Nowadays when a rapper comes out of nowhere and jumps onto the radar of every Hip Hop fan with a viral hit, it seems the “one-hit wonder” tag is unseemingly placed on them until they can prove they belong in the game for longer than 15 minutes. Trinidad-born and Atlanta-raised rapper Trinidad James entered the game with the inconceivably contagious “All Gold Everything,” a hit that featured just the right ingredients to capture the attention of label execs, fans, and bloggers everywhere. In this digital era of ringtone Rap, a catchy hook usually results in big checks and radio spins. But it was his drug reference to molly— “Popped a molly, I’m sweating…Woo!”—that had this hit song escalate into a pop culture phenomenon.
With the video gaining over 9 million views on YouTube, James further extended his momentum by bringing in a star-studded ATL cast to hop on the remix, which consisted of T.I., Young Jeezy and 2 Chainz. In late 2012, the Atlanta rapper released a mixtape—which he still refers to as an album—entitled Don’t Be S.A.F.E. (an acronym for “Sensitive As Fuck Everyday”), showcasing his versatility and ability as a hitmaker while exhibiting his potential in the Rap world, which has a history of being cruel towards to newcomers—especially if you’ve been rapping for only a bit over a year.
However, that doesn’t prevent the soft-spoken Def Jam signee from ignoring the critics and carrying a nonchalant attitude towards them. He explains later in our conversation that “It’s just music.” And it really is just that. His fresh energy—which was on full display in New York earlier this year during his highly-coveted performance at SOB’s—as well as his experimental vibe and playful approach to the craft is what will be either his biggest strength or downfall. We caught up with James while he was in California completing the West Coast leg of his Don’t Be S.A.F.E. tour and asked him about making the XXL Freshman cover, taking beats off the Internet, and his experience being back home in his native Trinidad while shooting the “Female$ Welcomed” video.
Trinidad James Responds To XXL Cover Criticism
HipHopDX: So I’m actually calling from Toronto, Canada right now. What can you tell me about Canada?
Trinidad James: I mean, just in general I can’t wait to get there.
DX: You used to live here.
Trinidad James: Yeah, I was a baby though. I don’t really remember it. I was a baby.
DX: Congrats on the making the XXL Freshman cover.
Trinidad James: Thank you.
DX: What do you think of the other guys who made the cover? Do you think the selections were on point?
Trinidad James: They would just put any ol’ person on there, but the people on there, they’re basically doing something right to build a fan base that allows them to be on the radar of XXL. I feel like there are a couple more artists that didn’t make it who could have made it. All in all, it’s a good class. It’s what we do in the long run that really matters to see if they made a good pick or not.
DX: Who were those couple names that you thought should have made it?
Trinidad James: A$AP Ferg and somebody else that I can’t think of right now.
DX: What was it like connecting with all the rappers during the cover shoot?
DX: Would you ever want to make a record with anyone from that list?
Trinidad James: Yeah. I’d do a song with every single person that was on the cover. Why not? It’s just music.
DX: Every year, the guys who make the cover go through the criticism of people thinking they shouldn’t have made the list. Do you feed off that criticism? Because I feel the more they talk about you, the more relevant you become.
Trinidad James: Yeah, at the end of the day, somebody could feel like I shouldn’t have been on there, and their reasoning behind it could be correct. At the end of the day, it still doesn’t matter. They’re not going to take the cover back. It’s over with and you gotta focus on next year. Even if they were right about me not deserving to be there, it doesn’t matter. It won’t change. For whoever thinks they should be in my spot, and they’re not there, then you should do it next year. If it keeps not happening, then it’s not XXL, it’s you.
DX: What was your reaction to making the cover?
Trinidad James: I was just happy. Of course, I knew before you guys but I was just happy as crap. I felt like I deserved it. I worked hard for it and [I’m] still working hard. I feel like a true freshman, honestly. My standpoint from what a freshman is—I feel like I’m really new to the game. I’m learning. Everybody on the cover got way more experience than me. It’s all about learning and being better. Learning from your mistakes and focusing on your strong points and turning them into stronger points.
DX: Does that make you feel like the underdog?
Trinidad James: Maybe. You never know. Probably so. Just in general because I’m so new and there’s so many other people who are probably friends with other people on the cover. Maybe they feel like they should’ve been there instead of me. I can’t be mad at that. I can’t fault them. Of course you’re supposed to feel that way about your friend. Like I said earlier, the cover is over with…2014, let’s go. Let’s do this.
Don’t Be S.A.F.E. & Trinidad James’ Musical Influences
DX: You mentioned in other interviews that a lot of people have yet to hear the whole mixtape in its entirety. Just by knowing that, are you trying harder to push more of your old records out before releasing new ones so people can be more familiar with what you’re all about?
