Published on June 23rd, 2016 | by Jerry Doby0
Getting to the bottom of it all with Trinidad James
Trinidad James (@) is one of those anomalies in the entertainment industry when you discuss lyrical content, style, creativity, and sincere humility. Bursting into the mainstream with his globally viral hit “All Gold Everything,” he stood the industry on its ear in 2012. Still making dynamic visual statements along with his sly lyrical missiles, James is on fire with a new label situation with Records Music and thought provoking new single “Just a Lil’ Thick (She Juicy),” Featuring signature voices, Mystical and Lil Dicky. The visual doesn’t do the joint a disservice with gratuitous nekkidity either!!!
Beyond the entertainment value, James is a thinker and in a non-traditional manner, a counselor and educator. Common sense things like not buying sneakers to make sure your house is in order are some of the nuggets he drops in his music and web series posts. He’s also big on community responsibility, which he delves into within the communities in which he lives, though he hopes to expand his altruistic endeavors to include multiple markets simultaneously.
We caught up with James for a “Live Session” Interview and here’s how that went!
About the message single “Just a Lil’ Thick (She Juicy)”
You’ve got this new joint out. I think that everything you’ve done has been successful. The new joint, “Just a Lil’ Thick (She Juicy)” featuring Mystikal and Lil Dicky, excellent song. I saw the video, I was like, “Oops, this going to be one of those.” I love the message. Talk to me about that joint.
One thing I learned in this game from being a newcomer in it is that if you stay true to your class and what you know your strong suit is, I can never take it too seriously. When I say too serious, of course, it’s serious, because it’s a job essentially, and it’s hip-hop, which is serious. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and always make sure that you make music that makes the people feel if they’re happy. I want to make sure that people always get entertained when you see my music when you hear my music. I wanted to make sure with this strong single coming out, that that was the initial come back statement from Trinidad James.
I like the message, because what Sir Mix-A-Lot said, “So Cosmo says you’re fat…,” is STILL on point! Here you come, 20, 30 years later with “Just a Lil’ Thick,” and you’re celebrating the differences in women and allowing people just to be themselves.
Yeah man, it’s important. It’s important for you to be true to who you are, man, you know. Because one thing about it is the way that the man upstairs made you, that’s the way that you were meant to be. How you choose to live and what you decide to do to yourself, that’s your choice. How he made you is how he made you. Some people are just big boned. They can’t help that. They can’t be the stick figure woman, not even a model, just a stick figure woman. They don’t have the crazy metabolism that like, ‘Wow she’s been this size since she was in high school.’
That’s just not the case, and I feel that I’m always for the underdog. I feel like an underdog champion, and I always want to make sure that the people that listen to my music know that I care about everybody, not just the individuals who are winning. I care more about the individuals who are going through it.
Young people receive the message differently from somebody they look up to and go, ‘Yeah, OK. If he says I’m OK, then I must be all right. Daddy no longer validates me,’ which I’m comfortable, I understand that.
One thing about how I look at it is the problem with why women try to change their appearance is because they haven’t found that real man to appreciate them for who they are. It makes you feel like, ‘I need to change this, and I need to look like this so that I can get this man that I want so bad or this companion, this relationship.’ In reality, a man that cares about you and wants you for you doesn’t care about those things. He doesn’t at all; he loves you for who you are and who he knows he’s going to grow old with. Not for what you’re going to look like for the next five years and then in 10, 15 years you look like crap.
All these things you did to enhance yourself, you’ve got to keep it up, and if you can’t afford to keep it up, it’s going to just to go to waste, and deteriorate. It’s almost like you’re leasing another body when you alter your body. To each his own; I understand, it’s like a woman and her makeup. You can’t tell her that she don’t need any makeup. It’s like a man wearing a hat. I understand that completely. I’m not partial, I’m not blinded, I’m not a jaded man. I’m very aware of what’s going on in the world.
It’s more to just let you know when it comes to the whole fat thing and not appreciating our curvier women, that you need to just find the right man instead of altering yourself to try and find a man who is going to run off with another altered woman.
They should take a lesson from “Lemonade,” right?
I’m just saying, if any of those rumors are true, then it just shows you that everything isn’t as sweet as the lemonade in the glass.
