Coming off the success of Lecrae having the number one album in the country, Reach Records has another bomb to drop on the music industry: Trip Lee’s album Rise.
In April 2012, the Dallas-bred rapper released The Good Life, his fourth studio album. It peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 chart. Soon after, Trip became uncertain about his future and announced in September that he was taking a leave from making music. And he did, sort of. In December of that same year he returned, claiming he never formally used the “R” word: “retirement.” He then kept his loyal 116 fan base in suspense for a year and a half before announcing Rise in August..
“There’s stuff I wanna say,” he says. “I listen to good music whether it’s Hip Hop or whatever, really inspired by it and wanna make good stuff. There’s a burden in me to make new music.”
So he got back in the studio with Reach’s own Gawvi, who’s responsible for creating Lecrae’s hit single “Nuthin” from his chart-topping album Anomaly. But he doesn’t want to be compared to any other artist. As a man who is very open about his faith, he has garnered the sometimes-dreaded label of “Christian rapper,” but he doesn’t want people to have preconceptions about his music and he insists Rise won’t disappoint.
Trip Lee Explains His Return To The Spotlight
DX: What made you decide to make a new album and come out of what people thought was your retirement?
Trip Lee: Just the love for music is a huge part of it. I’ve loved music my entire life. Music is, I think for some people music is like something you like play in the background while you’re washing dishes. Music is like if you’re in the car and you’ve got nothing else to do, turn it on. For me, music is much more than that. The way people might sit down and watch a movie, I sit down and listen to an album, my favorite album top to bottom, record music. I love music to a degree that I feel so grateful that I get to create music and it’s a burden in me to create stuff. There’s stuff I wanna say. I listen to good music whether it’s Hip Hop or whatever, really inspired by it and wanna keep doing stuff. There’s a burden in me to make new music. I was, I’d been on staff at my church in DC and I just thought, “Man, I think I can do another record if I just go really slow working on it.” Instead of like a quick burst, I was just kinda chipping away at it slowly for a little over a year and I think that actually ended up working better for me in some ways because I was able to perfect it over the year.
DX: We know your song with Sho Baraka you did, “I Love Music”, that’s definitely something that’s stood out to us about you, and your love for the artform is evident…
Trip Lee: Yeah, I do. Hip Hop, I think a lot of people sleep on how beautiful the artform of Hip Hop is. I think Hip Hop has unique ways that we use words, unique ways that we use metaphors. We have more words, so we’re able to communicate more stuff whether that’s for good or for bad. There’s an aggressiveness to it that I think is unique about Hip Hop. There’s a way that it connects with your soul and makes you dance. There’s so many unique things about the artform of Hip Hop, man. I hope as Hip Hop continues to mature, the more and more people continue to see the beauty of the artform. That’s why I appreciate artists like a Kanye who is so meticulous about his art that it’s hard to sleep on it like some random jumbled words over drums. He’s inspired me a lot over the years in the way he’s approached his music and his production, very artful and I appreciate that about him.
DX: Even though you never explicitly used the word retirement, was there ever a time when you thought you were done with Rap?
Trip Lee: Yeah, so in 2012, a little bit after my fourth album The Good Life came out, I did say, “Hey I’m gonna step away from music.” And the main reason was that I wanted to be a pastor. I wanted to give my time to doing that, which I know a lot of people say I was crazy like, “You’re a rapper and you want to be a pastor. What in the world? You’ve had some success. The Good Life was number three Rap album in the Billboard charts the week it came out. Why in the world?” And people especially can’t put together a dude who’s a pastor and rapper. That seems so absurd ‘cause when people think pastor they think he’s like dude in the robe, real churchy, screaming in the mic, or they think like whatever pastor or preacher they’ve seen on TV. And so people can’t really put those two things together, but for me, I’ve always had a passion for helping people to see the truth, helping people to see the truth of God and I wanted to use my life to do that as a pastor. When I did that, when I stepped away, for that, for 2013 I almost didn’t do much of anything. I wasn’t writing much, anything like that. It was a huge shift for me. I thought maybe it could be my last album. I thought it was a very real possibility, but I didn’t know for sure. So that’s why I never said I was retiring. I was like, “I don’t know. It could be, but I wanna see how stuff kinda shakes out.” So, I am happy to be making another record. People are happy about it, so I’m glad for that.
Trip Lee Explains The Meaning Of The Album Title
DX: Why the album title Rise?
Trip Lee: I wanted this album to in a lot of ways just kind of a challenge and a call to action. When I say Rise, it kind of has three meanings. One is to rise from your slumber and live, get up the dead and live and rise above low expectations people have for us. So, especially in Hip Hop, if I was to make a record about hitting the strip clubs and making as much money as I can and cars, well that’s fine. People, that’s what people expect from rappers often. So one of the meanings of Rise is rise above low expectations. I want to say, instead of just what people expect and what’s accepted, I want to say what are things supposed to be like. Not that my music is like the best and how everything’s supposed to be. What I’m saying, I’m trying to think carefully about, ok, what is life really about? How can I stay true to that? How can I point to help people value the right things? And how can I do it with extremely dope music?
