Atlanta snaggletoothed rapper Trinidad James is out with a new music video shot on Jefferson Avenue in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Bold move.
You'll recall that late last year James got run out of New York the morning after he performed at the launch of Converse's CONS Holiday collection in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where James punctuated his late, winded set with a rant about how secondary (to Atlanta, L.A., and Chicago) the New York rap scene is, and has been since Drake's debut in 2009.
"We," meaning Atlanta, "run y'all musically," James said.
Just a couple months prior to his Brooklyn faux pas, James released his sophomore tape, 10pc. Mild—a modest but distinct maturation from the "South Atlanta Bathrooms" of yore. If Don't Be S.A.F.E. was scatter-snare club pandering and ratchet Playstation soundtracking, 10pc. Mild was all that plus a persona's point-of-view. "I do this for my mama; I don't do this for you niggas." (I'll say, for my own mother, I've occasionally done better than strip club promo, but then I've also done much worse.)
Trinidad James isn't dumb, he's not entirely hopeless, but he is a trivial sort of riddle. His quirk is more dynamic than Soulja Boy's. He's slicker and more articulate than Quan. He's nearly as bizarro as Lil B but with a certain, grown, befuddled charisma that sounds quite like a stand-up half-hour from Mike Epps. Such comedy cut with stark pronouncements of #weirdo theory and hangover fatalism. “South Atlanta Bathrooms” opens with a credit to Public Enemy's Professor Griff. Don’t Be S.A.F.E. winds down to a skit about nooses.
However competitive last year was among the album artists—Kanye, Jay, Drake, Pusha, J. Cole, Wale, et al.—2013 was wide open for Trinidad James to prove himself as talent beyond fluke; more than just a one-hit wonder. Jeezy, T.I., and 2 Chainz all hoisted some of their big homie weight onto James' shoulders, which buckled, of course. 10pc. Mild, released in August, was hardly as star-studded as the "All Gold Everything" remix but the groundwork for a street single or two was there, with verses from Gucci, Quan, and Danny Brown; and beats from Young Chop, Childish Major, and Travis $cott. The stage was set; the mics were hot.
Yet ever since he defied proper etiquette of hospitality upon showing his ass to that crowd in Brooklyn, the programming crews at Hot 97 and Power 105 have blacklisted Trinidad James, $2 million Def Jam contract or no. "Def Jam" has a bananas hook, "Ea$tside" is a minor posse miracle, and you'll hear neither of them on hip hop radio in New York, which is abruptly less encouraging upon realization that Hot and Power will just be looping Future instead.
These days, there's a unanimous groan from Southern emcees that have, for years, felt some kinda way about New York's having slept on Outkast until it was too late. In the war of North vs. South, Trinidad James isn't the first to owe amends. Most recently, we've seen 2 Chainz throwing shots at Funkmaster Flex. Wale throwing shots at, well, everyone. Jays Electronica and Cole would like a word, as well. On “Mt. Olympus,” Big K.R.I.T. recently vented on behalf of the corn-bred vs. New York tastemakers:
"Now they wanna hear a country nigga rap; / 5 albums in, I swear a country nigga snap; / Thought they wanted trap, thought they wanted bass, / Thought they wanted molly, thought they wanted drank; / Fuck them niggas!"
Well, fuck you, too, Charlamagne might say—to Trinidad James, at least. In New York hip hop’s present, distressed context, trap clappers like James and Quan and Migos aren’t the competition legends like 50 Cent deserve—but, they are the musical foils that may well enrage New York’s various key players back into fighting shape. Old Man Ebro has suffered two-plus years of audience complaints that Hot 97 doesn’t put on hard enough for local artists, especially the up-and-coming youngins, and even the hometown heroes. When 2 Chainz steps to a Hot 97 studio mic to spit a 100 percent ‘meh’ freestyle, that’s all the more provocation for Troy Ave and Styles P to slap their foreheads and wonder, Where’s the love for your boy? Everyone’s disgruntled, somewhat unproductively. The southern superstars are above such internecine bickering, e.g., T.I. ain’t been bothered since he first went platinum in ‘05. But among the newcomers and sophomores, the latest chapter of North vs. South is a battle for hip hop’s commercial identity, if not its soul.
So here we have Trinidad's "Def Jam" video, a regional gesture of goodwill from one sore jackpot winner who's now conspicuously missing his jewels. Self-professed Thugnificent may have rented a street team for a day and prayed to Maino for safe passage between J train stops, but the fact that James still thinks he’s mired in this beef doesn't bode well. I'd imagine that Ebro and Charlamagne would see the video as a sign of weakness, if anything. In its three minutes of corner boy flexing, the only visual more uncanny than Trinidad James rocking coked out vampire lens is Trinidad James spitting from a brownstone stoop. Note that homeboy's chain is tucked.
Justin Charity is a fiction writer and freelance struggle correspondent. He tweets as @BrotherNumpsa.