Earlier this week, Free Press Summer Festival organizers announced that six of the city's biggest rappers, from Bun B to Mike Jones, have been added to the fest for some kind of supergroup set. Not among them? Screwed Up Click veteran Trae tha Truth. And he'd like to know why, in six years, he hasn't been asked to appear at the city's biggest musical showcase.
"I guess they want to overlook the kid; I don't know," says Trae with a wry chuckle. "It is what it is."
If Trae feels he isn't mentioned often enough in discussions of Houston's best and brightest MCs (and he clearly does), it's a gripe with some legitimacy. For 16 years, the "King of the Streets" has worked ceaselessly to increase his hustle, releasing highly acclaimed albums and mixtapes like Restless, his 2006 classic, and I Am King, which arrived last November.
Though thoroughly respected in the underground, Trae often remains a man apart from his peers in Houston's elite money-making rap circles. Chalk it up to his mistrustful demeanor, or his signing to Atlanta's Grand Hustle Records. Chalk it up to whatever you'd like, because while Trae may have a bone to pick about his place in the H-Town pantheon, he isn't exactly losing sleep over it.
"I like being the black sheep of the city, but I'm one of the most standout cats you've ever seen in the game," he says. "As long as I'm working, I feel I'm representing Houston in my own way."
Lately, the working (and the representing) has been practically nonstop. The rapper says he has a long stretch of tour dates in front of him as he prepares to promote not only his own forthcoming new album, but new releases by the Hustle Gang, Doe B and T.I.P., as well. Busy as he is, though, tha Truth will take time out of his full schedule on Saturday to headline a free Fan Appreciation Concert at Warehouse Live.
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It's not the rapper's first gesture of the kind. His annual free event known as Trae Day draws big crowds every year, with another one planned for June. The rapper says Saturday's show is just another small way to give back to his most loyal fans -- the hometown crowds who have supported him since his earliest appearances on DJ Screw's legendary gray tapes.
"These days, is it's not as easy as it used to be back in the day when money was flowin','" Trae says. "A lot of people are going through struggle and hard times. I watch people still come out and spend their cash that they really don't have on our music. I already give back on Trae Day, but I feel like even Trae Day's not enough.
"So, I decided to make it not about the money," he continues. "I just want everyone to come out and enjoy themselves and have a good time, man, with someone they may feel is big these days."
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As big as he is around these parts, of course, Trae is always working on a plan to get even bigger. His new album is already in the can, but tha Truth says he's in no hurry to put it out. With around 500 songs recorded and ready to go, the rapper has the luxury of releasing music at will, whenever circumstances benefit him the most.
"With the work ethic that I have right now, it's like it's not even really in a rush," he says. "The good thing about me is that I can stay featured on everybody else's project and still stay relevant until it's the right time for me."
Trae has also kept in the public eye through his very own animated series, co-created with cartoonist Jay Sugarman. The pair signed a ten-episode deal with Marlon Wayans' online imprint, WhatTheFunny.com, late last year.
Looking something like a ghetto South Park, Trae is something of a departure for the rapper. Known far better for his street-weary pessimism than for his comic timing, making people laugh is a new look for him.
"I don't care how street, how hard you are: Every crew, every situation, people like to think of something funny," Trae says. "(Executive producer) Omar Epps is like a brother of mine, and he was real excited about it. He went to Marlon, and Marlon loved it. We called a meeting and it happened just like that, and from there it's been crazy."
Even in success, naturally, Trae is forever restless. The cartoon's growing notoriety has already got him thinking about potential forays into the realms of television and film.
"I'm thinking about doing a movie," he says. "Actually, me and Philly Fly Boy, we got our company that does a majority of our music videos right now. I want to be a part of everything, man, 'cause that's the definition of a hustler, you know? You got to get it by any means necessary."
Trae the Truth performs with Lil' Bibby, MUG and the A.B.N. Family Saturday at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. Admission will be limited to the first 2,000 fans to RSVP at Scoremoreshows.com. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.
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