Trae Tha Truth is still finding ways to challenge himself after two decades in the music business. Although his career is busier than ever, the veteran MC continues to push himself in the studio and try out different approaches on projects such as his recently released Exhale LP.
The album showcases some of the new tricks up his sleeve, which Trae has managed to develop despite a workload that includes his Relief Gang’s charitable efforts, a biography and shopping his self-titled cartoon.
HipHopDX caught up with Trae to discuss Exhale, the LP’s lack of guests, his late friend Nipsey Hussle, Relief Gang and much more. In the conversation, Trae also reflected on his career and provided an update on his lawsuit against Radio One.
HipHopDX: It’s a rarity these days to see no guests on an album like you have on Exhale. What went into that decision for you?
Trae: I believe at the point of life where I was at and the things I was going through I had to let it out, I had to vent, I had to exhale. I felt like at this point in time nobody could tell my story except me better than this. I got a million — I’ve got over 2000 unreleased records. So, I always got records. But for this point in time with everything I was going through, I just needed to get things off my chest by myself. I just had to get all of it out on my own.
HipHopDX: What are the differences when you’re doing an album all by yourself as opposed to seeking out features or looking to do collaborations? Is there anything that changes with your creative process?
Trae: No, not at all. I always record by myself anyway, even when I have guest features. I’m still in the studio most of the time by myself when I’m doing what I do. So, it’s the same process. The only difference is I have a real major A&R ear, so only difference is instead of me playing a record and being like, “Oh shit, I hear this person on this record,” I don’t do that. I just handle it myself. It’s kind of like I forgot to be selfish. I’m not thinking of who else can be on this record. I gotta do what I know how to do.
HipHopDX: I really love the production on this album. “Same Ol’ Love” really stood out as well as you tackling the Bay Area style on “Slide.” Did you have a certain sound in mind going into this album?
Trae: I was looking for beats, but there’s so much stuff that happened. I was with so many producers, I was like, “Send me stuff,” I was just in work mode and at the end of the day, whatever beats caught me and drifted me into another world was the ones that I grasped and attacked.
HipHopDX: In regards to “Slidin,” you’re somebody who’s worked with plenty of West Coast artists in your career. What is it about that scene’s sound that you enjoy?
Trae: It just gives you that uplift, turn-up, young feel. No matter what it is, it always be a young feel with that. But the reason I did it wasn’t because of that. I did it because my daughter lives in L.A. I’m on the West Coast a lot. It’s like another home too. I always adapt to my environment.
I had everything that I felt I needed with this project, but I just wanted to at least add something from the West Coast. I remember I was going through a whole bunch of beats. I went through a lot of them, and Zay Coronado had sent us something. Actually, “Slidin” was a two-part beat.
The first part of the beat is what you actually hear and the second part was the part I actually didn’t really want to deal with. Me and Zay Coronado started messing around with it and ended up piecing it together that way. It turned out to be dope.
HipHopDX: Another thing that really stood out to me on this album was the different flows you were using. You took a variety of approaches to hooks on this album. At this stage in your career, do you look to challenge yourself in the booth with things like that?
Trae: Yeah, I mean the whole purpose of this album was whatever I feel comfortable doing, I wasn’t allowed to do. And whatever I didn’t feel comfortable doing is what I had to do. That’s what led to this album. So, everybody knows I can sing, but on this album, you’ll hear me singing in higher pitches and all kinds of stuff that I would do mostly myself but I would never do on a record because I didn’t feel comfortable. So everything that made me feel uncomfortable is what I did with the record and everybody loves it.
HipHopDX: Was there any type of “aha!” moment where you felt like you needed to do that on this record or was it just the way it naturally developed?
Trae: I would go in and move around and just have fun with it. I don’t think I really thought about it. The crazy thing is this wasn’t nothing but a few days process for this project. I went out to Atlanta for a couple of days. I did one-half of it and went back again and the other songs I did completed it. The only song I didn’t do out there was “Slidin,” and I recorded “Slidin” at my house. So, it was only a few days process. But you know when I get in the studio and work, I work!
