Like every story, most cities have two sides. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our nation’s capitol and its surrounding ’burbs, where the line between the rich and poor is at its most rigid. This divide extends to the hip-hop community where Wale and Tabi Bonney have made national inroads with their brand of upwardly-mobile rap, while the city’s street scene has yet to produce a significant local hero. There, go-go still reigns as the dominant local music, and gentrification fragments any semblance of a gangsta rap scene. But it’s this chaos that birthed Fat Trel, an undeniable talent who could very well grow to be the city’s own brash and hedonistic d-boy champion—if not a more multifaceted rap hero. “I want the [DC area] to know that they got a voice from the street side,” Trel says. “I want to motivate the thugs.”
Twenty-year-old Fat Trel bears all the signposts of a Northeast DC native, slurring hard “ar”s into “urrs” (“urrybody”) and donning the archetypical uniform—dread-headed and in a North Face jacket (if not completely shirtless). When he rhymes he does so with a singular focus reminiscent of “the greats,” his piercing green eyes deaden and his whole body becomes a vessel for his calculated blur of words. If your man got grams, my goons gonna eat/ Run up in the trap smack him out with the heat/ Leave his brains on the bed and his clothes on the street/ Give him concrete feet. But his meditation is strangely contagious. “Everybody says, ‘Listening to Fat Trel make me wanna smack a nigga,’” he says. “My attitude and my performance make you want to knock a nigga out then make you want to go grab your bitch and fuck her in the bathroom at the club. That’s what I do.”
Trel’s recent April Foolz mixtape is a stacked, 20-track energy burst in the Waka Flocka vein. Even Flocka architect, Lex Luger, contributes two tracks, placing Trel firmly on the short list of rappers who possess the vocal capacity to ride the producer’s riotous tracks. But unlike many of his post-crunk peers, Trel is as much about the lyrics as he is about the attitude. He’s not just a street rapper, he’s a street rapper with a knack for storytelling and a sometimes sensitive side. Rattling off a list of lyrically leaning and similarly emotive gangsta rappers as influences, Trel says that it was his father’s amateur freestyles that first inspired him. By his teens, he was hitting the uptown open mic circuit and was discovered by the Wale-affiliated collective, the Board Administration. The BA promoted Trel’s previous tape, No Secrets, only to drop him unceremoniously by way of a vague press release on the eve of April Foolz’ release.
Though confused by the split, Trel remains on good terms with Wale and seems liberated to return to a purely grassroots hustle. When we speak on the phone he’s headed out to Northern Virginia to hand out mixtapes at a local high school. Later that night, he’ll open up for Waka Flocka and undoubtedly hand out more. He’s banking, perhaps wisely, on the cumulative effect of these small steps. “The South got the game in they palm right now, but it’s all about to change,” he says, hinting at a planned dominance not unlike the South’s own takeover in the late ’90s. “DC rap is becoming a problem.”