‘Give Them Their Roses Now’ is a series where we give credit to the unappreciated, coving their influence, impact and overall success in the industry both critically and commercially. There’s no need to wait until somebody is gone to pay homage when we could give them their roses now.
Like Foxy Brown before her, Trina’s rap career was born out of necessity. A local rap legend was in need of a female perspective, and he knew just the right person for the job. Wrapping up his sophomore album www.thug.com (1998), Trick Daddy tapped Trina to do the deed. She’d never rapped before, but he knew the 19-year-old girl he’d grown to love like a sister could get the job done.
He was right, because Trina’s life had uniquely prepared her for that very moment.
For many women, the salon is not only a place to get your hair done, it’s also the place where they can let their hair down, be comfortable and talk amongst friends. It’s a safe zone, where women can speak freely, away from the standards and pressures of society.
It’s in the salon that women get to be real.
Bahamian immigrant Vernesa Taylor was the shop owner of a small salon in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami in the 80s and 90s, and her daughter Katrina was a fixture in the shop in her formative years. Katrina had gained a reputation for a slick mouth and a sharp tongue, traits cultivated and sharpened in her grandmother’s house as her mother and three aunts encouraged her to be outspoken and blunt.
Katrina and her reputation were popular amongst the locals in Liberty City. A majorette at Northwestern Senior High School (who was also voted best dressed) and a regular at Pac Jam, the teen club local rap legend Luke Campbell opened nearby, Katrina was known as the pretty, short-tempered girl willing to fight anybody who crossed her. She scared the girls who dared to oppose her and the boys who swooned for her.
Katrina harbored dreams of a career in the salon, and Vernesa enrolled her daughter into cosmetology school, after high school and in-between typical teenage jobs at places like UPS and AT&T. But tragedy struck when Katrina’s first boyfriend, Derek Harris, a local man seven years her senior, was murdered while sitting in a car with his friend. Katrina was devastated, staying in her room for days at a time listening to Whitney Houston records.
After his death, Derek’s younger brother Maurice Young and friend Ted Lucas remained close to Katrina, and helped her get through the agony of her loss. Around that time, Lucas founded Slip-N-Slide Records, and Young would become the label’s star, a rambunctious rapper by the name of Trick Daddy Dollars.
When Trick Daddy asked Trina to jump on “Nann Nigga” back in 1997, there is no way he could have expected what happened next, even with his confidence that she could do the job. During a six-hour recording session, she unleashed a raunchy, exuberant and ferocious verse, buoying the earworm that would launch them both into nationwide superstardom. Lucas immediately began working on a contract for her once the verse was recorded and, just like that, a legendary rap career had begun.
With just one verse, Trina gave a female voice to the Miami bass sound that had captivated the region and become South Florida’s identity for so many years. Only the men of Miami had enjoyed the splendor of the romps that served as the subject matter of nearly all their songs, until she unfurled x-rated bars like: “You don’t know nann hoe / That’ll keep it wet like me / Make it come back-to-back like me / Lick a nigga nut sack like me.” Trina, in just 16 bars, showed that women could live this lifestyle too, without shame, and flourish.
“Nann Nigga” became a hit almost the moment it was released 20 years ago on July 14, 1998. Trick Daddy immediately set off on tour, and brought Trina with him, even though she had never performed previously. To help shake her nerves off, Trick and Lucas threw her into the deep-end, suddenly performing the track at Trick’s birthday party in Miami before the tour, and practically pushing her on stage when it was her turn to rap. Trina was shocked to see women screaming her lyrics back at her, word for word, even though the track was just a few months old. That was all the motivation she needed.
From there, Trina was fast-tracked into her debut album Da Baddest Bitch, which leaned on the brazen standard she set on “Nann.” And the title was no accident, as she took the word bitch, which had been weaponized against women for years in rap, and made it her armor. Not only was she a bitch, she was the baddest bitch, and when she announced her presence on the bouncy, titular debut single, she proclaimed immediately: “I’m representing for the bitches.”
Unlike her peers and competitors, Trina was not a platinum-coated commercial success, but what she did for the culture and for the South may have been more important than any platinum plaque could ever be. She was the first female rapper to truly break out from the South. Yes, Mia X and Gangsta Boo were known commodities, and Missy Elliott’s Virginia roots technically make her Southern in some eyes. But Trina was different. She embraced and was fueled by all things Southern. Her thicker body made her stand out amongst the more svelte Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. The twang to her high-pitched voice made her unique every single time she hopped on a track. The provocative content that erupted out of her every time she graced a record was Miami to the core.
The album’s second single, “Pull Over,” (and Trina’s first foray into Billboard’s Hot 100) was even truer to her Miami roots and the erotic, 808-driven sound that was the region’s staple than any of her previous records. The blaring, uptempo number showcased Trina firing off rapid-fire one-liners like, “This ass even make Black Robb say ‘Whoa.’” The song solidified Slip-N-Slide’s princess as a bonafide star and not some flash in the pan.