Thoughts on going indie
Yeah, you know, men aren’t ever happy. That’s what I heard all the time. The world apparently is agreeing with you and loving the song. You’ve got a little over 5 million plays now at the time of this interview, for the “Just a Lil Thick” video. Early in the radio run, the song was the number two most added at radio. You’re getting a great reception across the board.
Yeah. Like I said, though, man, it’s nothing but the man upstairs saying that it’s my time and, “You’re in my favor, and yeah, let’s go.” That’s all it could be, man. There ain’t nothing else extra to it. I made this song, the whole element of the song and video and everything happening, even me working with a new record company. All these things just happened through good energy it wasn’t like me fighting or doing these crazy, outlandish things to try and get a new deal or nothing like that. Independent is the way to go for certain artists. I’m one of those artists.
The talent that Michael Jackson possessed, it didn’t ever make sense for him to be independent. It made sense for him to work with people who work on bigger projects, to work in that world, because it just made more sense. You have what they needed for that [with the major label].
Yeah, he needed the machine.
Exactly, because he just wanted to focus on the artist part of it. For me, I come from a business background. I come from doing business myself my whole life. For me, it’s important to understand the business side of things too and also get the music or whatever and be a real artist. I strive to be a better artist every day. With that being said, the more and more you learn, the less dependent you are on somebody because the more independent you can be.
I think that’s a big lesson for young artists that are breaking in now. They don’t want to pay they dues. What do they call it, the microwave generation?
It’s so crazy that that’s what they call it because it’s so crazy that they call it that. It’s so crazy because that’s exactly what I said a long time ago. I was like, “Man, they just want things to be microwave ready.”
Pulling Mystikal and Lil Dicky into the creative mix for his debut single on the new imprint “Records”
Speaking of the single artistically; sonically, you’ve got two great voices on this joint with you. Shout out to DJ Mustard, the producer. The voices of Mystikal and Lil Dicky. Lil Dicky just did his Las Vegas debut to a packed house out there, why did you pick those voices?
Mystikal, I heard Mystikal. I heard him when I was making the song initially. I heard him, so I reached out to him. I don’t know, I didn’t hear him initially at first, but I thought about it, and it subconsciously just popped into my mind one day, just literally out of nowhere just popped in my mind. I was like, “Oh man. Maybe he’d be crazy on this.” Then I reached out to record it. I ended up talking to his manager. His manager ended up giving me his number. I ended up talking to him, sending him the record, and he ended up liking the record. It worked out great, amazing, you know?
With Lil Dicky, it was in the air for us to work, because we met last year, last summer. He got busy with his album and “Save that Money” and “Professional Rapper,” touring and all these other things, so the time didn’t come around. Somebody at the new independent company I work with, “Records”, they heard the record, and they were like, “Yo, Dicky would sound crazy on this.” It was just an idea that got thrown in the air, and then somebody else played him the record. He got to hear the record, and he loved it.
He’s like, “I really want to do a verse on this record,” and he did his thing.
When I heard it, I was like, “OK, cool. We supposed to happen anyway, so here you go.” The energy was just right.
His perception of “self.”
Man, it worked out perfect. Aside from the music, you’re involved in a lot of things outside of music. From the outside looking in, tell me, who is Trinidad James?
From the outside looking in, Trinidad James is something that you can’t gauge. You can’t understand it yet. It’s a lot to take in because artists don’t come with so many different hats, and I understand that. I feel like I can’t help that. That’s the way that the man upstairs made me. That’s my blueprint. I’m not sorry for it. One day they’ll get it, it’s just for me to work harder on the legacy. That’s what I’m working on, to be honest with you. When you look back on it, while you’re looking at it, you can understand it better year by year.
Industry insiders talk about your business acumen. The media doesn’t cover it as much as we should but “The industry” talks. We hear discussions about, ‘Yeah, man, Trinidad made this move, and he made that move, and you see how he exploded this way, and he’s done it strategically,’ We want to know more about the man.
Shoe Game: It’s not just about the sneakers!
I know that you’re crazy in the studio, you’re mad busy touring and all that good stuff, but you make time to get some relaxation…I heard it’s a massive sneaker collection; give me some insight on this shoe game thing.
