There’s the old, well-worn adage that you’re the author of your own story. While you might roll your eyes when you hear it now, Trinidad James doesn’t find this way of thinking to be boring or cliché. In fact, he’s thoroughly invested when he thinks about his page-turning, eight-year rap career so far. “This chapter is titled ‘Kill Mode,’” he tells MTV News over the phone. “I’m going through one of the real battles that all real creatives go through.”
This skirmish is part of the war that artists go through to retain relevance. The 32-year-old rapper has been one something of an unspoken figurehead in Atlanta rap for years following his 2012 breakout hit, “All Gold Everything.” Clad in gold chains, gold teeth, and what looked like retro royal high fashion, he delivered an instantly catchy tune that quickly became a viral sensation — 32 million views and counting — and secured him a deal with Def Jam worth a reported $2 million that same year. It was the gift that kept on giving. He apparently made $150,000 when Bruno Mars reached out to use its iconic line “don’t believe me, just watch” on a little song he’d worked on with Mark Ronson.
“Uptown Funk” became iconic in its own right. But “All Gold Everything” holds the distinction for being one of rap’s first viral hits of the 2010s. So began James’s battles.
“All Gold Everything” and its high-powered remix featuring T.I., 2 Chainz, and Young Jeezy, were both featured on his debut project Don’t Be S.A.F.E., which peaked at No. 103 on the Billboard 200. His follow-up project, 2013’s 10pc. Mild, didn’t chart. The headlines asked hard questions: Did James have another “All Gold Everything” in him? Soon after, he revealed that he was dropped from Def Jam in 2014.
Eight years after “All Gold Everything,” it appears the rapper’s soon-to-be-released new project is going to address the idea of enduring success on his own terms. He’s released seven projects since splitting with Def Jam, keeping up on a consistent clip as he feeds his fanbase. But now, he’s ready to take the fight right to the front lines.
“For this new project, you’ll see what it’s like when a true artist, a true creative, goes against all of the narratives that are in the air and chooses the one that matters the most at the end of the day, which is my own,” he says.
James’s latest has been in the works for years, pre-dating both his Father Figga and Daddy Issues mixtapes. “I worked with an incredible producer named Young Fyre,” he says. “When we first started four years ago, we were just making incredible songs, like 19 for 19. We just clicked. After two years of putting work in, it got to the point where I thought that we had enough songs to put together for a project. Then, it all came down to timing — for my narrative.”
An additional two years is a long time to hold something, but it looks like those songs are finally on the way to fans. In January, he released the project’s first single: the James Brown-inspired “Jame$ Woo Woo,” aiming to be every bit as disruptive to the cultural direction as “All Gold Everything” was in 2012. Its sharp barks and staccato lyricism make it sound incomplete but authentic and genuine as if he’s freestyling each word as he goes on. It’s not spit out of a melody machine. And that’s precisely why it works.
It’s easy to hear the influence of Brown on “Jame$ Woo Woo,” but James didn’t just pick the legendary soul entertainer to emulate for his sound. “The more and more that I continue to work and stay in the industry, I’ve learned that I was cheating myself because I was labeling myself as just a rapper,” he says. “I realized that the people that I loved most in music are true entertainers, and Brown is one of those that I resonate so well with because he wasn’t the most classically trained guy. He was all about feelings.”
James does his very best Brown impersonation in the song’s wild video that features him in soulful cosplay, leading a couple of tap-dancing ladies in an intricate routine. “We came up with that routine and choreography in a little bit over a day and a half,” he says. “We started on the idea last year with two other women as the tap dancers but schedules got conflicted. Tap dancing is a dying art, and we were determined to include that in the visual so we switched things up, along with the shooting location, to make it happen.”
Aside from “Jame$ Woo Woo,” there aren’t too many details out yet as to what the project will detail. There won’t be any large features from friends he came up with in the early 2010s, like Young Thug. “It’ll have some local guys from Atlanta because I’m not really big on features when they come with too much stress,” he says. “I owe it to my peers and myself to show them that I don’t need them to be successful.”
As James prepares to release his long-awaited project, he’s all about making sure that this new chapter of his career is much better, and separated, from his last. He’s currently one of the hosts of Sole Collector’s Full Size Run talk show about sneakers and he also made a quick jewelry-store cameo in the Safdie Brothers’s high-stress gambling drama Uncut Gems, where he played himself.
“I’m not living off of clout from eight years ago,” he says between sword jabs. “I’m living off of the real shit that I’m doing each year after that. Especially in the last three years because I’ve been making sure that my business is in my own hands.”