What's Happening in Atlanta? Trinidad James and the City's New Rap Scene

What's Happening in Atlanta? Trinidad James and the City's New Rap SceneTrinidad James performs at Santos Party House in NYC; Photography by Lavonda Manning

 

At the top, of course, Atlanta has had a banner year. Two of the genre’s biggest stars were 2 Chainz and Future, both of whom dominated airplay nationally. Waiting in the wings is Young Scooter, a street rapper and member of Future’s Free Bandz imprint. With tracks like “Colombia,” standout Zaytoven collaboration “Fake Rappers,” and a fair amount of local buzz, plus high-profile collaborations with Gucci Mane, he could end up taking big steps in the next year.

 

Whether Trinidad James lives up to the promise of his $2 million Def Jam deal is an open question, but whether he succeeds could tell us a lot about Atlanta's place in the coming decade.

 

But for now, 2 Chainz and Future have split the throne as Atlanta’s reigning ascendant stars. It’s an unusual situation; relative to past dominant Atlanta rap artists, they have small-scope personas. Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy and T.I. were, comparatively, artists that fans became invested in as characters. Future’s fan base loves his songs, but his on-record persona is more as auteur than actor, and 2 Chainz, likeable and charismatic as he is, retains a fairly single-dimensional public persona.

It seems little wonder, then, that so many people have latched onto Trinidad James. Atlanta is a town with a major industry, but a vacuum for a major star, and James has a larger-than-life charisma and timely Internet-friendly appeal. But it might be too early to call anything Trinidad’s for the taking; recall that Pill’s hype began on the back of a Motion Family video, as well.

Whether James lives up to the promise of his $2 million Def Jam deal is an open question, but whether he succeeds could tell us a lot about Atlanta's place in the coming decade. Like much of the New Atlanta movement, it’s more about shifting power structure in the hip-hop world. Going viral and rubbing shoulders with New York publications has renewed importance for some artists, and opens up a lane to many others.

What was called the Atlanta sound in the past has long been an amalgamation of talents drawn to the city’s industry. Zaytoven is from the San Francisco Bay Area, Lex Luger is from Virginia, and Drumma Boy is from Memphis. As it turns out, the producer who created Trinidad’s biggest hit is from Mississippi.

A 28-year-old husband and father of three, Devon Gallaspy works in construction and as a forklift operator in Jackson, Mississippi. In his free time, he made beats as producer M.E. for a few local artists. “Guys haven’t really gotten nowhere yet. They’re in the process of doing things, in my city, Jackson, and a couple of guys from New Orleans,” he says.

He’d produced on and off for eight years, primarily using Fruity Loops, and at one point uploaded a zip file of his beats to DatPiff after a friend recommended the site to him. He designed cover art: “It said 'Beats' and had a lot of single letters—I designed it like that just to get attention to it. So I had a model, a bikini model, and turned the picture upside-down in black and white, and just put it in there. Because, you know, somebody’s always gonna look at a woman.”

A few months later, Gallaspy was riding in the car with his wife on his way to his brother-in-law’s house when he heard a familiar song on the radio. “When I was hearing it, I was like, ‘I wonder who that is on that old song.’ Because it was familiar to me. Then I turned it up, started listening to the sound of it, I said, ‘Aw naw, this can’t be, this my beat!’” Trinidad James’ cousin had pulled the tape from DatPiff, and “All Gold Everything” was born. 

The producer is happy with how it turned out: “As far as the outcome of it, the status of the song and how people are reacting, I’m more proud of him. I’m proud of him to take that beat and do what I wanted to be done with it anyway.  Somebody to get on it and go hard. The song is made exactly how I made it. Quick fast, say what you’re going to say and get off of it. That’s what he did, struck hard and got off of it. Also, with his style and the way he presents himself, they respected the beat more because of that. Like, this dude is killing them with one verse, who does that?”

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