So Rise is kind of a challenge and a call to live the way we were made to live. To put, to talk about things that matter, in the context of really dope music, I think is a powerful thing. So that’s why I worked so hard on this album to make sure the music is dope. People are gonna count us out like, “Ah, you talk about God sometimes. It’s corny and it’s a couple strikes and it’s out.” So people sometimes are being more and more open. It’s something about being a Christian or being a strong Christian or even [having] some of the Christianity comes through in your music, it makes people automatically think it’s corny. So I feel like I’ve gotta work even harder than your average artist to make sure the music is dope from the second you hear it so that you’ll give it a chance. And I think once people hear it, I think they do say, “Oh, this is dope.” And I think at the end of the day, I want to make music, not just for a little segment of people, I want my music to be for everybody. I try to do my music in a way that connects with everyone. I’m always working to make sure it’s dope and I’m also working to make sure that the things I say on the album are true.
DX: Do you think the power of the message is just as important as the music?
Trip Lee: Yeah. If I just wanted to say true things, I could be just a public speaker or a pastor. But if I want to do music, I want to do art, that’s what I’m doing. I want to do incredible music. I want to do incredible art. I don’t expect people to care about my music just ‘cause of the message. I don’t expect to like put out an ok album and send it to HipHopDX to review and they give me amazing reviews ‘cause the stuff I said was true. This is music. It’s an artform. Especially Hip Hop. Hip Hop is competitive. So I expect if people are gonna pay attention to the music, the music has to be dope.
Trip Lee Illustrates Why Hip Hop Needs More Examples Of Family Like T.I.
DX: We got to listen to Rise. What made you decide to do “Beautiful Life”?
Trip Lee: The first song, “Beautiful Life” was on the very weighty topic of unwanted pregnancies and abortion. On that song, the main message I was trying to get across was, how beautiful the life that God gives is, how beautiful a gift that is and to cherish that beautiful life. Since that album came out, there’s a song on there where I talk about my wife being pregnant, but since that album has come out, I have two kids now. I have a two-year old and a two-month old. So I wanted to just talk about in my life, the beautiful life that I’ve seen in them. On that song, producer Gawvi is playing some chords in the studio. I was like, “Ooo, I like that.” It just made you feel happy. You know when you heard Pharrell “Happy” the first time? It just made you feel good. These were just some happy sounding chords and the beat felt good, so I thought that was the perfect one to write the song to my kids and just talk about how grateful I am for them, the joy they bring to my life. I think that’s a good thing to talk about in Hip Hop, too. There’s more sides and one of the sides is I’m glad to be a father of two kids that I love very much and I’m glad to be married.
DX: How has fatherhood been for you?
Trip Lee: Fatherhood has been amazing and hard (laughs). I’ve been married for five years. I’m very grateful for my wife Jessica. She’s an amazing mom and that’s been obviously the biggest thing me and her have done together which is raise little people. I think probably every day, ‘til the sun goes down in my home, every day the most frustrating part of my day is something that my kids did and probably the most joyous thing, the happiest moment, the thing that makes me smile or laugh the most is something my kids did. It’s very interesting because there’s some really hard things about parenthood, but most of the smiles and laughs and joy in my life right now are from my kids and my wife and I’m so grateful for ‘em. It was hard for me to grasp the kind of love that a father can have for his kids until I was really there and they just have my heart. I just want to be a good dad and love on ‘em and that’s an area for me to grow in, but I’m so grateful for my kids and my wife raising ‘em with me.
DX: You started to touch on this a little bit, but those are themes that are kind of aren’t really present in Hip Hop. Why is that important to you to bring that message?
Trip Lee: Yeah, I think we see very few pictures in Hip Hop of the man who’s committed to his wife and parents and children. You got like a T.I. who you see some good images there just to see “Hey, this is a rapper. Here’s his wife and his kids on a reality show.” I think that’s a dope image to see. I don’t watch the show, so I don’t know what the show is like, but I think that in itself is dope. But I think it’s really important because I think so many of our communities are suffering from a lack of fathers in the home. So many of us have daddy issues because our dads weren’t around and that’s impacted our lives. Many of us, now I did have my dad around, but I’m a rarity. Even I sit around the table with my friends, these are the dudes I rap with, and I’m like “Oh, I’m the only dude whose dad was around.” It’s so rare and I think it’s so important for young men to have their fathers in their lives, young women have their fathers in their lives and so if I can paint this picture like, “Hey this isn’t some weird thing, this isn’t some rare thing. This is how it should be.” Then, that’s a way that I can encourage fathers to be in their children’s lives and show them the joy of fatherhood. It’s hard but it’s very joyful. And it’s also for those of us who didn’t have fathers, I can paint a new picture by saying here’s something that we cans strive towards together.
