Edgewood Avenue, the epicenter of the A3C festival. For four days it was the strip that never sleeps, where loud packs are sold in quiet whispers and you walked on mixtapes instead of concrete.
A million rappers marched between traffic as if their dreams made them invincible to Civics and Camrys. I witnessed trucks equipped with speakers trying to break through the sounds of endless chatter, attempting to gain attention, to halt the never-ending motion. Motion defines my weekend, to be still meant something was missed – a performance, an interview, a fight, all around life was climaxing and the eruption would wait for no man. Walking to the festival grounds I heard a familiar voice, southern and slick, he spoke with the charisma of a pimp and the knowledge of a pastor, surprisingly the man embodies a bit of both.
The man was Trinidad James.
The first time we met was in 2012, I was behind a Nikon 5100 documenting a weekend of madness with my favorite painter/tattoo artist Paper Frank. It was my first and only documentary, one that I will spend the remainder of my life wishing I could do over. Following Frank is like chasing a rock star, he parties under the moonlight and greets the sunrise blending colors to complete canvases. We didn’t really sleep, naps were taken and the rage continued. At some party, I came across a man dressed for fashion week. I didn’t know what was brighter, the colors of his clothes or the gold jewelry that he wore. He was impossible to overlook. I wasn’t into the downtown scene, I never shopped at Ginza, I had no idea who he was. Our introduction was a quick one, we would once again run into each other at the exhibition, and not once did he mention that he rapped or had a mixtape coming soon. Even while on camera, he never pitched his music. Two months later I saw his face on 2DopeBoyz for the release of Don’t Be Safe. It was the first and only time that I came across a rapper that didn’t introduce himself as a rapper. That moment has stuck with me.
On this day, three years later, he wasn’t flashy, he stood on a congested corner in a black hoodie, the only gold I recall seeing was when he spoke. He was in the middle of a conversation, speaking in-between what seems to be an endless amounts of daps. I watched and waited. I’m a fan of chance encounters, impromptu meetings with people I’ll never see again. There was nothing I wanted, no pressing question that I've been waiting a lifetime to ask, it was like meeting that senior from high school that graduated when you were a freshmen. He seemed more like a familiar face than someone famous, I guess that’s all famous people truly are. A woman approached the man he was speaking to, I took that opportunity to approach him and ask about his show the previous night. A giant benefit concert for Kenya, all proceeds went toward the families of the victims from the 147 Garissa University College tragedy. Everyone from Rich Homie Quan to Ryan Leslie was on the bill. I don’t know if that’s common knowledge, if there was any blog coverage it’s been minimum. The articles and cameras only come out for the foolishness, but that’s nothing new. He seemed pleased and proud of the turnout, but you could tell his mind was focused on how to continue raising awareness and raising money for the cause. The GoFundMe he started has raised $2,000 so far, a good start but still a long way from the $147K goal.
Our conversation segued into his thoughts on Atlanta. Breaking down the hustler spirit that embodies the ambition that exists in the city and how it continues to push the youth into being influencers, not just the influenced. He speaks like a man that has spent a lifetime in this city, going back to the days of BMF and their lasting impact on the culture as the beginning of an era. He stressed how everyone is in some way motivated to be “that nigga” but not completely aware what it truly means. It’s more than being able to stunt on the next man. He had an incredible metaphor for the culture in relation to an open pot where ingredients are constantly being added and subtracted but the pot itself never changes. If my journalistic senses were functioning a recorder would’ve been pulled out, but I hate to soil a very candid conversation by trying to capture the moment.
From there I mentioned his move to California, a move that I was surprised by. Atlanta loved Trinidad long before “All Gold Everything,” even if the hits stopped, the people would embrace him all the same. Every passing person stopped and acknowledged him, why leave behind all this admiration? His answer surprised me. He said moving to California was about leaving his comfort zone, that Atlanta was a place he couldn’t grow artistically. He stressed creative growth. Comfort is a trap that will hold you captive if allowed. Escaping to California also opened his eyes, a change of location changed his perspective. He was able to see Atlanta and himself from a different vantage point. He isn’t the same person he was three years ago, even back then, there was more to Trinidad Jame$ than a catchy song.
He was absolutely right, comfort is a curse and any artist that accepts good enough will never be great. It caused me to reflect on my own zones of comfort and how I could be stunting my growth by not taking more risk. He never stopped talking, despite the influx of people greeting him, he never once ended this talk with a complete stranger. I thanked him, walking away only because the chat would only continue and I didn’t want to hold his attention any longer. It's weird how after you interact with someone, you’re flooded with things you would like to ask. Like his role in Childish Gambino’s Clapping For The Wrong Reason, if he enjoyed the second season of Bojack Horseman more than the first, the direction his music was heading, and his thoughts on Kanye’s post-apocalyptic Jedi streetwear. Maybe next time. Regardless, I took a lot away from our chance encounter. It allowed me to see him from a different perspective. He isn’t a joke or some parody rapper that popped too many mollies and squandered his Def Jam deal. The person I spoke with was insightful, focused and adamant about leaving a positive impact. Unfortunately, he’s not always painted as such. People that are stuck on a song from three years ago don't expect him to be worried about artistic growth or the issues existing in Kenya.
The opportunity to speak with him was enlightening, stepping away from the internet and actually having a conversation with someone is healthy. You see the person for who they are and not who you assume they are. If Trinidad Jame$ is a shallow simpleton that is all about turning up that side never appeared on the sidewalk. Hopefully he can continue to grow artistically and be a voice that brings awareness to the issues plaguing the world.
For those that been paying attention, it’s well known that he hasn’t attempted to recreate the magic of "All Gold." A different path has presented itself, a path perhaps Trinidad was always on, long before the major label deal, and long before our paths crossed.