From the opening hook of Trip Carter’s “True” you get the sense that the rapper operates differently than his peers. After all, how many artists would begin what may well be their breakout track singing from the perspective of a girl calling them out for misrepresenting the truth?
Carter, who studied jazz at USC and moonlights as a session bassist, is a thorough songwriter both sonically and thematically. While many modern rappers laze in and out of melodic phrases, he pivots between sung and rapped cadences with confidence and precision as you can hear on tracks like “Finito” and “Glide” from his 2017 project Oasis.
The visuals for “True” force us to confront the idea that perception isn’t always reality, as the rapper flits across different digital landscapes, and in the end is left shrugging in front of a green screen. Directed by Glassface, who also helmed Tobi Lou’s “Troop” and Lil Yachty’s "BOOM!” the video unravels in time with Carter recounting the argument at its center.
There’s a definite sense of California cool with the lightness of his singing, but Carter’s flow is malleable enough to ride heavier beats when called upon. Never one for facades, Carter’s music is vulnerable and occasionally self-effacing, and on “True” he shows his breezy charisma and muscular delivery atop sparse drums and tiny clusters of bright guitar.
“I try to be as transparent and honest as I can in my music, and I really just can’t sit where I live, or be as broke as I am or have been, and then pretend like I’m really on,” he explains. “It guts me in the soul a little bit. I want to be relatable, too, because I feel like it’s way more relatable.”
With more new music on the way, we talked to Carter about his brand new video, how his jazz chops have helped him as a songwriter, and his goal of crafting left-field tracks that still knock on the radio.
You play bass professionally and studied music in college, right?
Yeah, I went to USC on a scholarship for jazz, graduated—which was crazy—and I’ve been working like that ever since. I went in studying jazz because it’s basically the foundation of music in general, I wasn’t trying to be a jazz musician. I’ve never been like, “I want to be a jazz musician.” But I knew that if I knew enough about it I could play and make anything musically, so I was really just trying to get my bars up on music.
You and I were born around the same time, and in the early 2000s there wasn’t as much going on in hip-hop on either coast, so it feels like now there’s a generation of artists from New York and L.A. who don’t make music that sounds very regionally specific.
I think it’s a weird middle area to be born, because it’s at the tail end of the ‘90s, and then the early 2000s weren’t fully where music is right now. And then as like, Drake and Cole and Kendrick and all them came up we were still kids, and they’re definitely influential to this generation as well, so it’s kind of crazy.
When did you start making music that you feel is consistent with what you’re putting out now?
I started rapping casually in high school, then I started recording and really taking it seriously when I was 19 or so. That was when I really started making songs and stuff, so it’s been three or four years since I’ve really been doing it like that.
You obviously have a lot of technical musical knowledge but you don’t really produce your own tracks, correct?
I’m really more of the songwriter than the producer type. I let my homies who have the producing chops really get in there, I just think that my music background helps me be able to articulate better what I want when it comes to making production changes and what kind of vibe I’m going for and stuff like that. I’m not out here really producing all my stuff like that. I focus on the craft.
What do you mean when you say that it helps you articulate better? Could you expand on that?
When I was first starting to write songs, I was 16 or 17. I was in a band, so I was writing with instruments, and I think that’s where my writing ability comes from, is because I just wrote hundreds and hundreds of indie and soul songs, playing bass and playing piano or guitar—not that I’m really good at those instruments. I think that really helped me hone my songwriting ability so much, that aspect of actually being able to play an instrument.
On songs of yours like “True” and “Shirtless” I think it’s notable that you rap about relationship issues while making sure to hold yourself accountable for the situations you describe. Not just in hip-hop, but in all genres really, there tends to be a degree of one-sidedness.
I want to show that there are two sides to every story and I can be a scumbag sometimes, I feel like, it’s not all one way or the other. It’s usually somewhere in the middle. So I definitely try to see things from the other perspective when it comes to things and try to incorporate that, because I also don’t want to come off as too much of an asshole, too. [LAUGHS.]
The different textures and backgrounds in the “True” video were really fascinating, could you tell me how they help tell the story of the song?
The point of “True” is that she’s really trying to peel back the layers of who I am—said-anonymous female counterpart. She’s trying to figure out what’s going on, and I’m being very straightforward in my responses, but at the same time, there’s probably a little more to the situation [than I'm revealing]. She’s going to have a little more to feel about it, and I’m probably going to have more than what I’m saying to her to feel about it. I think the point of this video is really to be like, how real are you being? How true are you feeling about this? That’s the point of the green screen and all that kind of stuff, just playing on the idea of what you say versus what you mean versus how you feel.
“Primetime” is a track of yours that really resonated with me. The fact that you’re willing to admit that you’re grinding and don’t have it made yet is still refreshing.
I try to be as transparent and honest as I can in my music, and I really just can’t sit where I live, or be as broke as I am or have been, and then pretend like I’m really on. It guts me in the soul a little bit. I want to be relatable, too, because I feel like it’s way more relatable. I feel like more people are like, “Oh yeah, [some other rapper] is flexing. That’s dope. I’m not going to take away from that at all, but at the same time, here’s this rapper who’s probably in a similar situation that I’m in right now and is being super honest about it.” I think that shit is what really hits people.
Another song I dug was “Wristwatch,” which deals with that very universal feeling of trying to accomplish your goals while feeling the pressure of time. As someone who’s maybe a little older than a lot of rappers coming into the game now do you feel any added pressure?
I still have a lot of friends who are younger than me and are doing similar things to me, but it’s hard to not compare yourself to other people, and that’s something I really struggle with and try to keep in my lane. I’m 23, I’m not old. But then I’m like, There’s kids who are on and still in high school.
That shit definitely makes me feel old, definitely makes me feel pressure to get on, because there are some people who are just done by 23 in this day and age. They come in super hot at 16 or 17, but by the time they’re my age they’re not with it anymore. I’m definitely feeling that pressure, but at the same time trying my best to look at my path and I know that everybody’s path is different. That’s something my mom always tells me, just to try and stay focused on my own wave.
How would you compare yourself to the current crop of music coming out of Los Angeles? How do you think your sound differs and what do you think you add?
I don’t think that I sound much like anything in L.A., though I’m sure there’s a little bit of West Coast influence subconsciously. I think that what I really try to aim to make is unique sounding hits and bangers. I’m trying to carve that lane out of picking eclectic beats, but still writing radio-ready tracks. I’m trying to make the big jams, but make them unique. I don’t want to follow a wave or try to do anything that’s hot right now, I just want to create a sound that is unique in its own right, but still universal enough, especially with the songwriting, to carve that little lane out. [I want to be] somewhere between the mainstream and the Soulection-type shit that’s coming out and how everybody is getting on the R&B wave.
If you had to recommend one Trip Carter track to bring someone up to speed who hasn’t heard your music yet, which would you choose?
I think you should just listen to “True” and the rest of the songs I have coming up this summer. “True” especially though is a great sum of everything that is Trip Carter in terms of my vibe sonically and my vibe conceptually.