As fast as Trinidad James rose to Hip Hop prominence with “All Gold Everything,” the fall was just as hard. And yes, he’s absolutely aware of that. Taking a hiatus from the industry for most of 2014 after being dropped by Def Jam, Mr. Nicholas Williams shot back the following year with not one, not two but three projects. In particular, Trips To Trinidad EP was inspired by time spent in his homeland. Rejuvenated personally, professionally and creatively, James developed a newfound sense of purpose outside of himself. That means the recent release of a coffee table book inspired by the EP displaying the beauty of Trinidad’s housing projects. It’s one of many moves James has taken in formulating a proper comeback.
Helps that alongside that controversial time spent this year with Don Lemon discussing usage of the n-word, one particular mega hit has helped enormously. The interpolation of “All Gold Everything”s hook into Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” couldn’t have come at a better time. Doesn’t hurt that he was asked to contribute a special verse on the remix.
In this interview with DX, James talks finding inspiration in Trinidad led to a coffee table book and EP along with how he plans on punching until Hip Hop embraces him again.
Trinidad James Explains His Thoughts On The Natural Hair Movement & Inspiration Brought By Trips To Home Country
DX: You just finished getting your hair done. How do you get your hair all silky and shit?
Trinidad James: I got a dope lady out here named Nikki on Crenshaw. She be turning me up.
DX: Any thoughts on the natural movement?
Trinidad James: The natural movement is where it’s at. Man you got to think about it like for me and my main buddies, like the guys I grew up with, like my friends, we are not like young, young kids anymore so like natural sisters is kind of like what we are into. We love it to be honest with you. I am not going to say I don’t like Nicki Minaj because she’s not natural, she look good too.
DX: “A Trip To Trinidad” is an interesting coffee table photo book. Where did the idea to create one come from?
Trinidad James:I went back to Trinidad this year for Carnival. This is my third year in a row going to Carnival because I really want to become more in tune with where I was born. I lived in America for a long time but I was born in Trinidad. So I have been going back for Carnival and just networking and talking to different people and reaching out to different areas not just the rich areas and the affluent areas but also going back to the projects and just talking to the people who are running the projects and the people in the projects just to see what’s going on and let them know that I rock with them and I represent them in America period. And in the World.
This year when I went to Trinidad, I really wanted to shoot a video but I wasn’t sure what and I wasn’t sure what my cause was. I just knew I had been talking to some kids out in Trinidad who shoot videos and I kind of wanted to give them a chance and see if it could kind of help both of us out. I want more videos and they need the exposure.n So maybe I could do something with them. I just wasn’t sure what my cause was.
So when I got back to Trinidad this year for Carnival it was amazing – it was the best vibe on Earth. One of the guys that I met last year when I went to the projects for a visit, which is the projects where we shot the photos for the book. The projects are called Laventille Projects – it’s also known as Tel Town because it is the worse ever projects in Trinidad. And some of my family live there still. I didn’t grow up there so I’m not exactly sure – I didn’t even really know the dynamics of it. My people would say, “Your auntie and cousins live in Laventille” and I was like “Oh, okay.” I didn’t know. And so now that I have gotten in tune with it last year. Whoa, this is intense experience. You ain’t never experienced this, trust me. Like this is intense. You seen, you’ve probably been to the projects or grew up in the projects in your neighborhood, but you haven’t been to the projects around a third world country-type project. It’s intense.
Anyway, long story short, I met the guy who runs those projects last year for the most part and he was such a good person and such and inspirational person just from the standpoint of the people listen to him more than they even listen to their government because he is doing so much more for the community than their own government is back in Trinidad. So it just kind of just showed me that you don’t need government help or in my world or my case, I don’t need label help. Trust me. Inspired to you – or to do good in the community. I have to want to do it and that is how it’s going to get done. So, with that being said, this year I went back like I said and went to go pay them a visit because we are kind of cool now. And like I said he showed me so much love last year. And unfortunately he was murdered and they are saying that the government did it. I’m not going to say the government did it, but that’s what they are saying. The government came and they shot him 17 times because they didn’t like how much power he had in that part of town so they killed him unfortunately. And that really hurt me. That made me feel a type of way. But it also gave me that purpose for what I wanted to shoot my video about.
I picked a song off my first project that I dropped at the top of the year which was The Wake Up, which was a small EP leading up to No One Is Safe, which was my big mixtape that dropped at the top of the year on January 20. I picked a song off of there called, “Don’t Ever Lose Your Joy,” because it’s so right. I met a lot of his guys who work for him and they were good guys too and I could tell that they were really hurt and they were the guys who told me that he died. When they brought the subject up, because I kinda brought it up out of no where, like when you meet somebody and you meet their friends and you’re like, “Hey! Where’s Johnny at ?” Then the mood in the room just changes. It was one of those type of situations where it’s like, “Hey, where’s he at?” and they’re like, “Well, he got killed?” I was like “What, no way. He’s dead? Like, dead, dead?” I couldn’t believe it because I hadn’t heard nothing of it. Nobody had told me he died or got killed. Just to remind you, we were not best friends and we didn’t grow up together but maybe nobody realized how much I respected him as a man and how much I learned from him. They didn’t know how much it mattered to me. With that being said, we dedicated the video to him. We shot the video in his projects and which is also my family’s projects.
