His mom found a job at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on Riggs Road, moved her family to E Street NE and enrolled Trel at Minor Elementary. One day after school, Trel told his mother he wanted to perform a rap song in the third grade talent show. She made him write his own.
“I told him to rap about what was going on, how he feels, his neighborhood, how he feels about his friends,” Reeves says. Trel titled his song “My Ghetto Neighborhood.”
In the summertime, Trel would visit his father back in Danville, who would pass time in the car with rhyme. “My father was from the country, but at home [in D.C.], rapping ain’t cool. It’s all go-go in these streets. . . .But if we weren’t listening to [Texas rapper] Scarface, he’d be free-styling, thinking he was Scarface. He was the one that really made me think I could rap.”
Back home in Washington, Trel’s older brothers turned him on to New Orleans rappers Soulja Slim, Juvenile and the Hot Boys, the troupe that gave Lil Wayne his start. Trel fell under the spell of Memphis group Three 6 Mafia. He was in seventh grade.
“It was that worst-kind-of-music-for-your-child-right-now music,” he says — the kind of music Trel makes today.
“Me being his mom, I don’t like the negativity,” Reeves says of Trel’s work. “But my son is a really hard-core, gangster rapper, and his lyrics are what he’s lived, and what he’s been through.”
The Reeves family moved to Prince George’s County, where Trel attended Largo High School but was expelled his freshman year for bad behavior. After a four-month enrollment in Job Corps, he ran back to E Street, and the nearby Pentacle apartments, where he drifted from house to house. He says he was trying to take care of himself.
“Who wants to grow up seeing their mother stressing out?” Trel says. “As a child you wanna see your parent happy. So why wouldn’t we go out there and try and get it and try and enhance the money that was coming into our household?”
That meant hustling drugs, and the troubles that come with it. Trel says he’s been arrested three times — once on a gun charge, once for unauthorized use of a vehicle and once for assaulting a police officer — but never did jail time.
At 17, he started trying to replace the street life with the rap life. Too young to get into Lux Lounge, Lotus or Eyebar, he would wait for the city’s hip-hop nightspots to close and set up shop on the curb outside. Using “two big speakers out of a Mitsubishi truck,” he’d rap for passers-by, handing out his demo CD, most of which he saw discarded within a few footsteps.