Finding your voice as a writer often doesn’t just feel like an impossible task, but a suicide mission where a balance of charisma, thoughtfulness, and cleverness must be reached in perfect harmony.
The irony of a first draft, or the first time anyone is brave enough to put their skills to the test within a particular field, is that its entire purpose is to unearth one’s flaws. It’s why NBA rookies play Summer League games before their freshman season or why television networks film pilot episodes ahead of ordering an entire TV series. For many creatives, the magnetism and effectiveness of one’s own craft can only be contextualized by the shortcomings and dead ends that are learned along the way.
In hip-hop, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of an artist working his way through several first drafts than Atlanta’s own Trouble. Since releasing his breakout mixtape, December 17th, in 2011, Trouble’s artistic approach has toggled between imitating the region’s biggest rap acts and crafting a middling design of trap-themed bangers, while falling short of displaying unflinching conviction that he had his own unique voice. Despite the undeniable force of Trouble’s breakthrough hit, “Bussin',” his rap style throughout December 17th—as well as many of his following mixtapes—had the cadence of Plies, the bluntness of Waka Flocka Flame, and the pathos of Lil Scrappy, all without ever slowing down long enough to find his own lane.
In 2016, Trouble released Skoobzilla, the first project on his resume that showcased an artist who he had begun piecing together his own voice through trial and error. There was a newfound sense of comfortability in his writing and cadence. No longer was he tracing the blueprints of former Southern rap stars, but drawing his own renditions of art that inspired him.
Enter Trouble’s major label debut album, Edgewood, produced almost entirely by Mike WiLL Made-It, who recently signed the rapper to his Eardruma Records imprint. If there is one underlying theme throughout the 16-track album, which is billed a collaborative album between Trouble and WiLL, it’s patience. Everything from Trouble’s syrupy, undisturbed flow, gradually developed throughout his mixtape days, to Mike WiLL's confident, sinister production, feels refined from Trouble's mixtape days.
Take, for instance, the album's opening track, “Real Is Rare (Edgewood) / The Woods,” a song filled with energy that never quite explodes, where every dose of bravado and spirit is precisely measured. Lyrics like “Went and got a ticket bitch soon as I got out the prison" aren't thrown in the listener's face as much as they are dangled, piquing curiosity to have you stick around.
Most of Edgewood’s greatness derives from Trouble’s polished flow and cadence. He isn’t necessarily saying anything different on tracks like “Might Not” and “Knock It Down,” two of the album’s most haunting songs, but an effective writer must practice and develop how to get their point across as opposed to completely changing their perspective.
Trouble maintains a sense of composure throughout Edgewood, noticeably amplified by Mike WiLL's production work. Standouts like “My Boy” and “Kesha Dem” build like a spring rainstorm, rumbling in the distance until they casually coat Trouble’s verses. On “Kesha Dem,” the album’s best shot at a stream-era hit after lead single “Bring It Back,” the light piano keys tiptoeing in the backdrop never fully step into the light, instead haunting listener ears until the song's end. The reserved nature of the production, the calmness with which each track picks the lock rather than busting down the door, is a stark contrast to the work of a producer known for directing blockbusters.
Even moderate missteps on Edgewood feel productive. Drake’s verse on “Bring It Back” rips off Trouble's cadence, and The Weeknd ("Come Through"), Quavo, and Fetty Wap ("Rider") fail to establish any chemistry with the lead artist. All three records feel like valuable learning experiences, though. Had Trouble connected with artists to better magnify his own perspective, rather than utilizing A-list stars whose appearances almost feel larger than life, the project would have been more contained. Only Boosie Badazz ("Ms. Cathy & Ms. Connie"), who contrasts Trouble’s laid-back approach with his quintessential vigor, sounds like someone who would naturally appear throughout the Edgewood narrative.
Edgewood proves that finding your voice is not a direct route but a journey of trial and error, and that your best artistic self is often the one who’s too confident in the process to be anything but patient. Edgewood likely won't be named among the year's best projects, but it is consistently pleasurable, intriguingly dense and, more than anything, a promising foundation to build on.
3 Standout Tracks
Accompanied with looming, echoing chimes in the backdrop, “My Boy” is one of Trouble's loosest moments on the album, and feels like a perfectly measured amount of fun.
The way Mike WiLL’s production dances with Trouble’s whispering vocals could easily prove to be Edgewood’s best chance at a commercially viable hit song.
“Krew / Time Afta Time”
Found within the falling action of the album’s narrative span, “Krew / Time Afta Time,” is a one-two punch of in-your-face rap cuts that feel like the best versions of Trouble’s mixtape career.