As it stands, Trae Tha Truth is a master of his own universe. Though he sort of belongs to the major-label system, he’s still a bit of an outlier. He doesn’t answer to label qualms of wanting certain singles or bend his personality to fit radio or television. He’s merely a rapper’s rapper: a bold, gravel-voiced, benevolent being who could throw fire and brimstone but often restrains himself for the sake of love. You could argue that Trae Tha Truth, constantly walking through the fire of other people's contradictions, is a bit insane. He raps about the strife and pain that surround him and often arms up to the point where he’s protecting his heart more than any other part of his body.
A year ago, he wanted to release a double album titled Tha Truth. It would be his first true official release through his joint deal with T.I.'s Grand Hustle Records, but his new boss talked him off that ledge. Instead, all the tracks that Trae decided were worthy of Tha Truth were split among two albums. Last summer, Part 1 of Tha Truth arrived with a heavy mix of Trae’s solemn gruffness and big-name guests. Future strolled by for “Tricken Every Car I Get," Rick Ross stood by with a populist glee on “I Don’t Give a Fuck” and Trae could do nothing but be him, hurt yet proud. A selfless individual who was done being in fear of what wasn’t in his control. It worked. Tha Truth, Pt. 2 picks up where that album left off, with Lil Duval's intro about being fatigued by foolish proclamations and an open decree that Trae Tha Truth fights for his sanity sometimes.
There’s nothing light about the production throughout the first half of Tha Truth, Pt. 2. It all borders on deep bass lines, guttural kick-drums and programming, all to underscore Trae’s seriousness. If he wanted to breathe and run, he did most of it while mourning about the bullshit on tracks like Pt. 1's “Children of Men.” Pt. 2 rattles off a successive staccato of gun-heavy trunk anthems, with Young Thug’s croak on “Slugs” being the featured-guest highlight. You’d think that Tha Truth and its sequel contained two different Traes: One decided to be pensive; the other got fed up and grabbed some artillery to be the Gold Bracelet Reaper if necessary.
Things don’t seem to move toward the light, and even possible radio play, until you get to the synth stabs and rotating snares of “Who Dey Rockin’ Wit,” with Memphis rapper Yo Gotti. He begins to find a bit of separation and hard-boiled introspection on “All Good” with Rick Ross and T.I., only moments after wringing his hands on “My N*ggaz” with Ty Dolla $ign. All of it seems like Trae Tha Truth understood that he grew up in the jungles of the Southwest. He wanted to craft an album that embodied that, morose at times and creeping with sharp turns and dead faces like a Día de los Muertos parade.
“Everybody ways fucked up, glad I caught mine,” he confesses on the shifty “It’s Time." By the time Pt. 2 pulls around to the close, the only slight detour from Trae’s iron-fist rule of Houston’s version of Thanos is “Thirsty,” with Wiz Khalifa and the once exiled Roscoe Dash, and the bottom-heavy “Fuck Wit Me,” with Ink. Pt. 2 closes with a trifecta, after J-Dawg matches Trae’s pain on the stretched-piano melody that is “Mama,” and Trae becomes a prophesied orator on “I Will Survive." It’s a eulogy for all of his emotions and nerve endings. They were long dead anyway, but Trae Tha Truth understood a long while ago that a few things still needed to be said.
The first words of “I Will Survive” are "They say death around the corner so I taking my aim,
It ain't no point in tryna smile, shit I mastered the pain,” and it makes Trae feel more like a tired man who is down but never out. Through two albums in the past seven months, all he has done has laid his pain for the world to see. It’s a tricky form of catharsis, mainly because Trae Tha Truth is letting go of some demons but remains aware of what’s already occurred. But that’s Trae discussing matters on his own terms. He’s not the only rapper who has managed to release a swath of full-length projects in less than six months' time.
Killa Kyleon pulled off the feat with an all-freestyles tape, 30Days30Deaths, last summer, and then decided that he needed to create another full-length, Blessed to Raise Hell. In terms of crafting straight-up popcorn-flick rap music, Killa has always been one of the best. How he’s dealt with the constant fight of people saying he should be bigger than what he is. But he’s comfortable with the base he’s established since his days with the Boss Hogg Outlawz and, thanks to social media, has become a sort of lightning rod for his takes on traditionalism.