Trip Lee Explains Why Artists Like To Incorporate Texan Influences
DX: “Shweet” was the first single from the album. Why did you choose that one to be the first of your new music?
Trip Lee: “Shweet” that was a joint that I thought was a cool one to come back on. Content-wise it fits in with kinda a lot of what I talk about, bragging, not bragging on myself and then it was just kinda fun and playful. It feels like right now, like how the track is and the track was just a good one to kick the door out with “Shweet.” People have loved it. It’s really caught on “Shweet” I think that’s kinda catchy and people enjoy it, so I was excited about that particular song and that people have responded to it in a great way.
DX: Why do you think the Texas vibe is really popular and how do you represent that?
Trip Lee: I love the music, man. When I was growing up, Swisha House was a big influence on me and a lot of Texas Hip Hop. There was like a time when Houston was kinda popping. Swisha House, Paul Wall, Lil Flip, Chamillionaire was getting a little bit of love and those are dudes, I was with these dudes through middle school. They were just kinda getting going. I think there’s a lot of cool, unique things about Texas music and Texas Hip Hop. It’s really cool and you can incorporate, I think. We’ve even seen Drake incorporate some Houston-type stuff. Like you said, A$AP dudes incorporating some. I think there are really cool things to kinda bring into it. I enjoy bringing that into my music, my roots growing up in Texas and Dallas.
Trip Lee Talks Being Open Minded; Working on “Manolo” With Lecrae
DX: Your overall work has been pretty diverse from fast songs like “No Worries” to more reflective songs like “Fallin.” But overall this seems to be your most diverse project so far. What inspired this diversity or range on Rise?
Trip Lee: I wanted to do a record that didn’t sound like nothin’ else. I don’t want it to sound like, I don’t want it to be like “Aw yeah, that one sound like Drake. That one sound like Kendrick. That one sound like..” yeah. I wanted it to be kinda like it’s own sound. Me and Gawvi the producer I worked with we tried to kinda create our own sound for this one. It feels relevant. It feels like right now, but it is unique and I think we were able to accomplish that. And as we were working on it over this year, we had lots of time to sit and think, “Ok, we have these kind of joints. We’re missing more of these. We’re missing more like turn-up songs. Oh, ok we’re missing the vulnerable song. We’re missing this and this and this.” Until we were able to fill in those gaps to give kind of the full experience. So that’s what I always shoot for with a record. I’m glad that we succeeded with that this time around.
DX: Yeah, there’s a little bit of everything. But “Manolo”, what does that mean?
Trip Lee: Manolo means “God is with us.” The funny story with that song is we were just like mumbling stuff in the booth and it sounded dope on the track. So Gawvi was like, “nuh nuh nuh nuh Manolo.” We were like, “dang, I wonder if Manolo’s a real place.” It sounds like an Italian city or something. So we looked it up and we found out it means “God is with us.” We were like, “Oh snap.” So we kept that “Manolo”. Then kind of the rest of the hook, the rest of the song we talk about fighting lies with truth and a lot of weapon imagery in there, talking about the truth is a weapon you fight lies with. It’s a fun joint. Lecrae killed it. Loved his verse on there and I think, we put that song out yesterday or the day before and people have been wilin so I’m glad people love it. I thought they would.
DX: Gawvi I know produced the whole album. Did you know going in that he was going to produce the whole album or how did you work that out?
Trip Lee: I’ve always wanted to do a record with one producer. I’ve tried it in the past and it hadn’t worked out. Gawvi when I brought the idea to him, he was so excited about it and so from the beginning we were intending to do this whole record together and so we really pushed each other. He’s an incredible producer. I don’t know anybody who’s messing with him. I think he’s my favorite producer period right now. I’m privileged to work with him and I think we work really well together. We’ve been working together since like ’07. He’s done stuff on all of my albums except my very first one. So we go way back. We work well together and so I think this may not be the last record we do together because I think it worked well for us.
DX: That’s awesome. Is there anything else you want to say?
Trip Lee: I think one thing, and I touched on this some, but I think I would love Hip Hop lovers to not discredit the music because they put somebody in a box, but instead to judge music off of whether or not it’s dope. So give the music a chance, see whether it’s dope. If it’s dope, then listen to it, if not, then don’t. I do try to have truth in my music, but I think people assume it’s going to be something else and don’t give it a chance. So I would say, hey listen to the music. Give it a chance. If it’s dope, keep listening to it. If not, then move on.