Da Baddest Bitch went gold as praise was heaped upon the successful debut. Entertainment Weekly gave the album an A-, writing, “Trina boldly positions herself as the new queen of randy hip-hop tales in which sex is a contact sport played by rival genders” and that she “shows that she’s as skilled at speaking truths as she is at hawking fantasies.” Billboard lauded her, saying Trina “proudly carries the torch lit by female MCs like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown before her, as an artist not afraid to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants.” Last year, The Ringer named Da Baddest Bitch one of the 20 greatest Southern rap albums ever, ahead of classics from legends like Master P and Future.
The impact of Trina’s debut was lasting, empowering women in a way that laid the tracks for the modern era of femininity, where women embrace their sexuality and spit in back in the face of those who feel they should tone it down. Trina did all of that in a world that had yet to openly accept women as they are, a world where many were scared that that type of openness could hold women back. Oozing confidence and a rebellious spirit, Trina made it. Not only did her sexuality and frankness propel her to success, but it also showed other women that they could follow her lead.
Trina took those conversations she heard in the salon all those years ago, and brought them to the mainstream. She spoke how women spoke when they were amongst friends, freed from the shackles of societal standards, but did it in front of the world. The woman Katrina from the salon had grown into used that sharp tongue and slick mouth she’d spent so many years honing, and that encouragement to speak her mind, and did all of that and then some. She was bold, brash and daring to the outside world. But to those who knew better, she was just Trina, and she was real.
For her second album, 2002’s Diamond Princess, Trina came armed with more freedom from her label and spread her wings, sans Trick Daddy for the first time in her career. Missy Elliott lent a hand in production, as did the likes of Kanye West, Just Blaze, Cool & Dre, Jim Jonsin and more. Stars like Fabolous, Eve, Ludacris and more made guest appearances, and Trina even introduced the world to a beard-less Rick Ross on the album’s first single, “Told Y’all.” It all signaled growth from a woman who was starting to become marginalized as little more than a dirty mouth and a big butt. With another 500,000 records sold, Trina’s spot near the top of the female rap hierarchy was cemented.
Now famous, her life became tabloid fodder. She had a much-publicized, on-again, off-again relationship with Lil Wayne that featured an engagement, several breakups, matching tattoos, a pregnancy, a miscarriage and even energetic lead single “Don’t Trip” for her third album, Glamorest Life. Even with Wayne scorching at the time and ascending to superstardom, the single failed to make much headway commercially. It was only when Trina switched gears, and played a new role as the jilted lover on “Here We Go” with Kelly Rowland that she truly reached her commercial zenith.
Thanks to a solemn chorus from Rowland, a Force M.D.’s sample that transcended eras, and piercing lyrics from Trina, she finally scored her first and only Top 40 hit. “Here We Go” peaked at No. 16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and helped push her Glamorest Life to No. 11 on Billboard’s albums chart. With a new touch of vulnerability both in her public life and in her music, Trina was reaching new heights almost a decade into her career and showed no signs of slowing down.
Her fourth album, Still da Baddest, was Trina’s first-ever Top 10 debut, hitting No. 6 on Billboard’s albums chart and topping the Hip-Hop chart. The follow-up, Amazin’, was the greatest testament to her longevity in a genre that typically only allows one woman to flourish at a time. Twelve years into the career she stumbled into, Trina now had more albums than nearly all of her contemporaries she was constantly compared to. Eve, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Remy Ma and more had all failed to release a fifth album. Even Missy Elliott with her six albums called a halt to her own run before reaching a decade in the industry.
Trina promised a sixth album, The One, and has remained active and maintained a constant presence within the industry in the eight years since Amazin’. She’s released a steady stream of mixtapes and guest appearances, was the star of Love & Hip Hop: Miami this year, and there are talks of a joint album with Trick Daddy, titled TNT.
It’s been 20 years since Trina relented to Trick Daddy’s requests and decided to give him the female perspective he desperately needed on “Nann.” Perhaps Trick got more than he bargained for. It sure looks like that in the video for the song, where he stands in shock as Trina bursts on the scene right in front of his eyes.
But that one chance was all Trina needed to change the climate of the industry, and redefine what a woman could be in the world of rap, and in the world in general. Trina demanded equality long before Amber Rose was organizing marches through the streets of Los Angeles, long before Miley Cyrus was trying to #FreeTheNipple, long before Beyonce shouted that girls run the world. In a world where any other rapper was more likely to call her a bitch than her name, she declared herself the baddest bitch, and for 20 years nobody has dared to dispute that.
Trina is an original, a daring feminist, a courageous innovator and an icon. It’s time we gave her her roses.
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