Shoes to me is something that became a hobby maybe ten years ago. I would say 10. This is 2016, so let’s say ’05 or whatever. I started like collecting sneakers. I’ve always been a person who was defined by his sneakers, defined by his attire or whatever. I think that all came about because of the way I grew up, I wasn’t able to be that fresh dude that was always inside of me. My parents didn’t believe in that type of stuff. That motivated me to want to get my first job then take my first check and spend it all on clothes and shoes, and I never stopped. I just never stopped, never stopped.
I didn’t really start collecting until ’05, and that’s when it became a habit. You start getting more and more shoes, and you don’t have to keep wearing the same pair and wear it out, so you have to buy a new pair because you need a new pair. You’re buying a new pair because you want to keep adding to the collection. I started finding people who are like minded like myself, so it made it cool. It’s like guys that collect cars, like Jay Leno, has friends, he collects cars with them. It makes it a little bit more acceptable because I’ve met a lot of good people in my life through sneakers. I’ve been in a lot of situations through sneakers.
I feel like sneakers got me into the rap game to a certain extent, because dudes already knew from my stylish work, like, ‘That’s that guy. He’s been fresh. I’ve been through he’s fresher than me, and I’m a rapper. He’s fresher than me, and I’m a DJ. He’s fresher than me, and I’m this, that or the other, or he’s just as fresh as me. I’m getting shoes from him.’ You know what I’m saying? That already subconsciously put me in that world to gear me up for what I was getting ready to come into.
Industry eye opener
What has been the biggest surprise for you since you launched so explosively onto the music and entertainment scene?
Just the mindset of the industry compared to the mentality of the real world. It’s like another world inside of the real world. I come from the real world because I’ve worked real jobs in the real world. You know what I’m saying, regular jobs, cook jobs, clothing jobs, lawn care service, warehouse manager. I’ve gotten real jobs, real working jobs that real people do. The industry, the rap game ain’t nothing like real life. That was the biggest surprise.
Have you found anything that specifically disappoints you about the industry overall?
I think kind of what I just said, kind of just the overall moral character. Just the overall moral character. Don’t get me wrong. The real world is full of shady people and weird things and things that are unforeseen and not good. I feel that because we’re all fighting a particular type of fight out here in the real world or the people who are in the real world. I still consider myself a part of the real world, even though I have a foot in the industry too. I feel that the people in the real world are also cognizant of working together. It puts a moral code there that is like unspoken, an unspoken code of, ‘Hey man, you can’t do this in this neighborhood, because we’ve got kids in this neighborhood, and that just ain’t right.’ You know what I’m saying? Like that type of stuff, neighborhood watch and things like that, you know? There ain’t no neighborhood watch in the industry. It’s all dog eat dog.
Inside the media realm there’s its own thing, but it just seems to be that the entertainment industry as an artist or producer higher levels, it is really a microcosm of all the bad crap that can happen in the real world, and it’s just under a microscope within this industry. Like you said, it’s a completely different world.
Engaging with the community
One of the things that really pleased me, people don’t do this very often, is you released a free EP to fans, “Trappy Mother’s Day” thanking them for their support of “Just a Lil’ Thick.” Then on June 4th, was your second annual high school event at Crenshaw High in Inglewood, CA. You organized this charity event that nobody brought you into, you produce this.
When I moved to LA, I said I want to do my code as a man, an artist, better. I’m going to work on my moral character even more. I’ve done charity kind of in Atlanta where I moved from, but I never really grasped or focused in on how to really do it. I didn’t half-ass it, I just never did it. It never worked out the way I wanted it to work out because I wasn’t for sure. I was unsure of myself in accomplishing that, you know?
Check these shots from our coverage of the event courtesy of our contributor the Influencer for #TheHypeMagazine #Happenings section of the home page!
When I came to LA, I said I’m going to learn from my mistakes, and I’m going to do things the right way and make sure I accomplish the things that matter to me. Communities matter to me, not just in LA or the Atlanta community. I feel like I need to do something in Baltimore and Chicago and everywhere, but in due time. I’ve got to do this in steps. Where I’m going to now, I’m going to do better by the community, because I do have a voice, and I’m genuine in anything that I do. I never do anything out of a facetiousness or with malice in my heart. Even if it come across that way, like, ‘Hey, why you say that?’ It’s because you needed to hear it, or because that’s the truth. It’s never to hurt you. It’s to motivate you. I think a lot of times people take criticism and demote themselves. We should take criticism and motivate ourselves.
