If Trae Tha Truth were a comic book character, he’d be the weary, tethered soul who, out of respect, warns you of his skill. He can share war tales, smirk on video while pushing a shell casing out of his arm and travel all over the world with large, chunky gold bracelets and chain to match. But the man who was once the full-fledged gravel-voiced motormouth of Guerilla Maab is older now. He’s been in the public eye for more than two decades, a constantly roving presence with black shades and a full beard. By all accounts, Trae Tha Truth has fought off every obstacle thrown at him. He speaks like a giant, weary yet effective and effusive. He moves as the head of a pack and even though it's dwindling by the most unfortunate of circumstances, his head is still high. Few people can attest to having suffered in Job-like variances more than Frazier Thompson III. Few can feel even more free thanks to those trials than can Frazier Thompson III.
What makes Trae a great rapper is not the warp-speed rap tone or vocal connotations that belong to him and him alone. It is the humanized aspect of blending potentially gravity-pulling information and synthesizing it into a hardscrabble version of the blues. On his latest album, Tha Truth Pt. 3, Trae funnels plenty of those emotions and parks them right at our doorstep. We can’t argue that it doesn’t exist because Trae’s voice immediately grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go. From the opening moments of Tha Truth Pt. 3, he’s taking his voice and pushing it through audio clips and memories of his best friend, Money Clip D, who was murdered a few years ago. Kids are growing up, fighting and learning their way through manhood and all Trae can do is rap about it. On “Too Late” with Post Malone, Trae continues pushing through all these emotions as if it's the perfect form of therapy: “Chances I ain't never had one/ That's on everything I love/ Hate I never had none/ Nowadays I can barely see the sun/ We're waiting on the day I come.”
Altogether, his Tha Truth series lasts about 51 songs: three hours, 28 minutes of ups, downs and mid-tempo questions of loving life even though every single feeling and memory says you shouldn't. “Children of Man,” the strongest track from 2015's first Tha Truth album, found a man caught up in the stresses of survival. “I Will Survive,” the closer to Tha Truth Pt. 2, effectively summed up the world of Trae. There are good days, summarily fucked-up ones but like the undead and any number of individuals who cannot be defeated, he’ll survive. Tha Truth Pt. 3 splits these moments up, both in regards to Trae’s personal world and the exterior world; places and people that only feel real from a distance. “Take Me Back,” with its simple drum loop and melancholy sample, features Trae looking inward at the days when lopsided flattops and getting a girl’s phone number were his biggest concerns. “Tried to Play Me” rumbles through grievances as Trae fires off at faceless haters with a cannon. “I’m presidential, block they vote for me,” he chunks out on “Trae Day.” “In the city they say I’m a blessing.”
Since 1998, some 19 years and many miles ago, Trae has leaned on the city of Houston. He’s aired his sorrows and watched friends and family get buried here. He could have cursed God but instead praises him without hesitancy or question. His physical appearance is much leaner and more cut than in his “No Help” days when he'd rattle off middle fingers out of defense. He’s one of a few rappers with a flat-out citywide classic (“Swang”), and a number of songs that immediately bring out recognition or immediate repetition (“In The Hood,” “Screwed Up”) and more.
In the grand scheme of things, Trae could have been a pastor. He could have levied with plenty of people their issues, scars and faults. Instead, he’s contorted his normal booming speaking voice into a raspy, quick-tongued whisper. It’s allowed him to bring in more names and guests on his latter three albums than ever before. Call it part blessing due to his affiliation with Grand Hustle Records. Call it leaning further toward crafting an all-out compilation tape.
Tha Truth Pt. 3 features only three solo Trae records, two of heartfelt appreciation and one of machine-gun-filled venom. The rest of the guests, ranging from Young Thug’s pipped-up yelps on “Thuggin” to the all-world-featuring “I’m On 3.0,” include Mark Morrison among a litany of rappers and singers. Michigan newcomer Tee Grizley has to jostle for position with Detroit madman Royce da 5’9,” and Curren$y can be a drowsy stoner right next to Snoop Dogg, the king of rap reinvention. Gary Clark Jr. closes everything out but not after verses from G-Eazy, E-40, Dave East, Rick Ross, Fabolous and Chamillionaire. DJ Khaled couldn’t swing a more diverse lineup of personalities. Only Trae could and only Cham could preach about taking the White House back and standing up like Colin Kaepernick while a chopped-up sample of “Return Of The Mack” plays underneath him.
If any Trae album has taught you anything, dating back to Losing Composure, then you would have already penciled in Tha Truth as a grown-up, far more refined version of those days. “Alleviation” is a lesson to any and all that for every Trae Day and moment of happiness, Trae speaks for those perpetually bothered by the world. The people who try to escape without fully giving up. “Fuck you niggas, I’m doing fine,” he says. He never claimed to be an Asshole By Nature out of pure joy. He said it as a defense mechanism. Because if offended, Trae is going to keep coming until you put him down. And he’s only going to get up again.
SONGS OF THE WEEK
BLEEDA feat. MACK BIGGERS & DELOREAN, “Quit All Da Bumpin”
Houston loves street acts until the day they stop breathing. Bleeda, one of the Southwest’s more under-appreciated rappers, can attest to this. He reduced “Flowers,” a standout on Delorean's Take Me Back, to absolute dust; “Quit All Da Bumpin” is where Delorean attempts to wrestle back control from King Bleeda. Rule No. 1: Don’t snitch to Bleeda’s lawyer about what he may or may not be doing. Rule No. 2: If you don’t mess with Bleeda, he probably won't with you. Delo here sees how dreaming about a bubble-eyed Lexus with the daylight kit can easily fall apart, and in every line he sounds like he’s about to go away for months if he doesn’t say it. “Feel like Romo, they don’t love me no mo’.”
DYLAN COHL feat. EASY YVES SAINT, “Look at Me”
Cowboy Jones still represents Port Arthur in his own way. On top of production that slurs and feels like a drunken two-step out of AvantGarden on a Wednesday night, he playa-professes about his life and blessings, good and bad. Easy Yves Saint, the guy with a hell of a new album on the way once more, reveals why he’s the city’s most loquacious rap act.
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IZZAR THOMAS, “Blank Trip”
Izzar Thomas’s newfound push of melody over patterned rhyming may be one of the more fun things about his Somewhere New album. Among records that pilfer through love, sex and his own career ambitions, “Blank Trip” manifests all those feelings perfectly. Nate Coop, Tazer and MCCLD pair Houston rap gospel, a lingering organ stab, with bleated synths and drums. You can hear Thomas remark about how fun a drive to L.A. is and hear his LP in full here.
MARDI feat. TED PARK, “Sunrise”
Normally, Mardi would rap his ass off in the same vein as “19xx.” Instead, on “Sunrise,” Mardi sings toward a woman with whom he’s spent days and nights enjoying sleepless nights and comatose days. Staying up until the sun comes out sounds better mixed with harmonies and chill soundscapes. Ted Park only slides through here to put added emphasis on Mardi’s wants and desires.