rap that people outside of the genre make fun of Rap for. That kind of blatant pandering to a demographic, whether intentional or not, proved really, really useful to him in the virality section of the web, but when it came time to prove his mettle as someone who wasn’t just stereotyping, he fell apart. None of his other songs resonated with the same type of reckless abandon that “All Gold Everything,” did. And considering the fact that none of his other songs appealed to college kids whose only sense of depth is false-irony, you can see why he didn’t stick around as long as we thought he might.
The Cognitive Dissonance Of “All Gold Everything”
Hit songs become hit songs for a reason. They’re catchy, and in turn their popularity grows. According to Nielsen SoundScan, “All Gold Everything” sold 97,000 copies within its first 30 days of release. Within that same time span it reached #23 on Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” chart and amassed over 3 million YouTube views. There’s a common mistake of using “popular” and “good” interchangeably. You can quantitatively measure how popular a song is using sales and radio play among other metrics. But can you similarly measure the quality or how “good” a song is? Probably not. And in this confusion, people have conflicting views. It’s okay to dance to a hit song or even admit it’s catchy. That’s literally why it was manufactured. And these two concepts don’t have to exist in binary opposition. But if you can’t make that distinction, imagine how torturous it is to catch yourself nodding to “All Gold Everything.”
Additional contribution by Marcus Dowling.