Must-Watch TJ: Trinidad James on Atlanta Music, Style, and 'Orange is the New Black'

Trinidad James discusses his sudden rise to fame, Netflix, and the other creative pursuits that keep him busy.

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Mar 14 2015, 4:30pm

Photos courtesy of Noisey Atlanta

In 2012, Nick Williams was just another cool kid in Atlanta with unique style working at the hip clothing boutique Ginza and making music as an activity on the side under the name Trinidad James. But when a song he'd made called “All Gold Everything” caught on and became a viral hit, he found himself being courted by record labels and touted as the hottest new thing out of Atlanta. He made a triumphant trip to New York and signed what was a reportedly $2 million record deal with Def Jam.

But “All Gold Everything” proved to be an anomaly, and James, despite releasing relatively interesting and consistent music like the project 10 pc. Mild, floundered in his Def Jam deal. By the summer of 2014, he had been dropped from his deal, which he announced with a tweet apologizing to all his collaborators that he wouldn't have money to pay them.

James remains influential: He's a part of and a high-profile voice for an arty, psychedelic hipster crowd that includes acts like OG Maco, iLoveMakonnnen, and EarthGang, and he's still on the roster of independent label TIG, which includes Rich Homie Quan and ascendent acts Forte Bowie and YFN Lucci. The clothing style he grabbed audiences' attention with—gold, vintage Versace, high-end slippers—more or less defined the look of the new wave of Atlanta artists like Quan and Migos. These days he's developed perhaps more recognition as a sneaker vlogger than with any of his recent music, which is a development he seems OK with.

James is the new Atlanta in a nutshell: An example of the city's power to launch a song and an artist to overnight stardom, a cautionary tale for the limited potential of this path to fame and the rapid hype cycle that can chew up Atlanta's viral stars, and a standard bearer for a new creative class in Atlanta that's less concerned with what the Def Jams of the world can offer them. During the filming of Noisey Atlanta, VICE's Thomas Morton caught up with Trinidad James to talk about his impressions of the city and the music industry that depends on it. An edited transcript of that conversation is below.

Do you feel like the neighborhoods mean anything in Atlanta?
There’s southern hospitality, man. You’re from here. People are nice. Gangsters and everybody. Everybody just wants to eat, get their money, hustle. But somebody’s bitch ass might kill you. Other than that, everyone respectfully moves on each other. I don’t trip too much about it. You can go to somebody else’s neighborhood and get money. They ain’t gonna trip. That’s the sweet thing about it. It’s getting different now with the younger generation because they’re different. How I came up and whatever, it’s cool.

How are they different?
It’s just, they’re doing older things at a younger age. Things that I feel like we were doing in our twenties, they’re doing in their teens. If that makes sense.

Yeah. That’s a classic thing. Each generation gets older at a younger age, I feel like.
Yeah, I mean, you learn it faster. You’re seeing it. The things we’re experimenting is the things they’re learning. Like, “OK, he did that wrong. This is how I’ll do it.” Or “this how I want to do it. I can be Gucci Mane at 13.”

You can’t be Gucci Mane at 14, though.
I mean, you can’t in reality, but in general mindset. Not from a standpoint of Gucci’s rap status, just that whole embrace of trap and hood. That’s the definition of the streets, in my opinion.

That’s interesting. Do you think trap music is going to continue through this new generation?
Yes. They love it. It’s the anthem for the younger generation.

Is it going to be twisted by, like, molly? That’s come and gone a little bit, but—
I mean, those drugs have always been here. As far as being popular in the hood community, it’s come and gone. But that drug been around. People been doing molly. And all those type of drugs.

There was a moment where it was huge for a second.
Yeah, people rapping about it, or whatever. Like I said, I feel like the hood embraces it. It comes and goes.

I was always curious if that was going to, like, change trap music. The way LSD made rock sound—
Make it more creative!

Yeah.
In my personal opinion, it made it more creative.

You had such a rapid rise to fame. You were thrust into the spotlight all of a sudden. How has that been? What has happened in your career since that big thing?
Woo! It’s like life, you know? Ups and downs. Just in general, it’s been a great learning experience. I feel like everything I’ve been through allows me to feel as great as I do about my new project. Because I know what it can do, I know what I can do with it, despite what anybody’s talking about. I don’t give a fuck. It’s great.

What was the process of making your new project like? Were you listening to new music? What’s the influence?
Man, watching a lot of Netflix, man. I was working on the project, and then I just stopped because I got tired of music. I didn’t have nothing I wanted to talk about at the time. I felt like I only do music when I got something to say. I didn’t have nothing that I wanted to say that mattered. I could make a song out of anything. That’s when you got all the bullshit music, when somebody makes a song about anything.

