Translee has a busy afternoon in Midtown Manhattan. After flying up from Atlanta first thing in the morning, the Grand Hustle signee is at the AKOO offices just outside of Times Square shooting a few visual shorts for the brand.
Later, he’s scheduled to continue his press run throughout the city. Right now though, the Huntsville, AL native is still, sitting at a glass top conference table in the center of the office and ready to discuss his most recent project, Freedom Summer.
He’s also teasing his next joint Good Afternoon, slated to be released at the top of 2019. Translee is at peace, even with everything consistently changing around him. He’s at the head of his Digital Native Culture brand and this relatively new venture with Grand Hustle has taken him to new heights.
During the Hustle Gang tour in 2017, he garnered a slew of new listeners. People who didn’t necessarily know that Translee had been rocking small stages all over Atlanta since his Who is Translee? debut in 2009. It was on the circuit where he met Grey — the rapper who devastated that Shirley Caesar “You Name It” sample two Thanksgivings ago, and became a viral sensation because of it. Here we are, two years later and Grey and Translee meet again on Freedom Summer.
The self-described “content based reality rapper” is still managing to incorporate his real life into his projects. “I look for rap in everything I do,” he says. “So it’s like, if it comes to me…” The album also features the effervescent and clever “Catch This Wave” with Tip and a couple other tracks showcasing Omari Hardwick and his spoken word lyrics—Translee calls both men, friends. He’s celebrating his freedom to do what feels right, when it feels right, far beyond the dog days of summer — it’s more like, a forever thing.
HipHopWired: This album, Freedom Summer, is pretty political. You always seemed have that vibe, since your start but it shows up much more on this one.
Translee: I feel like we all just gotta keep growing and evolving. Rap keeps me growing. Whenever I put out music and people respond to it however they respond to it, that helps me, boosts me up and keeps me going. I’ve gotten messages where people say: “I was literally gon’ kill myself, but I listened to your music, smoked a blunt and changed my mind.” Or messages where kids are like: “Me and my mom, we’ve never agreed on anything my entire life but for the first time, my mom agreed on your music…”
HHW: It was a bridge…
Translee: Yeah it was a bridge for my music to be the one thing they agreed on. So when that happens, for me, it’s no feeling like that. I guess I feel like I’ve grown because I want to continue hearing things like that. And also, I like to make the music I want to hear.
HHW: How’s Huntsville been about your signing to Grand Hustle and all? Are they loving it?
Translee: Yeah. It’s really dope, man. Huntsville is a supportive city, but you know, it’s in Alabama so you know it’s gon’ be Alabama. It’s definitely a dope place to be from. I think being from there has even helped me be able to come to New York and maneuver, it teaches you a lot about life, growing up there.
HHW: You have a song “Owe Me To the Game” where you claim to have said that to T.I. directly. Did that actually happen?
Translee: I literally said that. We were sitting at a table something like this right here. It was one of those moments… I didn’t mean it like: “You owe me…” But it was like, “You owe somebody like me who speaks the truth to the game, to give it balance.” Him being the King of the South and me being from the south, it’s only right. I said in the song, “If Cole had Jay / Kendrick had Dre / Then coming from the south I need Tip to see my vision…” So that’s why I felt that way. Me and Chris [Hunter, his manager] used to always talk about it. “Like, man.. If anybody…” Which isn’t to say that you want or need the cosign, but everybody needs a cosign. Every big artist has gotten a cosign. So it’s not only the cosign but it’s wanting to have the direction of someone who came before you and having that respect of those who came before you.
HHW: So how’s it been since The Co-Sign?
Translee: It’s been a beautiful process and when I look back on my life, I wanna be able to say I chased my dreams and that’s a beautiful thing.
HHW: Before Paper Trail, Tip was T.I.P., these days, he’s more of an activist. He spoke about injustice then but from the perspective of a street dude, whereas now he seems to speak from a different place. Do you feel like your partnership has allowed him to open up even more in that regard?
Translee: I think that I definitely benefited from him being in that mindset because I think he heard a lot in my music that was exactly where his mind was. So I think I definitely benefited and I still do. And we’re growing together. I want all the songs we do to be groundbreaking but I wanna push the message that we’re black kings. Black Gods. That’s what we on.
HHW: Grey is on the album which was a nice touch.
Translee: Grey is super dope. One of the best rappers and he has his Plant Based Drippin’ movement which is key in this game, to have something to attach to your name. And it’s natural, he ain’t try to come up with some gimmick, him and his girl Nicki, they’re true vegans. And that record we did together, it’s powerful.
HHW: There always seems to be this battle between the sect that believes Hip-Hop is a youth culture and the fact that, at this point, people have actually grown up in it, entering and nearing the end of their middle age, still into Hip-Hop. Now we have grown up rap. Generational Hip-Hop. Your song “Generation WTF” kind of speaks to that in a way, right?
Translee: Hip-Hop was initially a youth thing but now we got Jay at 48 [years old], putting out a number one rap album. Mind you, it’s Jay, but Hip-Hop has gotten older now. My dad is 55 and he listens to rap every single day. He loves it, he buys albums and is a participator in it. So it’s like, you didn’t have that at first. They ain’t wanna hear that sh*t. Now, it’s spreading out, even when you listen to Kendrick Lamar, kids don’t listen… Well, it’s like they do but they don’t really tune in to what he’s actually saying. It’s not a diss because Kendrick has a million kid fans but I’m saying he’s fine because there’s a whole other block of people who support it.
Speaking to “Generation WTF,” it was me talking to a kid my little brother’s age, around 14, 15. But it’s the vibe because now we worship the drug user, where before, we were talking about the drug seller. It was the drug selling culture, those were the n*ggas who was on. Now? N*ggas don’t give a f*ck about the dope dealing rappers no more. It’s about how many more drugs you can do or how much higher you can get. So now, when I see rappers with a bunch of tats on their face and colored hair, doing hella drugs? I’m like, “Oh yeah, they finna blow up. He’s about to be outta here.” That’s where we at but you know… It is what it is. I’m just gonna continue to speak my truth because people still support my sh*t.
HHW: So will the new project be an extension of Freedom Summer?
Translee: Yes. I think that all my projects will be an extension of the last because you’re still getting me. But I feel like Good Afternoon is such a dope phrase and the fact that it drops at the top of the year is like, “Bam!” I’m getting on a bunch of records, beatwise, where I think people will like that I’m talking my sh*t. We just kinda just footloose and fancy free on this one.