HipHopDX: One of the most powerful songs on there is “Nipsey.” Obviously, you had a deep connection to him. How hard was it for you to write that song? Did it take a lot out of you emotionally to create?
Trae: It wasn’t that it was hard, I just don’t prefer to have to do that record. The last time I had to do a record like that was when my brother got killed. But it wasn’t necessarily that it was hard because I wasn’t doing it to create a song. I was doing it as a conversation of me talking to him as if he was in the studio being able to hear me say everything I wanted to say.
That was the purpose of the song. But of course, the song is a song that people can resonate to because they know it’s from the heart. That was just a conversation I was having with him. If I didn’t do the song, then it would’ve been a conversation I had when I pray at night.
HipHopDX: Nipsey has been celebrated and spoken about so much in the aftermath of his death. But as someone who knew him well, is there anything people didn’t know or haven’t learned about Nipsey you think they would appreciate knowing?
Trae: The thing is I don’t think there’s no certain thing that people wouldn’t know because lately, they’re seeing so many different sides to him. They’re gathering it daily. He’s definitely a genuine person from the heart. If he had your back, he had your back a thousand percent. Right or wrong, he stood for everything he believed in.
He always had businesses. He’s one of the few people I know that had his tree planted in business and the shit always worked out the way he planned it! It might take long, but it always ended working itself out. Overall, a genuine, caring person. Me and Nipsey’s relationship wasn’t about music. We was brothers. We did everything that brothers do. Laugh, joke, argue or whatever.
HipHopDX: You’ve had a storied career in music, but you’ve found another calling of sorts with the Relief Gang following Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Sometimes, people forget or don’t realize it’s a long road to recovery. Things just don’t get fixed and solved.
Trae: Believe it or not, the aftermath never ended in Houston. There’s people who still haven’t had 10 percent help out there. There’s still so many people who don’t even know when they’re actually going to say, “You know what, I guess I’m going to start over.” A lot of people are just lost.
The Relief Gang is a team I formed with me and my partner DJ Mr. Rogers. It expanded beyond hurricane relief to people who need relief in general. When the hurricane hit the Carolinas last year, I was there. When it hit Florida, I was there. I’m trying to see about what’s going on with the Bahamas now. We just all around moving, doing what we need to do.
HipHopDX: I respect that much so much. I had family lose a lot in Hurricane Katrina, so that definitely hits home. It’s inspiring to see someone want to help so much.
Trae: I appreciate you, bro.
HipHopDX: Absolutely. As far as the Relief Gang, was Hurricane Harvey a wake-up call to you or something that made you realize you had a calling to help others?
Trae: I think it enhanced it. Definitely enhanced it. I was already doing stuff like this, but this go-around, I just didn’t have time to stop.
HipHopDX: Gotcha. It’s been 20 years since the Guerilla Maab album Rise dropped. What does it feel like to be so far into your career now? Do you have any reflections on your evolution as an artist or any memories of those early days?
Trae: It’s crazy. Guerilla Maab was the first album I put out, but I’ve been rapping since I was 12. It’s just crazy when I look back that I’ve been in the game over 20 years easily. And the fact is most people after a few years tend to take a step backward. But you have to think even with this project you speaking on now, Exhale, my stuff is only growing and getting better.
I really feel Exhale just recreated me in a different light. A lot of people that may have been fans and faded away, a lot of people that may have not been fans, but they all leading back this way now.
HipHopDX: That’s a great point. To close out, I did want to see if you could provide any update on your lawsuit against Radio One. Has there been any progress with it?
Trae: Believe it or not, I’ve just stayed pushing and moving, man. The election season that just passed, the judge who was over my case didn’t get re-elected. When he didn’t get re-elected, this is the first time he’s never been re-elected. Every case that was on his desk, he was just throwing them out on his way out. Did I want to go through this appeal? What did I want to deal with?
At this point, whatever God got in store for me is what I’m going to accept. It’s been 10 years worldwide. That took up 10 years of my life where I stayed focused on that instead of focusing on other stuff, so I’m just at a point now where I just got to keep pushing and do what I can do to provide for my kids and those who I can help.