Rapper Trinidad James, subdued and not sweatin’ at Howard Theatre
By Sarah Godfrey,
Remember when the entire rap universe came together to fight about Trinidad James? That was great, right? For rap fans, definitely, but especially for Trinidad James.
Last year, the 25-year-old Atlanta-based, Trinidad-born rapper drew attention with the single “All Gold Everything,” a jumble of catchphrases delivered over a lurching beat. In the video for the track, from his 2012 debut mix tape, “Don’t Be S.A.F.E.,” James walks through the ’hood mumbling explicit lyrics. He is skinny, shirtless, draped in gold and carrying a pit bull puppy — looking the part of both kingpin and customer.
James quickly became a polarizing figure, the most analyzed man in rap: a strong majority said he represented everything that was wrong with the genre, an unskilled rapper trafficking in buffoonery and stereotypes. But a vocal minority maintained that James had a heart of gold underneath all of his chains of gold, and that his raps about jewelry, women and drugs were no more offensive than any other artist’s raps about jewelry, women and drugs. James was able to parlay the chatter into a deal with Def Jam.
But now that rap listeners have mostly moved on to other targets, and both the mean tweets and think pieces have faded away, James just seems, well, kind of boring. At the Howard Theatre on Monday night, he gave a show that certainly wasn’t great but hardly sounded like rap’s death knell, either. It wasn’t good enough to excite those who like him, nor bad enough to incite those who don’t. The entire performance was subdued, from James’s lyrical delivery to his normally outrageous fashion and accessory choices.
James is not a deft rapper — he has admitted that he counts his experience in months, rather than years. His rookie status is less glaring when his drawled words are surrounded by interesting production, as on “Gold on My MacBook” and “Team Vacation,” and more apparent when he is not, as on “That Turn Up.” Throughout his performance, the DJ dropped James’s signature catchphrase — “Popped a molly I’m sweatin’ / Wooo!” from “All Gold Everything” — which seemed to get a bigger response from the crowd than much of his music.
James seems like a nice guy who has been through a lot and is really happy and grateful to have a rap career, but he is still a rapper born from hate — he doesn’t have fans so much as detractors and defenders. So, once everyone has completely abandoned deriding James on Twitter and enjoying meme photos comparing him to Jerome, the yuck-mouthed player from Martin Lawrence’s eponymous ’90s sitcom, we’ll likely forget about him and the spirited debate he once inspired. Don’t believe me? Just watch.
Godfrey is a freelance writer.