Unless you have some prior issue or grievance with Trae Tha Truth - like he punched you in the nose or headed a grassroots campaign attacking your company's character or whatevs - he's pretty much made it impossible to root against him.
He works like a horse, is apparently loyal to a fault, and now, with the release of Street King, has proven that he is capable of thriving in the independent music market. The album is good. It is better than good. It might be his best album to date. It might even age to be his most important too; Restless earns that designation right now, but if this one spider-webs into the sort of national success that it was constructed to chase down, it might catch up.
There are a bunch of moving parts here, but they mostly fall into one of three categories: The Pack, or, as it might be called, The Potential Criticism; The Sound, or, as it might be called, The Evolution of Trae; and The Incidentals, or Other Potentially Interesting Shit. Piece by piece.
The Pack (Potential Criticism)
Trae is a pack animal. This shouldn't be a point that's questioned anymore. He needs to lead. He needs to be responsible for more than himself. He needs that pressure. He's just built that way.
Still, when the tracklist and art were released for this album, one stat seemed a little ominous: On an 18*-track album, there were 28 features. Twenty-eight, bro. Let's say each song had three verses; that's about average for rap songs. Eighteen tracks times three verses each means there'd be a total of 54 verses to go around.
And in this instance, more than 50** percent of them were going to be divvied up among guys not named Trae. The immediate concern then seemed to be that fans, having waited now more than three years since Trae's last proper solo album, would be a bit frustrated by that.
But Street King sidesteps any "This Doesn't Feel Like a Trae Album" feeling. Had he tried to swing something like this earlier in his career, Trae likely would've been swallowed up by the context. But at this point in his career, his presence, now about as powerful as the Sun's gravity, is burly enough to pull all of the ideas/voices into one narrative.
Even when he's not around, he's around, seemingly watching from the shadows like the goddamned boogieman. And that's pretty impressive.
* Trae is credited with having six solo albums. Of those, four of them exactly had 18 tracks. If you don't count the intro, last year's Can't Ban Tha Truth had 18 tracks too. That might not mean something, but it might. Eighteen is a lucky number in Chinese culture, eventually translating into something about being prosperous. So there's that. Also, there's the 18 Electron Rule when you're trying to predict the stability of metals on the Periodic Table. Maybe he just really likes Chemistry.
**Two of the guest features only provide choruses, so the proper number here would be 48 percent. Whatevs. You get the point.
The Sound (The Evolution of Trae)
This is where it gets tricky, and where Trae has grown the most auspicious. All of his other proper albums have had definite feels. Restless, for example, was relentlessly bleak and assaulting. It was like trying to hug a big block of cold steel or kiss a great white shark on the mouth.
Life Goes On was heartbreaking (this is the one cloaked in the Big H.A.W.K. saga). Can't Ban Tha Truth was creatively confrontational - everyone reflexively refers to this as the "Fuck The Box" album, even though he never explicitly says anything like that. So on and on.
This one, though, this one takes bits of ideas from each and presses them into the same space. It is nebulous, and that has two effects:
First, it makes it extra easy to listen to the album in its entirety, which is especially important when courting the spotlight beyond Texas borders.
Second - and this one might be even more important than the first - it makes it impossible to nail down which song is the best. There just won't be enough people picking any one song. It might be the brilliant melancholy of the Wiz-assisted "Gettin' Paid," which manages to make disrespecting strippers sound regal.
But then what with the monster opener "Strapped Up," the best opening song on one of his albums since "Mmm Hmmm" on ABN's It Is What It Is? The sleepy swing of "I Am the Streets" that Rick Ross and Lloyd gobble up? "Keep on Rollin'," easily a Top 3 pick among the best sing-song tracks he's ever made? Gorilla Zoe is an excellent choice for a feature here.
The brutality of "Life," where Jadakiss sounds the most alive and Trae admits he isn't immune to feeling overwhelmed ("Everything fading away in the dark, when I step outside/ I'm too lost to see where to go, I just hop in the car and drive*") and delivers the most brutal line of the album: "[The Devil] left me without a sister, just images of her murder/ Knowing she cried for help, I'm just wishing I could've heard her."
"Slum Religion," where he parallels his perseverance with Wyclef** and his special brand of pro-slum intellectualism? They keep coming and coming.
*We once compared Trae to a horror-movie monster. This line here is pretty, the one about not knowing where to go just knowing that he needs to be going, is exactly the kind of thing Jason Vorhees would say.
**Rumor has it, Wyclef contacted Trae after Can't Ban Tha Truth, which had a song on it called "The Radio Won't Play This" that featured a Wyclef lift. Rumor also has it that there is an entire Wyclef/Trae album in storage somewhere.
The Incidentals (Other Potentially Interesting Shit)
There's a part in the first song where, for about 15 seconds, all you hear is a couple of high-pitched synths tinkering back and forth and what sounds like whispers being played backwards. That shit is terrifying.
"Wrapped it up, seal it, stamp it, send that shit out the door/ My money don't make it back, his whole family hafta go." - Jay'Ton
The "Inkredible Remix," done again by Mr. Inkredible, is gorgeous symphonic chaos. In this version, Jadakiss plays the role of Wayne. 'Kiss is better in his spot on the aforementioned "Life," but he's good enough here too.
Wayne shows up on the vintage "That's Not Luv." He's very much in Tha Carter III mode. Regarding Pyrexx, the tattooed white guy who detonated at Trae's recent House of Blues show: He's on the album's very first track, proof enough of how much Trae believes in him. He shows up very well, sounding most often like a meaner, meaner, meaner Yelawolf.
Regarding other features: Scarface is here. J-Dawg is too. So is Messy Marv, Big Boi, Lupe, Wale, Shawty Lo, Rod-C, MDMA, Tommy the Tuba, Snarky Steve and M.C. Chocolate*. Cy Fyre, the producer who recently had an award named after him in the last go round of the Houston Press Underground Rap Awards, shows up a couple of times too.
*Totally just made those last three up.
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There is not a single instance of Box-bashing on the album. The Devil, however, takes a couple of shots to the gut. As do bitch niggas, and anybody who would challenge his ruling party. Gorillas, though, are championed. And, of course, the slums are too. He seems to be pretty indifferent to everything else on the planet.
Follow Trae on Twitter at @TraeABN.