Photos courtesy of Travis Porter
Midway through my recent afternoon chat with Quez and Strap, two members of the influential Atlanta party rap trio Travis Porter, they pause for an aside about the question they still frequently receive: “Who is Travis Porter?” Quez, Strap, and third group member Ali chose the name in an effort to differentiate themselves from other rap groups, but the singular name trips up lots of people people, even those who might be paying them money. “Some people still don’t know,” Quez explains. “We go to colleges and they’re like ‘Hey Travis! What’s up Travis!’ And they’re talking to me, and I’m like ‘I’m not Travis. Travis Porter is a group.’” Annoying as the questions may be, the name achieved its goal of grabbing people’s attention. But the fact that people are still asking questions is a reminder that Travis Porter remains overlooked and underappreciated despite their massive impact on the changing sound of Atlanta in the last half decade.
Starting around 2009, Travis Porter began a prolific run of mixtapes and singles that may not have immediately crossed over to the mainstream but that quickly helped the group build a large and devoted fan base, especially on college campuses and in clubs across the South. Eventually they hit broader rap radio, and their singles—most notably “Go Shawty Go,” “Make It Rain,” and “Bring It Back”—established the group as Atlanta’s pre-eminent party starters. Their music sparked already-tired debates about their artistry, but time has shown they were onto something.
“Every group that has come out of Atlanta or the south region are influenced by Travis Porter,” Quez says. He continues, “They might not say nowadays, but ask them a few years ago, and they would’ve said Travis Porter.” He has a point: A hilarious trio of rappers from Atlanta with a sharp fashion sense talking about strip clubs? A fun-loving group of party rappers with boundless energy? Sure, that might describe Migos and Rae Sremmurd, respectively, but Travis Porter got there first. That a group that created the instant classic “Make It Rain” and shaped so much of the style of rap in 2015 could be underrated is a bit preposterous, but that’s where we are.
Ali and Quez, who are stepbrothers, met Strap, who was already a young rapper, in middle school, and they formed a trio. Early on they were called The Hard Hitters, which fit the post-snap style of music that many Atlanta teenagers were making, their group included. But the name wasn’t conducive to marketing themselves out of that niche, so they settled on Travis Porter, a choice that helped preemptively place that key question about Travis Porter’s identity in their listeners’ minds.
At least within the city of Atlanta, the question didn’t remain unanswered for long, as the trio built a teenaged and adult following while still teenagers themselves. “We were the young kids in the city who were poppin’, that was the main thing,” Quez says. “These young guys in the strip club performing with naked grown people that was what really popped us.”
Travis Porter scored local hits, but it was their 2009 hit “Go Shawty Go” that got major attention both in and beyond the city of Atlanta. The song displayed the melodic, swagged out style of music coming from Atlanta at the time, over a beat from their longtime partner and tour DJ, DJ Spinz. Though they were putting out mixtape after mixtape during this period, it was in the wake of “Go Shawty Go” that they started to release bigger mixtapes with the likes of DJ Drama and DJ Scream and that they began collaborating with major artists coming from the South. With successful singles like “Make It Rain,” “Bring It Back,” “Ayye Ladies,” and the overlooked but still-amazing “Sunshine On Me,” they were now performing in venues across the country—not just local strip clubs.
The group’s peak run, from 2010-2012, wasn’t that long ago, but rap moves fast and forgets its heroes even sooner. Travis Porter have faded from the limelight, but the ideas in their music have moved further into the mainstream than ever. At one point, Quez and Strap told me they are the “Kings of Twerk,” explaining that they brought twerking to the people well before Miley Cyrus. It’s not that they invented the phrase or the idea—Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins already had songs with the word in them a decade earlier—but, as Quez quickly clarified, Travis Porter introduced many people to twerking and twerking videos on YouTube for the first time. Well before Diplo, Miley, or even Migos, there were dozens of YouTube videos feature women twerking along with Travis Porter songs to thousands of views.
In the last few years, Travis Porter’s successors have gone on to cover magazines and score huge radio hits while their own music has gotten less attention. It’s understandable why they feel ready to return to the forefront. With a solid back catalogue and more music coming, the time might just be perfect for a renaissance. To get that started, these are some key songs in the Travis Porter canon:
“Before we linked up, Quez and [Ali] had a song called ‘Tea Bag,’” Strap says. This song came so early it wasn’t even credited to pre-Travis Porter group the Hard Hitters. But it shows a distinct style forming, with a sound that would fit perfectly on a Crime Mob mixtape or a vintage Three 6 Mafia album. It’s sexually explicit—did the title not give it away?—and sonically blunt. Once Ali appears at the end, he gives off a burst of energy that would eventually characterize so much of Travis Porter’s music in the following years.
“Black Boy White Boy”
“That was one of the first songs in Atlanta that ever really popped for Travis Porter,” Quez explains, looking back and noting that “Black Boy White Boy” showed the trio’s potential. Travis Porter songs often focus on partying and women, but “Black Boy White Boy” was devoted to holding onto one’s black swagger and still dressing like a preppy white boy. If acting a fool in an American Eagle polo ever needed anthem, they made it. Thanks Obama.
“Go Shawty Go”
With production by the severely underappreciated DJ Spinz, a truly unforgettable hook, and the group’s first proper video, “Go Shawty Go” was Travis Porter’s first crossover hit. Though they already had local grassroots success, this nearly all-hook track pushed the trio to the next level—major radio play and music video placement on TV—setting them up for the even more successful single that came next.
“Make It Rain”
“‘Make It Rain’ was one of them records that you never knew what it was gonna do,” Quez says of the group’s first mainstream hit. “It was kind of edgy, real ratchet, and it was really nothing people ever heard before.” The trio has worked with a number of great producers throughout the years, but their chemistry with FKi is unmatched. The Atlanta production duo’s minimalist hits, including “Make It Rain,” anticipated the skeletal frame that DJ Mustard made his calling card. And well before the “Migos flow” became a thing, Travis Porter’s start-stop flow from “Make It Rain” crept into a number of songs as rappers sought a new way to approach a track.
“9 Outta 10”
“I feel the whole Mr. Porter mixtape is underrated,” Quez says about the group’s early 2013 mixtape. “If you go back and listen to it had some of the hardest songs we ever made, but it was just bad timing. It wasn’t enough promotion. It was between a time where everybody thought we broke up, and it was right after we did our solo projects. Then we put out the Mr. Porter project.” The tape featured production from London on da Track and DJ Mustard—two of last year’s breakout production stars—as well as verses from YG, Tyga, and the then-rising local star Jose Guapo. A poor release date and marketing might have held the project back, but “9 Outta 10” with YG is a good showing of what people missed.
“Nun Else 2 Do (Remix)”
The Rich Kidz were a popular teenage rap group in Atlanta during the late 2000s, but over the years the duo of HundreadKae and Skooly took up most of the spotlight. Even with the shifts in the group’s roster, their ability to make the most cheerful raps remained unmatched, which made “Nun Else 2 Do,” such a treasure. The track is a peak moment for the group, but if there was one way to improve an already-fun song devoted to kicking back and enjoying life, it was by grabbing a few verses from Travis Porter, who were riding on one of the most successful years of their career.
The trio’s latest single, “Faster,” shows that certain things haven’t changed, at least as far as Travis Porter still being primarily concerned with matters in strip clubs. But the track does show off one of their underrated traits: their keen ear for production. Travis Porter have a gift for picking production with either one too many or one too few elements, allowing their beats to get stuck in your head. It may not sound like a skill, but for a group that has been making party tracks for the better part of a decade, it’s no accident.
David Turner wants you to bring it back, in a historical sense. Follow him on Twitter.