Exclusive: Trae gives his surprisingly simple blueprint for a new distribution deal with T.I., booking nationwide shows and more all with his original ABN team.
Trae Tha Truth has never needed anyone to cosign him. He, his cousin Z-Ro and their ABN collective have been self-made since they went by Guerilla Maab back in the late ‘90s. Trae himself is gifted with a sort of quiet confidence, a willingness to carefully select his best option on his own timetable- embodying traits of a true boss. Infinite patience and a ferocious work ethic keep the Houston native focused on his ultimate goal: winning at all costs. The past 12 months marked a series of major ups and downs, wins and personal losses that Trae has thrown over his back and carried with him into the new year. Of these events, his joint venture signing with T.I.’s Grand Hustle imprint has been one of the most significant.
“My movement has been moving for a long time,” he says, “I already know just about everybody throughout the industry, so I think me and Tip teaming up is to take it to a wider scale but I’ve been doing songs with Wyclef… I’ve been doing songs with the Waynes, the Rosses, everybody already, so it’s nothing but keeping my movement going.”
Trae’s Joint Venture With Grand Hustle
Signing to any sort of deal with another artist’s imprint can be treacherous waters in most cases, but Trae entered into the arrangement with a strategy in place that had already been pushing ABN forward. To him, the signing is just icing on the massive cake his crew had been baking. Last year, Trae lent his vocals to B.o.B’s “How ‘Bout Dat” track. Bobby Ray’s manager B. Rich took notice of Trae’s drive and determination, but above all he was intrigued by how the Street King was doing it all on his own with no handlers. Rich forwarded Trae’s info to the Grand Hustle head and from that point they were talking possible negotiations. Trae has said that the joint venture would change nothing in regard to internal operations.
“It would put it on a wider scale for those people who haven’t been exposed to me but I mean, with me, nothing is different over there,” Trae insists. “If anything, I’m just gonna work 50 times harder. I’m out here to let it be known that I’ma be here. But I think over there, I’ma just tighten up or maybe sharpen my work ethic a little more than it is. But for the most part it’s still the same. The only difference is Tip trying to make sure that my movement gets taken [farther], but he doesn’t want to change the movement or reroute it.”
Although Trae hasn’t worked out the distribution details and other particulars, his seventh solo album (as yet untitled) is already taking form. There’s a smile in his voice as he describes the vibe of the LP as “amazing.” Trae’s toughest competition is himself, and he admits to always wanting to beat that guy. Obviously this time will be a bit different.
“I’m gonna complete my album and bring it to Tip once it’s done—even though that’s my ace,” he says thoughtfully. “I still wanna show everybody that I do my own thing. With me it’s always important to show people that you’re your own man, because it raises the respect level a lot more and it gives them less work to do. I’m pretty sure with Tip, from the past to the present he’s had to be involved a lot. With me, I come to the table when it’s time to get things done, and he’s knows I’m already working.”
Combining Business, Friendship And Community Outreach
Trae’s success is partly due to his ability to work with anyone and everyone, never losing his style in the mix. He’s the push behind ABN’s youngest members, the Renegadez, who are currently celebrating the recent release of their album, Welcome 2 The Streets and their spot in MTV’s rotation. He has done countless features and effectively infiltrated every Rap circle that matters: young, old, new, or legendary. Trae doesn’t go by any set criteria when choosing an artist to team up with.
“First and foremost, we patnas…I don’t go searching for certain people because they’re hot or they got something going on,” he scoffs, “At the end of the day a lot of people know me because they come to Houston. When you come to Houston, it’s a known fact that if you’re getting in these streets, the person to move with is Trae. So I show a lot of love and they do the same with me. I’d hear something I think they’d sound right on, then I hit them and we make it happen.” Trae’s sincere nature has maintained a level of honor amongst the rappers he deals with also. “One thing I can say about all the homies in the industry that deal with me, they keep it thorough. I don’t have to go through the hassle like other people. I call them, they keep it one hundred, they knock it out for me, and we keep it pushing.”
His spirit of congeniality goes far beyond work with his fellow musicians though. In 2008, Trae was awarded his own day in Houston, courtesy of then-mayor Bill White. On July 22nd of every year, the children of the city are given clothes and school supplies, immunizations and the like. As an added treat, artists are flown in to perform. Everyone from Lupe Fiasco to the Young Money roster has been tapped to rock the stage at some point or another. He honestly believes in community outreach and its effects. As we speak about media coming in from out-of-town to witness this rapper’s holiday, Trae says, “It’s not that I want people to come out and see that I have my own day, but I want people to experience it, hand-to-hand, themselves, to see how many people are in need and maybe that’ll trickle down to different people doing different stuff in their community.”