The song is called “Don’t Ever Lose Your Joy,” also featuring two other great Trinidadian artists I wanted to shine the spotlight on because they are so dope and they need that chance, they need that look. Since I am that artist who has crossed over and did my thing here in America I want to be able to open that window for more Trinidadian artists to come over to America and be great. We have very talented artists the world doesn’t know about because a lot of people don’t even know what Trinidad is. They think that it is just my name. They don’t know that it is an actual island in the Caribbean in the West Indies. So with that being said, we shot the video with this dope photographer by the name of Miguel. He’s actually a documentary type of photographer and he travels and he gets the permit and licenses to shoot in the worst projects all around the world, so he’s used to it. One of the youths who were shooting my video who was part of that company, I guess they knew each other, and he reached out to him and he was like “Yo, I am actually shooting a video for Trinidad James, would you like to shoot the behind-the-scenes?” and he was like, “Sure.” I get a lot of respect from where I’m from because I do a lot more, I represent as well. Even through the bullshit, I am a Trinidadian at heart. A lot of the things that people say and look down on me for, just me standing up for who I am as a Trinidadian. We are very proud people, we don’t go for bullshit type of people and that’s just who I am as a person. With that being said, he came, all love, and he shot all day and that book is based on a whole day shooting and the behind-the-scenes.
When he sent me the pictures he was getting ready to post them on Facebook or like Instagram and I was like, after doing my first book, which came out with the No One Is Safe project early in February, I already knew the power of a book and that I can sell books because I sold some books. I realized this was a new window and avenue that I could open up for my sales. When I seen the pictures I became totally inspired I was like, “Yo, this is like another book, like what the hell. We are not going to just give this away to social media, because that is stupid, let’s make another book.” So I linked up, I got to pick all the pictures from him, that was edited the next day. Then I reached out to my guy who I did the first book with, which is my Atlanta photographer, this other guy, his name is, 5PS, that’s his Instagram name, his real name is Evan Ranch. I reached out to him, I was like, “Yo, I want to put together another book using these photos.” I kind of gave him the background story on everything that was happening in the video. We basically got the pictures to tell the story of kind of what the feeling of what happens in the ghetto. Because to me, ghetto and projects are two different things. Projects is the grits. The projects is the word that you use to describe the grit of a tough neighborhood. To me the ghetto is the beauty in it. Because to me the ghetto is just a beautiful world, a beautiful word. So the book basically shows you how beautiful the ghetto can be and how much love there is in the ghetto and the youth and part of my culture that I wanted to share with the world and share with fans that I really care about. So that’s the whole purpose behind the book.
Trinidad James Talks Baltimore & Preconceived Notions Of His Artistry
DX: One in every five people live below the poverty line despite being one the most beautiful destinations in the Caribbean. How exactly will the book display that dichotomy?
Trinidad James: With not having the book in front of us and just talking, basically from the raw grit in the photos, the love behind each one and what it represents like in my mind. That is kind of more based off of the feeling that I know I felt when I seen the pictures and what I know happened that day because it was a beautiful day in the ghetto. Beautiful. Everybody was happy. All the kids were playing. I gave hella kids hella money. One American dollar is actually worth like six Trinidadian dollars. I was giving that money to the kids for participating in the videos, everybody was smiling and people were cooking. It was just good. This is a very big project. This project – this ghetto is like a small city almost and that’s on a hill. I mean it’s kind of more like I seen – the feeling that I felt that day when we shot the video and how good everybody felt and just how happy I just the time to even shoot a video with a positive song and not just trying to shoot some shoot-em-up-bang-bang type of video because I got hood niggas around me or whatever they really appreciate it. When they seen the pictures he gave me I got that same appreciation and feeling for the world and for Trinidad and I wanted to share that with my people in Trinidad.
DX: The media often makes people of color in dire situations seem like the bad guy. Do you think that’s the case in Baltimore? Do you think a violent reaction to violence is ever warranted.
Trinidad James: I think that it is justified somewhat but I am never for violence. I’m not. I’m about love and I’m about unity. But I will not just bash everybody that’s reacting with the act of violence. I don’t have a factual quote, quote about why violence is good because violence is not good, but I personally feel out of my own quote book, that sometimes a little – when you get pushed to the wall you only have one way out. If you get buried alive then you only get one way out – and that’s to fight. If that fight comes across to you as violence then that’s the way you perceive it. But to me, I look at it as a fight if you’re pushing me against the wall and you’re taking my people down one-by-one, and it’s like, “Yo.” And they’re showing us this on TV to get us riled up so that they can have the right to shoot us down one-by-one. Right now they don’t have the right. But, they’re still doing it and displaying it day in and day out and week in and week out so that we become riled so that they’ll have the right to shoot us down. We gotta kind of realize that we got to be able to act accordingly and don’t be caught in pride or our feelings. What’s the betterment of our youth and what’s the betterment of right now?
