By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
By Jef With One F
By Chris Gray
By Rocks Off
By Rocks Off
Through what Trae describes as the will of "the homey up above," he heard what had happened to Devin. And though he had no prior affiliation with the family, he decided to show up at the hospital.
"My son didn't talk after his accident," says D'Juna Vontoure, Devin's mother. "He couldn't talk. He had a trach in his throat. But when Trae came in he started saying, 'Trae, Trae.' He was whispering it. It was the first thing he said."
D'Juna has been out of work for the past year taking care of her son. When she couldn't pay their rent, Trae did. When it came time for Devin's senior pictures, Trae paid for those too.
Even his self-proclaimed "gang," the Assholes by Nature crew, is a bit of a misnomer. Intimidating as they are (and they absolutely are), their chief concern is to encourage their members to focus less energy on the immediacy of the perils of street life and channel it into something more fulfilling. It's not always a successful transformation, but the opportunity is there.
When Trae talks to you, you feel it. Not in the metaphorical sense; he doesn't speak in elongated profoundness. You literally feel it. His beyond-baritone voice sounds like what shoveling gravel feels like. It's his most powerful tool.
Yet, as it is, he is sitting gently in the conference room of the historic S.H.A.P.E. Community Center in the Third Ward, listening to suggestions from the 200 or so community members jammed in there on what the next step should be.
Save a succinct seven-minute speech, and despite his typical might and accompanying brute force of personality, Trae spends the evening mostly in silence, which is apropos considering the curious predicament he finds himself in.
More than eight months in and The Box's ban is still in place. Fighting it has consumed him. So much so that Tha Truth, the perpetually delayed album that was supposed to christen Trae's arrival in the national spotlight, has become an afterthought.
"It's been put to the back. I ain't worried about that," says Trae. "I gotta be sure I'm out here for the community, for the No More Victims, for the Devins. I still have to provide. They're [the staff of The Box and Radio One] going home comfortable. I'ma be out here with the people."
Since its inception, the casualties of the ban have spread far and wide.
On-air DJ team The Kracker Nuttz were terminated by The Box because, according to member DJ Klean Cutt, they played a Chamillionaire record that featured a verse from Trae on it.
Radio One's defense attorney, Victor Vital, states that they were let go for violating company policy, namely playing a song that was not on the station's preapproved playlist. It's something Klean Cutt openly admits to, periodically playing songs that weren't approved ahead of time. But he finds it curious that, in the 12 years they spent at The Box wandering away from preapproved playlists, it happened to be an errant song that featured Trae that earned them a pink slip.
Regarding the penalties levied against several other Box employees, Vital states that "all employee discipline and terminations occur per established company policies and guidelines." He never explicitly states what those policies or guidelines are. There certainly seems to be a pattern, though.
DJ Brandi Garcia, who worked for the station for more than a decade, was also recently fired. She played a snippet of a song featuring Trae while performing DJ duties at a recent 50 Cent concert at Arena Theatre a couple of days before her termination.
DJ Michael "5000" Watts recently had the timeframe of his popular Sunday evening show scaled back. Shortly before that happened, rapper Killa Kyleon made an appearance on the show and acknowledged Trae while he was on the air.
DJ Baby Jae, also a member of the Kracker Nuttz, was suspended without pay prior to his firing. He hosted a mixtape for Trae on his own time shortly before that suspension.
DJ GT was recently suspended without pay. He responded to a message on Twitter regarding his role in the ban shortly before his suspension.
"It's so much bigger than me and it's so much bigger than us," says Trae. "It don't even really matter for me to get my music played. What's going on right now is they're affecting other people's lives."
Fellow rappers TroubleSum and K-Rino also sit at the front of the room with Trae. No other rappers of note have shown up. Most refuse even to comment on the situation. Further to Trae's right sit longtime music industrialite Kathryn Griffin-Townsend and No More Victims' Marilyn Gambrell.
At a table to the right of the speaker's podium sit Warren Fitzgerald Jr., who is Trae's legal counsel; Deloyd Parker, who is one of the founding members of S.H.A.P.E.; and Rice University's Aundrea Matthews and Aurra Fellows. Brother Deric Muhammad, a noted community organizer in Houston, spearheads the evening's talks, darting back and forth between the podium and Trae's ear.