I like that.
Thank you. Moving out to LA, I said I’m going to accomplish this celebrity basketball game/sneaker drive or whatever. Once again with the sneakers, because it turned out as I started with this show called Camp James. It’s a web series on YouTube that I was doing every two weeks, 1st and 15th. I was just talking about all the shoes I was buying, just giving my honest review. I would drop gems in there from time to time, saying you shouldn’t be buying shoes if you ain’t taking care of your family.
The small things, the kids, are the ones that are like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get this, because Trinidad has it.’
I was like, “I get these things because I take care of my business.” It’s kind of like an informative type of thing. It’s called Camp James, so that sounds like a program, and to take that and actually go big with it. I reached out to certain people in the Crenshaw community like Michael Henley. They appeared at Crenshaw High School. We put together the event last year because I’m not going to walk into Crenshaw and go, ‘Hey, I fittin’ to do a charity.’ I’m not going to do that. I went in and had a conversation and said I’m trying too get …
They were like, “It sounds good.” They’re very football heavy, because they’re a very good football school, and I’m a big basketball guy.
I said, “Let’s do it both together. Football in the morning for the heat. Do football in the morning, do a football camp for kids seven and up or 11 and under or something like that. Then we do a celebrity basketball game during the day. I’m not going to charge anybody to come in. To get in the game, you have to bring a pair of brand new sneakers or gently worn name brand sneakers to get in.
I work with a company called “Feed the Hungry” out here in LA, and last year we raised like 800 pairs to 900 pairs of sneakers. We ended up giving those sneakers to that company, and those sneakers ended up getting right back into the communities in the LA district or Skid Row, to people less fortunate and in need of sneakers. I was able to participate in giving out some of the sneakers, actually. That really made me feel good. That really was one of the biggest highlights of my last year. I’m not from LA, so to come out to LA, just being there for four or five months, doing the event in June, and in six months I’m able to pack out a whole gym, five, 600 people.
Nipsey Hussle played, Problem played, Kevin McCall was there, Michael Blackson, you know what I’m saying. All type of people came out to support. It was a beautiful thing, and no bad things happened, no violence, no fights, nothing. It was just a perfect day. Everybody felt great about themselves. Everybody felt like they participated in something that did something better for the community. That was the overall goal, to show the youth that everything doesn’t have to be what the news portrays it to be.
We were doing it again this year, because I was like, “You don’t just do something like this all the time. You fight to do it.” It doesn’t matter if you lose money or whatever. I spent all my own money on the last one of those. I’m spending money on this one. Nobody sponsoring me, nobody’s trying to. I’m not saying nobody’s trying to help, but nobody’s helping me. As far as paying for things, I just bought my jerseys for the game today. I just paid for them. I just paid for my halftime performer today.
Charity does double duty by creating a platform to showcase new artists
Jay 305 performed last year. AG performed last year. The cool thing about that, after AG, JY 305, performed at the event, these artists are now out doing their thing or whatever, and they’re doing better. It’s almost like I’m forming a launching pad for everybody, so everybody wins. Everybody comes out, the more celebrities come, the more media comes. You perform at halftime, people are like, ‘Yo, who is this?’ They don’t know or whatever, and then it goes off from there. People are like, ‘Oh, that’s the dude that performed at the celebrity basketball game.’ It’s a good look for everybody.
As for me, I just get that off my chest from the standpoint of it feels like something I should be doing. I don’t want a medal, I don’t want a handshake. This is just what I should be doing, and that’s what it is.
I could have a massive sneaker collection. I could do charity. It goes hand in hand. Nobody questions why I buy shoes. Nobody can question why I buy sneakers. It’s the same thing. If you can buy whatever you want to buy, and you can do something for your community.
Reality check: Skid Row Los Angeles
As they say, “To whom much is given, much is required.” To see people living that is refreshing, and nobody asked you to do it. It was in your heart to do. Speaking of your heart man, what was your physical reaction when you stepped onto Skid Row in LA down on 4th and Figueroa that first time?