Kyleon has lost family, but never the ability to rap in such a stated, manicured piece of breath control that when he gets rolling, he has to force himself just to stop. Religion is brought up in some spaces on Blessed, but it’s a gangsta-rap album where the main speaker is Killa Kyleon for the course of 53 minutes. He strings all of his emotions, curtailing any sense of vulnerability for the chase of pride and self-worth. “I know I might be wrong, I still wanna thank God," he raps on the tape’s opener, and begins a deep dive through multiple trap topics (“Homicide,” the excellent “Ringing” with Kevin Gates) and nestles into a soulful groove with “The Grind,” featuring Freddie Gibbs and Raheem DeVaughn.
Through Blessed to Raise Hell, Kyleon rarely flinches, if he offers anything close to a confession of internalized drama. His dais is the land where Actavis is aplenty, where the plug supplies him with whatever he needs to make money. He’s a sinner, but the only salvation he seems to find is by confessing all his wants and desires.
What Tha Truth Pt. 2 and Blessed To Raise Hell underscore is that gangsta rap, the kind that still may feel isolated to a select few, is not fully accessible. Unlike what commercialized hard rap now sounds like, the men involved aren’t dedicated addicts playing to the pleas of a fanbase. Between Killa Kyleon and Trae Tha Truth, there are no imitations, no personas and character play. It’s just them. Which makes a lot of their work redeemable and even carried daily by their fan bases. Trae Tha Truth needed to let his pain be heard in the world. Killa wanted the world to know that he’s still pretty good at rapping. That’s an easy reason for things, isn’t it?
Trae Tha Truth performs at the release party of Tha Truth, Pt. 2 at 9 p.m. tonight at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. Admission is free, but RSVP is required to scoremoreshows.com.
SONGS OF THE WEEK
The Aspiring Me, “OK, Whatever”
Definitely good to know that Andrew Davis, The Aspiring Me if you will, is back to rapping for the sake of fun. And "OK, Whatever" is a fun record where he can fantasize about cougars, charging appearance fees and not sleeping with underage women. The tomb and boom of “OK, Whatever” does the trick and sets up nicely for the full-length project of the same name, due out next month.
Cooley Kimble, “Higher”
There’s nothing like piecing together James Brown, the modern-day Prometheus of funk, and your own aspirations. Days after Kanye West took to his own Quincy Jones palette of gospel with “Ultralight Beam," Cooley Kimble's “Higher” is a feel-good rap song that’s more chant and dance than bars and brimstone.
Javon “X” Johnson, “Exodus”
Though he lives in Dallas for a few reasons, Javon Johnson often looks back at Houston because that’s still home for him. “Exodus,” from his Houstalgia EP, doesn’t rely on pleonasm; much of Johnson’s raps refuse to do so. For two minutes, he hops on a loop of pan flutes and hand drums and participates in rap exercise, even checking in Django Unchained references.
The Outfit, TX feat. Rickey Fontaine, “Burning Trees”
Initially, when I saw The Outfit, TX’s brand-new video for “Burning Trees," I felt a little off. It’s NSFW as hell and mostly bluesy audio from guitarist Rickey Fontaine, but it’s more than that. Yes, that’s Mel’s bare ass having sex with a white woman atop a Confederate flag blanket. That’s also Dorian and JayHawk in a relationship with the same woman, one in a violent nature and the other in a druggy, lurid one. What can be extrapolated from “Burning Trees” is a larger, far more complex situation. That complexity? That regardless of what these black men may do, they’re still going to be robbed of themselves when it’s all over.
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Slim Thug feat. DJ XO & Propain, “We Ain’t Done”
Nobody reaches out to young artists in Houston on records more than Slim Thug and Paul Wall. Every other week, it seems, Slim is descending from his Northside perch to give his blessing to someone new. This time, DJ XO gets the touch over a reworked version of Colonel Loud’s “California” for a burpy, Houston-style remix. It’s also the rare moment when Propain appears, slices his verse up and then departs, as opposed to completely dominating and leaving glass shards of destruction in the booth.
Sosamann, "Jus Wanna Win”
Hyperactive Sosamann raps are always appreciated. Him sitting back and announcing a constant want for victory by any means is the crux of “Jus Wanna Win." He sings here, riffs into that stutter-step flow he’s found to be perfect for him and even plays up bits of Juvenile’s “Ha” video.