Trinidad James is still seeking to bypass the looming elephant in the room that was his breakout single “All Gold Everything,” and by all appearances, he has managed to do so. With a renewed hunger and several endeavors in motion, the Trinidadian-American rapper, host, and creative powerhouse marks his return to music with the stellar Black Filter album.
Eight years is several lifetimes in the fast-moving world of Hip-Hop music, and most especially for those who flourished during the so-called blog era. Trinidad James exploded onto the scene in 2012 with the platinum Billboard Hot 100 hit “All Gold Everything” from his debut mixtape, Don’t Be S.A.F.E., culminating into a deal with the revered Def Jam Records.
As has been documented time and again, the union between James and Def Jam went to the wayside, pushing him to make his journey as an independent artist. With nine mixtapes under his Gold Gang imprint and proving that he had more in the vault, each release showcased that James was still searching to find his voice and refine his art.
On August 14, Trinidad James and longtime collaborator Fyre employed the one artist, one producer formula and created a surprisingly varied body of work with Black Filter. With the highs and lows of his career far behind him and new pathways as a television host and fashion visionary in tow, Black Filter is James at his freest.
Yes, there’s requisite sh*t-talk that marks many a modern Hip-Hop album but, as the title suggests, this is a Black AF album in every sense of the almost-cliched term. It is James and all his various influences seen through, simply speaking, a Black filter. Fyre’s deft touch as a producer brought out some of the best rapping we’ve heard yet from James and reveals that there’s a lot left in the tank.
We spoke with James for a short spell as he shared his journey from 2012 to now, and how he’s continuing to find new ways to get his expressions out to the masses.
Opening the chat by asking if Black Filter was a reintroduction to listeners or a persistent continuation of the art he’s steadily made over time, James was direct in letting us know the aims of the project.
“The persistency you speak of is a result of my consistency of working on my craft,” He explained. “But now to be able to produce [the] product the way I’m producing now with Black Filter, that just came from practice, learning hard lessons, and continuing to do the music and put in the work.”
James added, “I had to learn to love the studio, love the work, and do the music outside of doing it for myself because sometimes, I can get in my own way. I had to remember that I come from a stylist background, so helping others and assisting others and being a servant to other people, that’s my background. And so when I applied that to the music, such as writing music for others, it opened up a whole new ball game for me to become a better artist.”
That is immediately evident on Black Filter. After a brief rock-tinged intro, “Jame$ Woo Woo” is clearly a tribute to the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Armed witih a braggadocious swagger, the hunger is readily apparent.
2018’s Daddy Issues was a project that saw James embracing a more melodic and vocally-led approach. We asked what created the shift in sound from that Daddy Issues to the aggressive and meandering styles he took on with his latest.
“I made the self-realization that in working on [Black Filter] for two years, I been working with Youngfyre [stylized as Fyre on the release] since 2015,” James said. “I found a person that was the craziness inside my head that you were getting hints of in my past projects, he was my Dr. Dre.”
As Atlanta is the city where he found footing, James explained that Fyre gave him the freedom to stop “conforming” to the regional sounds and become his full self. In a city that’s spawned the likes of Future and Young Thug, he understood that competing with them isn’t the best strategy and instead challenged himself to be the best version of James he could muster.
Even with Atlanta as his launching pad, the Trinidad-born star has resided in New York, Florida, and South Carolina, using his travels to influence his music and fashion styles.
On “Playli$t,” James injects pop culture references from Star Wars and a clever shoutout to the Wu-Tang Clan, speaking to his wide scope of inspiration. And to highlight one of the many curveballs on Black Filter, Fyre goes into a deep, boom-bap chamber with “Black Owned,” with James sounding right at home over the head-nodding production.
Other highlights include “Midwe$t Di$count” and “Tobago Ba$$” and are two of the aforementioned curveballs that Fyre thew at James, who hit easily them out the ballpark. Of “Midwe$t,” James referred to the track as “swing trap” and it sounds exactly like that, while “Tobago” highlights James’ Trinidadian roots.
The greater mission for Black Filter was clear by the end of our talk and James wanted to note that the purpose of the album was to tie everything back to Black culture. Making mention of the tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers duo, and featuring a tap-dance routine on “Jame$ Woo Woo,” James hopes that those who take in the album recognize, in his words, that everything is now seen through a Black filter.
It isn’t just music with James as he’s still hard at work on the Full Size Run series wth Matt Welty and Brendan Dunne, discussing sneaker culture and fashion at length.
James is also planning his own talk show series and worked with Warner Bros. for the series Independent, which focuses on the lives of four independent artists and their various ups and downs, with James included in that group. Independent was recently picked up by HBO Max so that will be coming to viewers at a later date.
In conclusion, James told us, “I’m keeping the consistency with music, and fashion. I’m opening my fashion bag where I’m finna sell you some clothes. I’m gonna have my own everything.”
Check out Trinidad James and Fyre’s Black Filter in the streaming offerings below. Click here to select the DSP of your own choosing.