All red green and gold everything?
It's been a year and a half since Trinidad James shocked the world with his breakout hit "All Gold Everything." The track off his Don't Be S.A.F.E. mixtape went on to be certified gold (what else?), crack the Top 40 on Billboard's Hot 100, and helped Trinidad land a $2 million deal with Def Jam, becoming CEO of Gold Gang records.
But since that time we haven't heard much from the young ATL rapper. So it was cool to catch up with him at the Red Bull Guest House in Miami Beach during the Winter Music Conference. Rocking a Rasta-colored knit tam, Trinidad performed with Diplo at the Mad Decent pool party and then sat down with Reshma B to discuss his Trinidadian roots, his forthcoming album (and the reggae album he's got in the chamber), and why he's not a one-hit wonder—although he doesn't think he'll ever top that first big hit.
I see you came out in your Rasta hat. Can we address that?
It just keeps my hair down. I got a love for the [Caribbean] and Africa. It just means strength and power. That’s why I enjoy it so much.
Let’s get into that. Your name is Trinidad James—so you’re actually from Trinidad?
Yeah, I was born in Trinidad, in Tobago actually. I just came back from Carnival about three weeks ago or a month ago. It was the best experience of my life.
You really can’t top that song. ["All Gold Everything"] is timeless.
So you left Trinidad a long time ago?
I did. I went back the last two years—last year and this year. It just feels good to go back and get love and respect from the people because they look at me as a representative of Trinidad. That’s why I try to go hard. That keeps me motivated to just be as great as I can be out here in the States.
There are few rappers, like A$AP Ferg, who are from Trinidad.
His grandpa is. I don’t think Ferg is, but his grandpa is from Trinidad.
Let’s talk about some hip-hop stuff. Do you have stuff lined up for 2014?
Yeah, definitely. I’m working on my album everyday. It’s basically done. Just getting the business part of it correct so that I can get a release date. It’s really, really good.
Do you feel the pressure of topping “All Gold Everything”?
You really can’t top that song. That song is timeless.
I’m glad you said it and not me.
I feel that for me personally. I just do music. I make good music. I didn’t make the song like, “This going to be the biggest song in the world.” I was just making music. I feel like when you chase something, it makes it harder for you to get it. I feel like you only get in life what you deserve. If I don’t top it with anything else, it’s not my fault. I didn’t make it go platinum or go gold. I didn’t put a gun to 500,000 people’s head and say, “Listen to this, this is the greatest.”
As far as my album goes, it’s me, once again, just being different. You’re going to see the reflection of everywhere I’ve been and the places I enjoyed the most. I’m well-traveled and I feel really good about life. I take care of my family, my mom is happy, she’s very proud of me. My friends definitely look up to me, they are my biggest fans. I just want to make sure I keep them happy, keep my integrity, and just make good music.
You have had so much success with that one song really early on in your career. What happens to artists when they get such a tremendous amount of success and people throw it away and go, “Oh well that just could potentially become a one-hit wonder situation.”
“All Gold Everything” was just so hard that people made it mainstream because it was so dope. That's why I say all I can do as an artist is really just make the music. At the end of the day, if I have another No.1, well, then, boom. But as far as “All Gold Everything,” I’m not going to top that. Let’s say my album goes platinum, it’s still not going to top “All Gold Everything.”
How do you keep so chill?
A lot of times pressure only comes with how much pressure you put on yourself so I don’t put that much pressure on myself. I can’t really put pressure on myself because I only do music when I feel inspired to do it. As far as, “This is a hit. This is No. 1,” dude, who knows? It’s good music, somebody’s going to enjoy it and that’s all I give a crap about.
And if you’re enjoying it, right?
Yeah, definitely. I started listening to Lady Gaga’s new album and it was really dope; when I started listening to it I felt the urge on the plane over here to Miami to go listen to my album. I just wanted to go back and listen to it because it’s not like everybody else’s album and to me that’s a good thing. From a business standpoint we don’t know if it’s good or bad because it’s the people who buy the albums. For me personally, I can tell you personally that it’s jamming, it’s not anything that you’ve heard this year—and I’m speaking from a hip-hop standpoint.