For me, I have to make it about things that relate to my life, or what I think that the young man that’s looking up to me, something I want to talk to them about. Something I can’t talk about in person. Then I watch all the interviews. I kind of stopped making music or whatever and had to find something to do. I was bored. I watched Netflix. I watched different shows, started binging on the shows. It gave me a different perspective on life. I went back to the music, I had things to say.

What was your jam on Netflix? Which shows do you like?
I started with Orange Is The New Black: amazing. House of Cards: butt-naked truth. Breaking Bad: Heisenberg all day. Weeds: I don’t even know what to say. That was amazing. Bojack Horseman.

That shit’s awesome.
Dude. Psh. Hilarious new cartoon. It’s a new type of Family Guy, Homer Simpson-type. Then Californication. I’m on that right now.

That’s a long series.
I like that, though. I’m a movie person. I don’t like the TV at all, period. So me getting into these Netflix shows really started by me watching TV. I haven’t watched TV in years. So it also allowed me to understand what was going on in the world. If you don’t watch TV and don’t read newspapers, you’re not gonna know nothing. So it gave me new knowledge on things, perspectives that I had on certain things. It gave me different perspective on things. Like Orange Is the New Black, just… women. It gave me a perspective on women, how they think, how they act.

Have you ever tried to write from a woman’s perspective?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve written songs that are sung like a woman. I’ve done that before. I have a really good understanding of women or whatever. I’m a studier of people in general. It’s not that hard for me, but it’s not easy.

When you’re taking a break from making music, do you ever get freaked out? I have a hard time with weekends, I feel like I’m supposed to be doing something.
Yeah, when being creative is how you make your money, when you’re not being creative, it can come across like, “what the fuck am I doing?” But you’ve just got to remember that that’s what it’s about. You can’t be creative every day, and that’s why you’ve got to surround yourself with people that are creative also. But if you’re to yourself, like I am, sometimes it’s a little strange. You can’t be tough on yourself. You’ve got to find things to do for yourself. That’s why Netflix came in really handy.

You should do reviews for TV shows. You give great opinions.
I mean, I took a general consensus from people. “What should I watch? You think you know me. What do you think I should watch?” or whatever. Then I realized that the shows women told me to watch were better than the shows men told me to watch.

I heard a rumor that you were styling people that you thought were horribly styled?
Not that I thought were horribly styled. For me personally, since I started music, I haven’t styled anybody. Before I did music, I styled a lot of famous DJs, artists—not huge artists like Usher or anything. I mean, for me, that’s what allowed me to realize that I can also survive in this game. People don’t have a sense of style. What I wear, I haven’t thought about an outfit in a thousand years. If you love it, you love it. If you don’t, you don’t. I don’t give no fucks.

You have a blog series about shoes.
Camp James, we’re on our 22nd episode. Camp James is my baby. I’ve been collecting kicks since ’06, man. I’ve done everything when it comes to kicks, man. Whatever you can think about ‘em, I’ve done it, man. Campaigning, fighting, hustling, selling, flipping, whatever.

I just wanted to be creative, use this artistry for something other than music. There’s more things that I love just as much as music, if not more, so it was like, let me talk about shoes on camera. See how it comes across.

My boy who was already shooting little viral videos for me and stuff, we shot the first episode, and it was a success. It was more views and positive messages that I was talking about than on the music.

It feels good to know that you’ve got an ongoing series where kids walk up to me, grown-ups—I was in the mall the other day, this grown lady said “those Jordans that you got, how much did you pay for them?” I was like, “were you looking at the show?” That’s crazy. It’s just crazy to know that you can inspire people with more than your music, just being who you are.

After you signed and your song hit, your first show was in NYC at Santos Party House. It kind of was like an incredible movement at that time. Going to a new city, that song had literally two thousand people feeding to get your record.
I could have stopped doing music after Santos. That right there will always be, that was it. I had just done what I thought was my craziest show in Atlanta. MJQ. Crazy. Like, you don’t understand how crazy it was. Hanging from the roof crazy. Literally. When I was going to that show, I was from the South, I didn’t know how people were going to feel. It was my 11th show in my life period. I didn’t know how it was going to go. Man, that day went schizo, man. To this day, I got a huge respect for New York. Hands down. They really opened my mind to, like, bro, if you can kill it here, you can kill it anywhere. If you can perform and turn up in New York, you can do it anywhere. Period. That was my take on doing shows there on out. It gave me the confidence I needed