Two Generations Of ABN Family
After hearing Trae speak on his beloved Houston and ABN’s philanthropic efforts, the suggestion is made that perhaps the crew has outgrown their tag. Maybe instead of Assholes By Nature, they should consider Nice Guys By Nature. The idea is met with an empathetic ‘No,’ and a chuckle.
“I’m not gonna change it, because everybody’s an asshole by nature in their own way even including you!,” he jabs, “You just gotta have those buttons pushed in a certain way, but everybody’s got a little bit of that in them. I think with us, we got a temper…a real bad temper. So if you rub us the wrong way, we’ll probably go off faster than the average. I’m very dedicated to the movement because I witnessed that struggle and I am that struggle.” Speaking on the early days when 20 to 30 members of his clique were cooped up in a two-bedroom apartment, Trae says they’ll always be ABN, and that’s believable. He also admits that the children of the movement are simply Angels By Nature.
Truthfully, Trae is pretty easy to figure out. He operates on integrity. Every move is based on what’s honorable, in his personal and professional life. He’s a creative, a father to three little boys, and a lover of his hometown, even during times it seems his town doesn’t love him back. For years, Trae’s music has been banned from stations within the Radio One Corporation. The snub stems from a well-known incident with KBXX 97.9 “The Box.” Following the tragedy at his second Trae Day celebration where multiple people were shot, comments were made on-air about Trae and his lyrics in relation to the crime. He fired back on a mixtape. The station banned him in response.
“I don’t think people really realize that it hasn’t been just radio in Houston,” Trae explains. “It’s Radio One worldwide. Radio One period.” One would think that his alignment with one of Hip Hop’s most visible artists out would have a positive effect. “Nothing’s changed, but I’m not sweating it,” he admits. “I don’t have no hard feelings about it, because I might’ve gotten too comfortable when I had that tool and I wouldn’t have been hustling as hard as I am now. I wouldn’t be moving how I’m moving right now, so I can kind of give them their credit for making me get back out here.”
A True “Street King”
That’s been Trae’s focus—to keep the momentum going, and this last year has been chock full of progress markers. After years of mixtapes, group albums and solo LPs, the Houston street legend finally performed his first headlining show in NYC during the summer of 2011. The atmosphere at S.O.B.’s was pretty epic according to Trae.
“Maybe if I would’ve done it before, it wouldn’t have been as big as it was—a lot of people came out, Uncle Murda, Jada[kiss], Styles, Kool Herc, Fred the Godson, French Montana, Maino...it was packed wall-to-wall with people,” Trae says. It’s a known fact that Trae and ABN sort of move silently in an industry where one artist has an entire crew of people working for them—he says that could possibly be the reason behind just getting that show in NY when he’s been getting love for years. “I don’t have a staff or anything like that, so if you ain’t in the streets, or you don’t know anybody with ties to me, how could you even get to me? You know?”
Tragedy And Triumph: The Loss Of Money Clip D
Five months had barely passed since that show in New York, when Trae lost one of his closest friends, Money Clip D, who was fatally shot in Houston on the day after Thanksgiving. He says that oft times Clip was the force behind ABN pushing through adversities and setbacks. It was Clip who kept Trae encouraged and reminded him to be aware of new branding opportunities.
“I think when Clip died I was at a point in my life that I was sort of battling within myself,” he recalls, “Some days I’d wake up with a positive spirit and some days I’d wake up like, ‘Fuck everybody and everything in front of me, and whatever goes with it.’ I shut down for a few months and the only thing I came out to do was go to Atlanta to do my part with B.o.B and Tip actually came out.”
Three months later, Trae and Tip were announcing their new business relationship although ABN’s celebration was a bittersweet one.
“I felt if I wouldn’t have moved and did what was best as far as pushing the movement—that would’ve let [Clip] down,” he says, “So I ended up taking a chance doing it the way I did it,” Trae continues, “I kinda hate that he’s not able to be here, because we were a couple of months away from me doing the deal with somebody and bruh passed. So he wasn’t able to actually see me experience my first major, major deal.”
At the center of it all, it’s still just ABN, and Trae’s loyalty lies with that—the ideals of his people and their upward mobility. “I think right now I can honestly say Clip’s proud because no matter where you go or what you got going on, you’ll find some way to hear what I got going on,”