Do you have any collabs on the album?
Yeah. I’m not really big on—
Yeah. My album is just me because I make good music. I’m my own entity. When you say Trinidad James you don’t think of any other artist. I felt like I didn't have to beg or really reach out like, “Oh, please. I really need this feature or that feature.”
Can you give us one name?
Can’t do it.
We did most of the production. It’s a really in-house project. I worked with Dallas Austin.
What was that like?
He’s wonderful. He’s a musical genius. I know how music sounds. Everything for me is how it sounds, I didn’t go to school for anything [Laughs] so I don’t know anything as far as what this is called or that—nothing. I only know what music sounds like. I’m a sonic person. I work straight sonically. If it flows it goes. Working with him he helps me to understand music because he knows it so well.
You started as an underground artist, but as you make more hits and make more money, is it harder and harder to keep it real?
Yeah but you’ve got to think about it, every artist is different and don’t get me wrong, $5 million later I’ll always be the same person, but you know the setting changes on certain things. I’m still going to pull up in the hood, but it don’t make sense for me to be always hanging in the hood. My life is based off of just how real I’ve been keeping it since I was 20 years old, with everybody. At the end of the day, whatever I tell you is going to be the truth and it’s going to be my honest opinion about how I feel.
I’m not big on sparing people’s feelings or any, it’s not my way. Nobody ever did it for me while I was coming up so I don’t really know how to do that or feel the need to because I know how to talk to people respectfully. I feel like a lot of the problems in life stem from how you talk to people, not really what you say, but your cadence and the way you say it or the timing. Timing is everything.
Do the girls act differently now?
Women can know you have money and don’t want you for the money. They [can] want you for you, but if you set your life up to be wanted because you have money then women will consistently want you because you have money. If you set your life up [differently] a woman will be able to tell.
For a person like myself, it has worked in my favor because it’s like, you wasn’t getting money from me, but we can have a good time. Everybody’s different, every artist is different. There’s a saying: “It ain’t tricking if you got it.” That’s a valid statement. To each his own. If you like to pay for it, then pay for it. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t like to then you don’t have to. For me, personally, a lot of people put restrictions and limits on life and for me I kind of just live it because that’s the only reason why you’re here.
I do my own reggae tracks that are amazing. They’re super good but I haven't released them yet. I think one day I might just go on tour in small places and perform them with a band because they’re so good. Oh God, they’re so good.
I’m curious about you being on the Mad Decent showcase. Are you working with Diplo?
I’ve been cool with Diplo forever. I’ve worked with some of the people at the Mad Decent camp and I would love to work with Diplo whenever the time is right, but one thing I never do is rush music. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, well, hey, it didn’t. I’m just happy that we have a good relationship and that’s what matters to me.
Coming off the original conversation we had about the carribean flavor. Do you have any love for dancehall music?
Yeah I’m just a huge lover of music. My catalog consists of everything. I’m probably one of the biggest Bob Marley fans ever to live on this Earth.
Really? What’s your favorite Bob song?
For me, “Waiting in Vain.” That’s my favorite song from Bob Marley, but I just love his interviews. I love the type of spirit that he carried, the type of person that he was. That’s the type of person that I’d like to see myself in 10 years. Not really filthy rich, I really don’t care. I hate money, but just to feel like anytime you have a conversation with a person, they feel like you gave them money—I want to be like one of those of people, that’d be super rad for me.
If you could do a collab with someone within the reggae fraternity, do you have anyone in mind?
I would do music with his sons. I would do music with The Wailers. I do my own reggae tracks that are amazing. They’re super good but I haven't released them yet. I think one day I might just go on tour in small places and perform them with a band because they’re so good. Oh God, they’re so good. I really enjoy reggae. I enjoy reggae way more than rap anything. Reggae is just amazing. It allows you to be who you are and that’s the only reason I do music because it allows me to showcase who I am as a person. My fashion, my personality, everything that I enjoy as a human. I love music and why not have your own soundtrack to your own life.