I was like, ‘Wow, this is intense.’ It was very eye-opening because I was like, ‘These people are not unhappy.’
Some of these people are just like, ‘This is what it is. I want to be like this. That was eye opening. People are still cutthroat down there. When I say cutthroat, from the standpoint of trying to come up off of charity. It’s crazy; it’s a scheme in anything. You got to be careful. At the same time, what really got me was I didn’t see kids crying. I see kids laughing and playing in their environment. That’s what makes the human race the best species on Earth because we literally can adapt to anything.
I like it. Everything’s not so serious. You did a segment on Funny or Die’s “You better watch yourself.”
That was hilarious, right? That was really funny.
You’re a natural born entertainer, obviously. I don’t know, I’m not an entertainer, so let me just leave that. It was beautiful to watch you just … People say, ‘Oh, he’s got silly music,’ but at the same time you’ve got some crazy lyrical stuff that I think everybody was surprised at. David Banner just leaked out a joint with you called “Amy.” Snooty has a joint with you called “Still Hustlin” that the blogs are picking up real heavy right now. Then, of course, you were in the “A” when “Don’t Believe Me Just Watch” became a hit on Uptown Funk, when they dropped your sample, I said, “Did they just do that?”
They did that!
That’s the GRAMMY Record of the Year in 2015, number one song in 2015. It’s awesome. You got new single releases on your new imprint or the new imprint that you’re signed to, Records. That’s a partnership between Barry Weiss and Songs Music Publishing. You just made another great business decision. “Think It’s a Game,” they’re still doing their thing. Are you still rocking with them as well, or this is an entirely different business move?
I don’t do business with them anymore, but it’s still respect. That’s the company that put me in the game, so I will always have respect for them, but I don’t do business with them anymore.
Enough said on that. Is there anything that you might want to cover.
I want to make sure that interviews like these get put out there into the world the right way, with the right heading on it from the standpoint of, I don’t have these conversations with you or other interviewers just to hear myself talk or say things that sound whimsical. It’s like from the standpoint of people really need to hear what I’m saying, because I’m always saying something to help you, whether it’s from a business perspective, whether it’s from a fashion standpoint, whether it’s from a spiritual viewpoint because I’m a big energy person. I would really love to just get the world listening to my words because I feel there are at least 1 million people that could learn from them.
Will you jump off into some public speaking maybe at some point?
Yeah, it’s all about doing things like that when you know you got the people’s ear. You don’t want to talk to deaf ears. It doesn’t make sense. It’s wasting everybody’s time. You want to talk to ears that are listening and ready to receive, per se. Ears that are not ready to receive or whatever is a battle. You can do it, per se, but it’s like almost when you’re forced to go to church when you don’t want to go to church. You remember some of the things that were said to you, but if you were willing to receive it … When you go to church now, if you do go to church, just speaking in general, you can understand better the same things you were taught when you were a child. Now you’re ready to receive it.
Shying away from the media in the past
This interview, for me, I had wanted to talk to you earlier. I’m glad that it didn’t happen until now because I think that an earlier conversation might have been more superficial. Besides, you were going through a whirlwind at the same time.
I didn’t even want to do interviews prior because it’s not the right thing to talk about. I don’t want to talk to you about the negative. I want to talk to you about the positive and show you what the negative costs. I don’t want to just be a negative conversation. I want to talk about positive stuff, and we look back on the negative things and explain it to show you the outcome of a negative, because once again I don’t want negative to demote you, I want negative to motivate you.
What has been the most satisfying return on your spiritual, emotional, human investment in others thus far?
I think when the other day this guy, who’s from Chicago, he’s younger than me, and I’ve known him since before I made music. He used to come downtown in Atlanta at the store I used to work at, I used to dress people, dress artists, drug dealers, you name it, I dressed them. He always used to come to the store and hang out. We used to talk. I used to give him words of wisdom, we’d just chop it up in general. When I got into music, I started working downtown and just got busy doing my thing, doing Trinidad James stuff. He’s always had the same number, I’ve always had the same number. We’ll talk from time to time. He had his first kid; he had a daughter, and she’s beautiful. He loves her to death, and I made him stop buying shoes.
