Beats, rhymes and life are three of the corners where hip hop intersects. Few other TV shows have been able to cover all of these angles in-depth and authentically quite like REVOLT TV’s “Drink Champs,” which thrives on its candid conversations with the biggest and most influential figures in the game. In honor of such a one-of-a-kind show, REVOLT will be recapping each weekly “Drink Champs” episode, so you can always catch the gems that are dropped in each lit interview.
On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN chop it up with Trinidad James. Releasing his debut mixtape, Don’t Be S.A.F.E. (Sensitive As Fuck Everyday), in 2012, one song on the album, “All Gold Everything,” caught wildfire and led to James inking a multi-million dollar deal with Def Jam Records. Ultimately leaving the label without a studio album release, he has kept busy on the independent circuit. With a wealth of experience on both the major and indie sides of the rap coin, James drops various gems and shares a perspective that could only be gained firsthand from someone who lived to tell the story.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine things we learned from the Trinidad James “Drink Champs” episode. Take a look at them below.
1. On His Trinidadian Roots
Trinidad James is most often associated with Atlanta, but the rapper was actually born overseas and moved to the U.S. as an immigrant. I was born in Trinidad/Tobago, I came over here as an immigrant, no green card. My mother had to figure it out, my father had to figure it out, so having to do whatever we needed to do to take care of each other is something that we’ve always done,” he said.
2. On Dissing New York Radio
In 2013, James stirred the pot with his comments targeting New York City radio stations, which he claimed don’t support their homegrown talent as vigorously as southern artists like himself. While some New York artists perceived that appraisal as a diss, James sets the record straight. “The things that I said at that time were very true based on what I was hearing,” he explains. “‘Cause I was coming to New York City and I seen them play more of everybody else than the artists who I liked. At the time, Dave East was on his rise, but he was super dope to me. Joey Badass all these people were super dope to me, but I never heard them on New York radio and obviously, I’m hearing my song, I’m hearing the Migos, I’m hearing this and that.”
3. On T.I. and Jeezy Remixing “All Gold Everything” Without His Permission
Upon its release, “All Gold Everything” was one of the hottest records in the country, peaking at No. 6 on the Hot Rap Songs chart and reaching multi-platinum status. Its spawned a star-studded remix with rap heavyweights Jeezy, T.I., and 2 Chainz. “To be honest with you, I didn’t want to do a remix,” he shares. “Everybody else around me wanted to do a remix because they wanted to make money. For me, I love Tity Boi before he turned into 2 Chainz, I grew up on that. I love T.I., if I’m on island stuck for the rest of my life and I need to have ten songs, ‘24s’ is probably one of those songs. I grew up on the Jeezy that everybody loves, so my respect level is up the mountain. But, this is my journey. This is not their journey and they made it their journey... So, for me, it didn’t feel like the way that I wanted this to go and that was a hard lesson in the business, where it’s like, ‘These people are not your friends, bro.’ Me and T.I. are in a way better place now, but for the first beginning of my career, I really wanted to stay away from him ‘cause it didn’t feel that he had any respect for me.”
4. On Jeezy and T.I. Finessing Him Out Of $40,000
Another experience that soured him toward the music industry was an instance in which Jeezy and T.I. allegedly finessed him out of $40,000 out for their appearance in the “All Gold Everything” music video. “I got charged $40,000 in wardrobe, for their wardrobe, referring to Jeezy, Tip, and 2 Chainz,” James claims. “And if you go to 2013, you go look at the ‘All Gold Everything (Remix)’ [music video], look and see what T.I. wore, looked and see what Jeezy wore. Jeezy had on a Dickies suit and T.I. had on Hustle Gang, his own brand. Finessed me out of my own 40 bands out of my label budget. I had to pay forty for that? I’m a stylish dog before music. That burned my soul.”
5. On Creating The Buzz Around “All Gold Everything”
James’ arrival on rap radar came seemingly overnight. But, according to him, the hype surrounding “All Gold Everything” was the culmination of his years of networking as a stylist and Atlanta socialite. “I had to learn everything on the go,” he explains. “And I wanted to make sure that I played to my strongpoints, so vision and image were my strongpoints. I knew I had work to do on the music side of things, but the music had already proved that it can sell, obviously. I never put a gun to anybody head and said, ‘You need to listen to ‘All Gold Everything.’’ ...We literally just passed out a CD like, ‘Bro, check out my new stuff.’”
6. On Getting Respect From JAY-Z and Andre 3000
At the brink of a decade in the rap game, James voiced his gratitude for being able to sustain a viable career, as well as respect earn from elder statesmen like JAY-Z and Andre 3000. “Nine years might not be a lot in this game,” he begins. “But for me to still be here, it means a lot to me because every day, somebody counts me out...I still study and do my homework on the game because you have to...So, that is why I do my homework because I meet so many different brothers from the Playboi Cartis to Hov. I’ve met all of these people and got respect from all these people. Andre 3000...”
7. On Being Labeled A One-Hit Wonder
Having yet to exceed the commercial success of “All Gold Everything,” James has been labeled a one-hit wonder on numerous occasions. “When someone only has one hit that you know, then the science of it is you have one hit, but I have a lot of plaques,” he says. “How somebody looks at it is if you don’t have your own song plaques, then you’re only gonna get counted for the ones that are your song. So, August Alsina [“Luv This Shit”] that’s double platinum; “Work (Remix),” that’s double platinum; Bruno Mars, that’s diamond. That doesn’t count for hits for me because that’s their hit.”
8. On Diversity In Rap Music
At the height of his fame, James was pegged as a poster-child for what many perceived as the ills of radio-friendly rap, which was deemed detrimental to the overall health of the culture. However, he begs to differ. “We can’t depend on the best rappers to keep hip hop number one ‘cause they haven’t,” he argues. “When best rappers were the best rappers, hip hop wasn’t number one. When everybody became inclusive and everybody mattered, that’s when we became number one, so that’s what’s important. And this doesn’t take away from how great Kendrick Lamar can rap, or J. Cole or any of the niggas who can rap. It doesn’t take away from how Playboi Carti puts his songs together ‘cause we all are equally important. The number one thing that should be at the top of the pyramid is rap.”
9. On His Respect For Young Thug
During James’ ascent to the top of Atlanta’s rap food chain, he befriended fellow ATL rep Young Thug, who was also building a buzz at the time. “I knew that one of the most talented people in our city was Young Thug,” he says. “I’ve always been a person to [say], ‘I’ma do my own shows, I’ma put my money up and do my own shows.’ So, when I’d do my own shows and I’d book out a venue — when I started doing my own things — I reached out to people like him, like, ‘Yo, come to perform at my thing.’