Trae Tha Truth
February 18, 2016
Sometimes popping into Warehouse Live on a weeknight is a breeze. Other times, the trip indoors requires a little patience. Thursday night was one of those times. It was nearly 10 p.m. by the time I arrived, and a line still snaked around the building. H-Town original Trae tha Truth was inside, hosting a free concert to celebrate the release of his new record, Tha Truth, Pt. 2. The rapper makes a habit of throwing free events as a way to give back to his hometown, and the diverse lineup of people waiting outside to have their lighters confiscated by security seemed to represent every nook and cranny of the city.
The line moved slow — Warehouse Live personnel weren’t taking any chances. Judging from the crowd’s energy level once I made it inside, though, I’m not sure I missed a whole lot. I could hear opening acts rapping while I was waiting outside, and more performers were onstage when I finally made it in. They each turned in fairly energetic sets, but it was a thankless task. People had shown up to see Trae, and they weren’t terribly interested in anybody else. Folks just kind of gawped at Austin MC Chamothy the Great, and I honestly didn’t even get the next guy’s name, God bless him. (Shout that shit out, young rappers.)
It didn’t matter, really. This was Trae tha Truth in Houston, Texas, and nobody else’s shine was going to compare to the King of the Streets on Thursday. People clustered in circles as they waited for him to appear, passing joints and chattering away. The crowd had a good time singing along to 2 Chainz’s “Watch Out” hook — “You’re getting mad, I’m getting rich!” They seemed all too ready for the DJ’s selection of Lil’ Keke’s “Southside,” too, but he merely teased with a snippet.
Finally, the impressive LED screens onstage came alive, and the show began at last. Hundreds of phones flew up to capture the first Instagram snap of Trae as an intro video touting his banned status played. And then, there he was, diamonds visibly gleaming in his mouth. Clad in a black Assholes By Nature hoodie and a fat gold chain, Trae cut an imposing figure onstage during his opening number, “It’s Time.”
His people were clearly glad to see him, but their reaction to his music felt a bit muted. Maybe it’s because everybody was completely faded out of his or her mind. It certainly seemed awfully plausible. But maybe it’s because Trae isn’t anyone’s idea of a party rapper. No one’s going to ask you to wave your hands and scream “hooo!” at a Trae concert. He trades in tough street rhymes, focusing on the struggle of rising up from the bottom of the heap. Fans were content to close their eyes and quietly groove to themselves as Trae’s voice boomed. Between songs, they barely even clapped.
That meant Trae had to work awfully hard to get the energy he was giving away back from the crowd. Wisely, he brought in a few guests to help him out. Jay’ton appeared for a verse on the excellent new “Spray,” which was accompanied by terrific animation of Trae and his posse on the big screens. J-Dawg came through, too, with a powerful verse on “Mama.” That was a nice infusion of energy as the clock crawled past midnight.
Mostly, though, the pace of the evening was slow, meditative and serious, reflecting the artist’s own personality. The visuals were great throughout, with the grinding “I Will Survive” setting Trae in snowy mountaintop vistas. Even better was the accompanying video for “Yeah Hoe,” which found Trae leading a lane-switchin’ red line of slabs from atop a tricked-out hoverboard. It was all designed to cast Trae as an epic figure, and it was pretty darn successful.
The real epic moment of the night, of course, came during the final song. “Swang” is the track that propelled Trae into the top tier of H-Town hip-hop moneymakers, and over the years, it’s necessarily become a tribute to its featured, fallen icons — the late Pimp C and H.A.W.K. Trae rapped Chad Butler’s verse over the song’s psychotropic beat, but when it came time for Big Hawk’s bit, Trae climbed down into the crowd and let us sing it right along with him.
It was the night’s best singalong — sorry, 2 Chainz — and it served beautifully to illustrate the bond Trae shares with his hometown fans, who never needed a major label to hear tha Truth.
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Personal Bias: Chill Dude by Nature.
The Crowd: All ages, all races. All faded.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Nothing that’s on me right now is mine. I’m rockin’ like it is, though.”
Random Notebook Dump: Another drama-free rap concert. Nicely done.