Trinidad James: Yeah, [Don’t Be S.A.F.E.] is really an album. I can’t really refer to it as a mixtape anymore. It was really an album. I just didn’t know to label it or title it as an album because I was so fresh in the game. Everything was original music. I could’ve tried making money off of it. I mean, hey, it’s all good. You live and learn from your mistakes and make yourself better. Every artist, superstar or legend didn’t do everything perfect from the beginning.
DX: But are you trying to push more records from Don’t Be S.A.F.E. so more people can familiarize with those records so you’re not just known for one hit song?
Trinidad James: Definitely. Of course.
DX: Do you have a pick for the hardest verse on the “All Gold Everything” remix?
Trinidad James: I like everyone’s verse. I’m not one of those people who pick verses and winners. I’m just happy they were all on there and they all brought their own element.
DX: How did you link up with them and what was the video shoot experience like?
Trinidad James: It’s an experience. For me, coming into the game and working with such big artists is definitely an experience. You learn things. That’s what it’s all about. The best achievers are the greatest learners.
DX: It’s clear you’ve been rapping for a shorter period of time than other rappers, but one thing that doesn’t change is your knowledge of Hip Hop. Would you call yourself a Hip Hop nerd?
Trinidad James: I feel like I’m becoming a connoisseur of music. I seen a friend of mine had that in her description on Twitter. I had never really thought about it, but that’s what I feel that I am. I just found my own original way.
DX: What about outside of Hip Hop? You’ve talked about wanting to work with Adele, you gave props to Calvin Harris, Florence Welch, and Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 album. It seems you know a lot about other genres, too.
Trinidad James: Oh yeah. That’s what music is all about. I’m a fan of music. I definitely love Hip Hop, and I’ll always do Hip Hop, but I like music. The Calvin Harris, the Adele’s—they do songs that stick with the world.
DX: Are you hoping to get to the point where you’re one day making more so international music than just focusing on one specific sound and audience?
Trinidad James: Why not? Life is all about living.
DX: You’re a prime example of using the Internet/digital age to your advantage with the free Internet beats, and then you used one of those beats and made a viral hit via YouTube. Do you think the new digital age in Hip Hop is making it way more easier for rappers like yourself to get their start in the business?
Trinidad James: Just in general, instead of people wasting their time trying to figure out or saying I shouldn’t be where I’m at, why don’t they just look at what I did? I would look at me as motivation like, “Okay, I gotta do my videos harder. I don’t gotta be like him, but I gotta go harder in my videos.” Everything I did was right out there in the open. It wasn’t like it was a hidden secret. You gotta have something that’s worth going viral with. Once you go viral with it, you gotta have something that sticks to people in an original way so they feel like they really want to be a part of it. The more people that want to be a part of your song with your record or album is the more success that comes with it.
Trinidad James On “Female$ Welcomed” & Work With Other Producers
DX: Is using free online beats an approach you’re going to keep using or are you going to focus more on making records in the studio with producers?
Trinidad James: You never know. With me, I’m a rebel. It depends on what I like to do and I do what I want to do. I will say mostly in the studio with producers because it’s a lot more easier for the time to put out music. I’ll be able to give the right people credit, and people get paid without it being crazy.
DX: Are there any names you can mention in terms of producers you’re working with?
Trinidad James: Umm….not right now.
DX: What’s coming up next for you?
Trinidad James: I got a lot of music that’s ready and how I want to put it out. It’s something I gotta figure out and focus on the tour I’m currently on, and focus on the tour I’ll be on with Wiz [Khalifa] really soon.
DX: Going back to the “All Gold Everything” record, were you able to reach out to Devon Gallaspy?
Trinidad James:Yeah, I did.
DX: How did that convo go?
Trinidad James: Just in general about music and working again.
DX: It’s possible to see him on the next Trinidad James record?
Trinidad James: I couldn’t tell you. You gotta sit back and listen. You never know. I never call names. I’m not that guy. I said I’ll never be that guy. When you see it come out, then you see that I did it and I wanted to do it.
DX: How was the experience shooting the “Female$ Welcomed” video? It was shot in your native Trinidad.
Trinidad James: It was very good. It was a great experience seeing family and being back home. It felt so good.
DX: Was that your idea to go back home and shoot it?
Trinidad James: Yep.
DX: What was your overall thoughts on the video?
Trinidad James: Jonathan Mannion put a lot of the thoughts in the video and for the most part, he wrote the script for it. I just wanted to do that location and wanted something that represented home. When I gave him the basics of what I wanted, he took it to his own approach and those things that he brought to you, that was to bring out Trinidad. It wasn’t about degrading women or the best fucking women are here. It was nothing like that. It was more for showing off the island and where I’m from. It’s a good representation of who I am, where I’m from, what I stand for, what I believe in. That’s my second major video. The videos play a lot on you as an artist as far as what people think about you and what you bring to the game.