Standing outside of Santos Party House last night, you'd think we were about to meet the president instead of see Trinidad James, an Atlanta rapper with one mixtape and a well-received single to his name. But this is nothing new. It's New York. It's the music industry hype cycle. Going to the first big show in New York by an exciting new artist is always hectic, not to mention the fact that, on the heels of ASAP Rocky, on the heels of Joey Bada$$, on the heels of Odd Future, people want to see what you've got going on before anyone else sees what you've got going on.
Trinidad James has what could end up being an actual megahit in "All Gold Everything," a spare, slightly off-kilter song that expertly uses empty space and clipped guitar as a base for James to oscillate between baritone Young Dro-esque wordplay and something more minimal and straightforward. With James, it's not necessarily what he says, so much as how he says it. James is an artist that works on charisma above all else. He wears animal print, his hair blooms like broccoli out from his headband—he's somewhere between N*gga Please-era ODB and the shroomed-out psych funk that Andre 3000 somehow managed to capture when he was wearing ski boots or whatever circa Stankonia.
On stage, James is a presence. Only one mixtape deep, he's already not bothering to rap over his own full tracks. This is important because it positions Trinidad James as an artist who knows what he's doing instead of an artist that's been thrust newborn into the limelight. And even if he doesn't actually know what he's doing, he's got the illusion down. Just a couple songs in, all of the ASAP Mob came out to perform ASAP Ferg's "Work," completely swarming the stage. For most rappers, this would be a chance to stick to the back and let the (relatively) more established artists please a crowd that's already prepared for them anyway, but James pushed out to the forefront as "Work" ended, launching right into "All Gold Everything," which prompted the entire overpacked venue to go wild. He, of course, rewound the track. Performing it a second time from on top of the bar while people jockeyed to get full-frame iPad shots.
What was most striking, though, was the skepticism surrounding James' rise to success. The raised eyebrows aren't entirely unwarranted. Sometimes it feels like less fortunate artists get stuck releasing mixtapes into the great abyss of DatPiff, forever hoping for exposure that will probably never come. James is rising on the back of a strong single and a good presence, and he's leapfrogged past all that. Why does he get to? The answer to that question is more or less that there's not much rhyme or reason to what people latch onto in music. That said, James' other material is good. His mixtape Don't Be S.A.F.E., isn't mind boggling, but there's depth and promise to it, and given the chance to grow, he could become a formidably charismatic artist. On that tape, "One More Molly" is a psychedelic ode replete with backwards tape loops to—what else!—MDMA. I have no idea if "super molly" is a real thing to anyone but James and Gucci Mane, but the version on his tape could comfortably put a cap on molly raps forever. Live, though, "One More Molly" is limp. Another in a long line of songs that stretches out club drugs into a lifestyle that no one really wants to hear that much about—kinda like talking to your stoner friend about weed strains for ten minutes too long.You can certainly predict trends and create something that you know will ride the crest of what people care about right now, but beyond that, it's in the hands of listeners, and listeners really, really love "All Gold Everything."
And fittingly, it was that track that signaled the end of a short set. Which, if you're paying money for the show, and you've been in there since 8PM and it's hot and sweaty and crowded, was short. But a good kind of short. James didn't overstay his welcome. He may have been headlining a packed concert venue with barely an album to his name, but he also knows what people want to hear, and what they want to hear is "All Gold Everything" multiple times and more or less nothing else. Rap's always been a singles game, so it's worth noting that "All Gold Everything" is a good single and will continue being good. The rest will come later. Or it won't.
(image via BLOWHIPHOPTV)