Like most kids growing up on the east coast during the ‘80s, I didn’t trust hip-hop coming out of anywhere South of New Jersey. Where we lived was where “real” hip-hop was being made, and the music coming out of Atlanta and Houston and Miami was so shallow we wouldn’t even call it hip-hop. (“That’s not hip-hop, that’s rap,” we’d say dismissively.”) But as I got older I realized that kind of geographic elitism didn’t just make me sound like a complete dick, it robbed me of some great music. From Scarface to Outkast to …
DJBooth Album Review
No one epitomizes my journey from stuck up, east coast underground elitist to Southern hip-hop supporter than Trae Tha Truth. Houston to the death, raspy voiced and with a hustler’s demeanor, it was easy to take a quick look at Trae and dismiss him as another hustler, but once I started to actually listen I found a rapper willing to touch on the full range of his life, and his new album Street King has sealed the deal for me. There will be a lot of people who don’t listen to it because they think they already know what it will sound like – Pyrex pots and candy slabs – but they’d only be half right.
Conveniently, at least for the premise of this review that I just set up, the album opens with Strapped Up, a Drumma Boy produced banger overflowing with black masks and fully loaded choppers and featuring a guest rapper named (no, I’m not making this up) Pyrexx. Strapped transitions immediately into the hustle or die Woke Up Early, which gives way to the Rick Ross assisted, ghetto opera Inkredible (Remix) and then to the hazy but still unstoppably paper stacking Getting Paid (I can’t get enough of Paid’s beat, by the way). To summarize, we’re four tracks into Street King and so far we’ve had our feet firmly planted on the streets the entire time. There’s nothing wrong with living on the streets, but, despite what the title might literally suggest, Trae can travel much further.
The songs above are a part of Trae, an essential part, but where he stands out from the generic hustler rap pack is his ability to be truly human, including his vulnerabilities, fears and regrets. Case in point, the subtly lush Life, which finds Trae stripping away the hustler glorification and revealing a dark inner life: “I try to be here for my son, he barely made it to five / everything fading away in the dark when I stop outside / I can’t see where to go I just hop in the car and drive.” That right there, that’s the kind of depth and lyricism a younger Nathan S. would have missed out on. And while there are certainly rap fans who are sleeping on Trae, his peers are wide awake. None other than Wyclef Jean joins him for the inspirational anthem Slum Religion, and lyrical heavyweights Lupe Fiasco, Wale and Big Boi all join him on the soulfully moving I’m On. That line-up right there should tell you something. Seriously, name another artist who could get Wyclef, Lupe, Wale, Shawty Lo and Yo Gotti on the same album? None of the artists I just mentioned could or would attract that diverse a range. But if, for some reason, even that’s enough to get you to take Street King seriously as a work of art, just listen to Not My Time and get back to me. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
The key, and the hard part, is to not divide Trae’s music into separate categories. He doesn’t make street rap or lyrical, emotional rap, he makes lyrical street rap, emotional hustler music. Like on the soulful That’s Not Luv (which Fabolous swacked for his Soul Tape), Trae’s more than capable of being more than one thing at the same time. He’s a complicated man, which is only right, because all real people are complicated. So I feel sorry for the elitists who aren’t going to give Street King a chance, I really am, because I used to be them. Trae tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when he’s rhyming and that’s something every hip-hop head should respect, no matter where you’re from.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 07/22/11
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