Over the weekend, in a tweet that's since been deleted, Trinidad James revealed that he's been dropped by Def Jam, his label home for the last two years (aka essentially his entire existence as an artist):
“I should tell yall. I got dropped by the Label. My Album is now free. If u hear ur beat or verse on it. I hope u want dap cuz i got no money” - @TrinidadJamesGG
While DJBooth Nation is of course far more sophisticated, by and large the reaction around the hip-hop corner of the internet has been the equivlanet of when a kid in class got called to the principal's office. "Oooooohhhhhh...Trinidad's in trouble....he's gonna get it." That gloating in James' failure is understandable, even beyond the New York City brouhaha he hadn't exactly endeared himself to the larger hip-hop community, but it's also short sighted. James didn't fail as an artist, not really. He failed to make money for a major label, which is a very specific and different thing.
In order to understand where things went wrong though, let's take a moment to remember how we got here.
A Super Abridged Trinidad James Timeline
- October 16, 2012: "All Gold Everything" video is released, Trinidad's name starts catching some buzz.
- December 7, 2012: Soul Khan and I speculate that he's a mindie* artist and is most likely already signed to a major label.
- December 13, 2012: Turns out we were completely fucking right. Def Jam announces they've signed James to a $2 million joint venture deal.
- August 13, 2013: Trinidad releases his "10 PC Mild" mixtape, it does very little.
- January-August of 2014: A smattering of songs and guest verses, but basically this.
- August 2, 2014: James is dropped by Def Jam.
And that right there is how you go from the next big thing to a cautionary tale in just under two years. But while Trinidad is far from blameless, ultimately he's the only one responsible for his career, if there's any take away lesson here, it's not "Trinidad James failed", it's "Def Jam probably shouldn't have signed James in the first place." If you know me, you know there's a sports analogy coming...
...somewhere in America right now there's an 8th grader with ridiculous game. (Sure enough, thanks to Google I know there is.) But even if it were allowed, an NBA franchise would have to be insane to put an 8th grader on the court against pros. No matter how talented they were, they just wouldn't have the experience and maturity to handle the game at that level, and there's a 99% chance they'd get dropped from the team within a couple years. And who's really to blame them in my completely hypothetical situation? The 8th grader, or the team that spent millions to put him on the court when any reasonable person would have said they're not ready?
And yet that's exactly what the major labels do, and have been doing for years. Before artists have had time to truly build loyal, stable fan bases who will support them, they're signed and told to go run with the big boys, to put up numbers against the Jay Zs and Drakes of the world. And then once it turns out they don't have the foundation to score at that level, they're labeled a bust and shipped out. When artists are signed off the success of one mixtape, often now off only the success of one song (and it's one of the first songs they've ever made), the odds are so stacked against them success is nearly impossible. But the label doesn't care. If an artist somehow beats the odds, great. If not, they'll wash their hands and it's onto the next. It's what has happened to countless artists in countless genres since the dawn of the moden music industry, it's what history tells us will most likely happen to Bobby Schmurda, and it's what happened to Trinidad James.
So what does the future hold for Trinidad? His time at Def Jam will most likely prove to be a double-edged sword. On the plus side, he's undeniably benefited from the exposure and contacts he's made. He's a household name in hip-hop now, and Def Jam's a big part of that. On the downside, it's going to be an uphill battle to ever become more than "the All Gold Everything" guy, or "that guy who got dropped by Def Jam", and that stigma can be stubbornly clingy. Just look at Asher Roth. He's been putting out lyrically complex music for almost eight years now, and he's still the "I Love College Guy" to most people.
So now it's back to laying down the groundwork for James, groundwork in retrospect he would have been better off doing before he ever signed a deal. I always heard more potential in him that just a catchy hook though. Hopefully now that he can get back to doing him we'll finally get to hear what he's truly capable of.
* A mindie artist is a seemingly indie artist who's secretly already signed to a major label.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]