DX: Has there been a time where you’ve dealt with police brutality?
Trinidad James: Police brutality? No. Being a judge book by it’s cover by the police? Numerous times.
DX: How did you go about actually formulating your Trips To Trinidad EP? Is it possible for someone with all these preconceived notions make the music that they want?
Trinidad James: You just do it bro. It goes back to a motto that I made back in 2013. It’s a “Dream believe in turn up.” That’s my formula for success. If I have a dream that’s something that I can believe in the only thing that you can do that nobody can’t take away from you is you actually acting on your idea and believing in what you believe in and do it and acting on it. That’s all you can do. So if I say to myself, “Man I feel like I can make a book because I am that nigga and I see all these other niggas making books and I feel like I can do it.” Well okay cool, that’s a nice idea. That’s basically equivalent to a dream. That’s step one and then believing in myself that I can do it. If Kanye did it, Louis Vuitton did it, shit I can do it too because I feel like I’m that nigga and I got something to offer. Well then now nigga you gotta do it. That’s what I did and that’s what I am doing. That’s any idea or anything you hear me come out with.
Trinidad James Explains Why He Doesn’t Regrets Signing To Def Jam
DX: Your music since you parted ways with the label has been quite different from “All Gold Everything.” Is it difficult getting people to hear your music outside of your one hit single?
Trinidad James: It’s difficult for people who are not artists from people who are not necessarily internet savvy music people. Radio people, it’s hard for them to get past it because all they know is what comes on the radio or what’s shown on TV. That’s their stream of music so and I don’t blame them because some dibble and dabble and find out about music from places like HipHopDX and HotNewHipHop or all these different blogs that put out our music as artists every time we drop even though it’s not a radio single. Some people wake up and go to their 9 to 5 and on their way to work they listen to the morning show and on their way home from work they’re in traffic listening to the day time show. Then when they get home and they’re not listening to the radio since they at home, they’re looking at the TV. So now you’re looking at the videos or whatever that gets popped off because everyone can’t afford MTV Jams because I don’t – I used to not be able to afford MTV Jams because MTV Jams is high as shit. It’s no avenue for you to even know what the hell is really going on unless it’s some God-damn industry type of shit. It’s only that avenue from mainstream type of stuff. Well music isn’t only based on mainstream. Mainstream is just for what it is – entertainment.
DX: You of all people have seen how quickly the crowd can shift from loving you to being your worst enemy, where do you go from here?
Trinidad James: You get to see what a real fan is and what a real listener is quick when you get in this game and you have a hit and when you start to get hits and you have a bunch of down moments. You just get to see true colors of people in general. They don’t hate you even though they hate on you. They just want you to keep giving them what people tell them that’s a hit. Know what I am saying?
DX: How exactly do you move on from people’s perception just to make the kind of music of where you’re at right now.
Trinidad James: You keep walking my nigga. You keep walking, you don’t stop walking, you keep punching. That’s all you can do. Let’s look at the Mayweather and the Pacquiao fight. Mayweather has never lost a fight, correct? If he was to lose, what is your perception of him? Is he a loser? It’s just one loss. It doesn’t make me any less than what I was before I walked into the ring does it? That’s what I ask people. If he lost – I didn’t think he’s going to lose – but if he were, do I say, “Oh, he’s not the greatest anymore”? Does Manny Pacquiao become the greatest now because he beat Floyd Mayweather? That’s how I look at life man and especially my music.
DX: In a lot of ways this is the age where a comeback like yours is most possible, despite the distractions, how are you trying make a successful comeback?
Trinidad James: You punch and punch and you gradually punch. You punch as hard as you can. You punch until you touch the surface. You basically spar. You spar, spar, spar, spar, until you got your technique down and then when you have your technique down you try to punch harder. When you start punching harder you get to see what type of impact you make when you start to punch, what you say is a hard punch. When you start seeing those punches moving, then you knock out.
DX: Where is Trinidad James creatively at the moment?
Trinidad James: He’s an artist. He’s not even a rapper. He’s not a singer. He’s just a black man that’s an artist.
DX: Did you expect “Uptown Funk” to essentially bring you back into the spotlight?
Trinidad James: Don’t care. Don’t care bro. That ain’t shit. Trust me. That ain’t nothing, that’s just a check – that’s just business. Cool. I am happy that Bruno respects me as an artist, we’re cool now. That’s what matters to me the most. I got a new plug, that’s that nigga. All that other stuff as far as what people perceive as being “back” per-say, in the spotlight, they can kiss my ass all day.
DX: If you could have done it all over again, would you have taken that advance and signed to a major?
Trinidad James: If I went through it and then they gave me a time machine option right now? I would go back and do it different. In reality, I wouldn’t want to go back. I love everything that went down. They gave me the tools I needed to be that nigga.