It’s crazy because it was kind of like that was our thing. Shoes were the thing. It was that, and then the shoes would turn into how you feel about this in the world and how you feel about that or music. It was the conversation ultimate.
Long story short, he just had another child not too long ago or whatever. It’s a blessing. He’s on his second kid, I don’t even have a kid. The main point of my story is, he texted me one of the mornings not to long ago, and he was like, “Man, I appreciate you always staying the person that I’ve always known you for even through all the things I’ve seen you go through from the outside looking in, because it allowed me to stay solid with my girl, stay solid with my kids, stay solid with myself as a man, to show me what a man’s supposed to act like when negative things happen to him.’ That’s the whole point. Negative stuff motivated me instead of demoted me.
That’s a beautiful thing, to have a lifelong associate, a friend who maintains that contact, that’s not mad because you’ve succeeded and still leans on you as a friend for little nuggets or advice.
Real advice. He’ll still ask me about my opinion on sneakers from time to time, and I still give it to him.
That’s a beautiful thing. You only need one of those your whole life. Some people never really get to have a real friend.
It doesn’t have to be a friend, just a good person in your life. Me and this person didn’t grow up together. This was a customer at a store that would come in every so often that I started conversating with like a good associate. It’s important to cherish the good people in your life. They don’t have to be friends, they don’t have to be family, but the people that you know that are genuinely good and always got your best interest at hand.
I always tell people that they’re too hard for themselves and too afraid to say hello, but you said something, and beyond being a good associate, it transcended the business to a somewhat personal level. Like you said, over the years, your number’s the same, his number’s the same. You text and continue on, and that’s someone to hold on to. He sees you for you as the person that you’ve always been, and you’ve maintained that humanity. That’s very important. You touched that one person.
I feel like I still got a foot in the real world, even though I know I got a foot in the industry.
Keeping the balance: Entertainer and humanist
Is it difficult?
Yeah, but another good buddy of mine that I met out here in LA is a pretty good producer who was pretty successful. He was like, “In this game that we all play in,” we had a conversation, and he said, “If it were easy, then everybody would be a god**mn star. If it were easy, then everybody would be Justin Beiber. If it were easy, then everybody would be Michael Jackson. If it were easy, everybody would go viral, everybody would be on the radio, everybody would have hits if it were easy. What’s the fun in that?” To answer your question, “Is that easy?”, no, I don’t want it to be.
Creating his life philosophy
You’re an extremely aware person.
Definitely, that’s the name of the first song on Trappy Mother’s Day, “I’m aware.”
Not laying any responsibility at your feet, but I think you’re a person who could throw an alarm clock in the graveyard and wake the dead if you had the time and motivation to do that.
It’s all about staying on the path. People tell you all the time this is a marathon and not a sprint. As long as your marathon is going, and you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, more people will start following. It’s like that part on Forest Gump, when he’s running, then people start running with him. He started by himself. It’s all about once your morals are right, there’s always somebody looking for somebody with morals because there’re so many people without them.
Ain’t that the truth. Your overall makeup, you were born in Trinidad and Tobago. That’s a strong family culture. I have friends from Trinidad and Jamaica and things like that, and the family culture is a big, big thing. I’ve seen, and now I’m getting to experience in this conversation with you, how that culture reaches out and attempts to advance humanity. They’re bad people in every society, but for the most part, we can learn from the tender loving care that comes from some of what they consider the third world countries. I think they’re example countries, with the families all living under one roof and everybody supporting one another, et cetera.
Journalistically, I would like to ask you, is there a question that we in the media have yet to ask you that perhaps in your mind you think, ‘I wonder why they never talk to me about this.’
I don’t know because people pay respects to my charity, which I care a lot about. Maybe I feel like maybe I’m waiting on those days for people to start asking about my lyrics, because I knew they were listening. People don’t usually ask me about my lyrics.
Trinidad James stumped!
My last question and our signature question is, What has been your craziest “where-they-do-that-at moment,?!” something that just made you go WTF.
I feel like things happen so much to me, I just take them in. It’s not as if I block them, but I forget them so quickly. What is something crazy? I don’t know, man. Let me answer that next time. That question’s always trouble for me.
Stay tuned for more giant moves from James and stay in step with all things Trinidad James: