With Help Is On the Way, his upcoming debut album on Interscope to soon come, Memphis bred MC Don Trip confirms that he’s out for much more than just “venting” on wax. Trip promises to deliver a well-rounded Hip-Hop album, one that will not only put him on the map and further etch his hometown into Rap history hounds’ minds, but one that will also bring back what’s lacking in the game today—honesty. With the help of some of the top producers and hitmakers from the South, like Cool & Dre, DJ Toomp, David Banner and more, and a no-nonsense approach to how he spits, Don Trip might just win.
“Letter to My Son” is an honest record that’s getting some burn.
Are you surprised by how much attention it’s getting?
I didn’t expect people to like the record, I was just venting and it just happened to work out.
What’s the feedback been like?
It’s shocking, but I get emails from men and women. I get love from the fans that did not grow up without a father. I get it from the women who’s fathers have left. I get messages from all kinds of people, even older people.
“Don Trip” that’s a unique alias my dude, how’d you come up with that name?
I didn’t even name myself, the fans named me. It just so happens that it has a ring to it, so I kept it. The “Don” came from battle raps, and from there they kept calling me that. I can’t tell anybody that it wasn’t my name, “Stop calling me that!” You gotta take that and run with it.
Your delivery and tone is very impressive, how long did it take you to balance that out?
I recorded a lot for my own benefit. Like they say, “Practice makes perfect” after you do a couple hundred songs you’re going to find your style.
But you’re a fairly new artist, right? How long have you been rapping?
I’ve been recording since I was 16 years old, but been rapping since I was 11 years old.
So what was it that got you to take Hip-Hop seriously?
I’m a big Jay-Z and [The] LOX fan… just listening to them was pretty much all I needed.
You mentioned earlier that you use to battle-rap before making records. Was the transition from battle-rapping to recording artist difficult for you, what’s easier battling or making songs?
It’s easier to battle; you don’t even need substance. All you have to do is know how to talk about your opponent. Once I realized that in the music industry 99 percent of the battle rappers don’t survive, that kind of killed the whole battle-rap vibe because I want to survive in the music business.
So how did you link up with Cool & Dre?
I met Frank from First Family and he introduced me to Cool & Dre and from there it took off.
I understand you rep Memphis, were you born or raised there?
Both. I was born and raised there, I’ve never lived anywhere elese.
I noticed many cats put you on that top 10 list of rappers coming from Memphis. How does that make you feel as an artist?
I’m glad that people are acknowledging my music. I don’t really care on where they rate me at. But the fact that they have me in mind while they’re rating is good enough for me.
Let’s talk about subject matter. Being from Memphis, which is known for its Blues, is it natural for you to stay within that frame of mind? Does it influence you at all?
I honestly never listen to Blues. Experiences in life inspire my words, most of my lyrics are actually weighing on me at that moment, when I write them.
Why talk about some of the subjects you discuss on your records now? What’s pushing or inspiring you to do so?
When I’m gone, I want my music to serve as my audio-biography. I want people to be able to listen to my music and clearly see who I am in all shades. I want my music to keep me alive, so I keep my music filled with real life.
So what separates Don Trip from the rest that are out here in the game?
You feel like a lot of rappers are not honest?
Yeah, I don’t want to give out any names or point any fingers, but the music business lacks honesty.
So is honesty your spiel? Bringing honesty back to Hip-Hop and in what ways?
I believe honesty is a big piece of Hip-Hop’s puzzle that’s been discarded. I’m not aiming to be a depressing artist, I simply intend to show EVERYTHING, not just the shiny parts.
What projects do you have dropping this summer?
I have a Step Brotha project that just dropped on July 25th with my step brother Starlito. After that, I got the Gangsta Grillz and after that, I couldn’t tell you. I never stop recording.
The mainline Memphis rap scene is littered with performers, but there are only three that have fully broken through to become notable figures nationally: 8Ball & MJG, Three 6 Mafia, and Yo Gotti. Make room for a fourth.
A self-described "Eastside" Memphis native and Sheffield High School graduate, Don Trip is in the midst of a "swift" ascent a decade in the making: He says he started recording music at age 16, but few had taken notice until roughly a year ago, when the YouTube video for his song "Letter to My Son" began to gain traction. Now, a month shy of 26, Trip has signed to major-label Interscope Records and has finished recording an official debut album for the label, Help Is on the Way.
"The history of Memphis rap is that no rappers get along with each other, and I haven't had that problem," Trip says, speaking by phone from Los Angeles, where he's on a promotional tour visiting radio stations. "I've done records with Gotti, Ball & MJG, and Three 6. But I think [my style] is new. Ball & MJG sound nothing like Three 6. Three 6 sounds nothing like Gotti. I sound different from all of them."
Does he ever.
The original clip for "Letter to My Son" — an "official" video directed by Memphis director Joe Gotti debuted last month — was put on YouTube in September 2009 and consists of a shot of a bare-chested Trip rapping into a microphone. Raw and intimate, it's one man's testimony from the wrong side of a contentious custody battle.
Addressing his infant son, Trip apologizes for his absence ("I don't get to see you like I want to/I just want to let you know I want to"), disparages the mother ("To get back at me she knows she gotta use you ... she don't understand that this shit will bruise you too"), references court hearings, details steps taken to straighten up his own life and rectify the situation, and lashes out emotionally ("I just want to see my child").
It's a startlingly honest and affecting piece of music.
Two years later, Trip reports that the situation with his now 2-year-old son has improved.
"It's a lot better now," he says. "It's not perfect. But I get to see him a lot more often." And that transition has been documented as well. On "Letter to My Son," Trip complains about not getting to change his son's diapers. On the recent single "Finale," he raps: "Now that I'm a father, I ain't stopped thuggin'/I just stopped buying bullshit and started buying Huggies."
"Letter to My Son" sat, generally unnoticed, on YouTube for roughly a year. But then, late last year it started to spread like a "virus," Trip says, "and it hit another level when Interscope got behind it." The clip drew label interest, including a call from Sean "Diddy" Combs, which Trip recounts in the song "Halloween" from his December 2010 mixtape Terminator. Trip also says he got a call from Interscope honcho Jimmy Iovine, which led to him signing this February with an Interscope imprint — Epidemic Records — run by Miami producers Cool & Dre.
Working with Cool & Dre and other producers — including Mississippi's David Banner — Trip has been prepping Help Is on the Way, which will likely include "Letter to My Son" along with otherwise new music.
"I hope to push it out this year," Trip says of the album. In the meantime, Trip has been flooding the market with downloadable mixtapes — by my count, eight full-length mixtapes and several stand-alone singles over the past calendar year, the most recent, Step Brothers, a collaboration with Nashville rapper and friend Starlito, which dropped this week.
"When it comes to the mixtape, I try to do them like albums," Trip explains. "But the album is a bigger thing. The album is more like a movie and the mixtapes like TV shows."
In truth, "Letter to My Son" has the look of a fluke — and in the context of the other music Trip was making at the time, it might have been. But the record not only spurred the growth of Trip's career; it appears to have spurred the growth of his art, as several recent releases — the May single "Finale," July mixtape Terminator 2 standouts such as the vocal tour de force "I'm on One" and the conceptually brilliant "Feelin' Like Mike," and the early leaks from the Step Brothers tape "Karate in the Garage" and "Life" — are at or near the same exalted level.
If Trip stays on this trajectory, he's got a chance to be not only Memphis' next rap star but perhaps the scene's most important artist. In contrast to the scene-specific, chant-like flows of Three 6 Mafia or Yo Gotti, Trip offers a richer, more complex vocal style. There's a sly ease to his flow that — like so many of the greats — presents the illusion of spontaneity.
There's fun here as well: Trip indulges hip-hop's playing-the-dozens braggadocio, peppers his rhymes with left-field metaphors, and lights out on plenty of rhyme-for-rhyme's-sake digressions. But, as "Letter to My Son" suggests, there's an unnerving realism to Trip's music. "I think that's why so many people cling on to me now," Trip says. "There's a lack of honesty in music. It became let's just be flashy. I like to be flashy too, but that's not what everyday life consists of."
In the world Trip describes, everyday life consists of cut-off utilities and sole providers trying to keep their families "out the ... MIFA." Trip crafts a persona that negotiates this world coolly but is self-aware enough to allow the kinds of admission most rappers keep at bay.
Trip's steely pessimism comes across as an instructive — perhaps essential — reaction to a soft recovery that, despite the black president Trip insists is "not our hero," is leaving behind young black men in record numbers. This downbeat but defiant worldview is most clearly expressed on "Feelin' Like Mike," where Trip expresses psychic empathy for an unraveling Mike Tyson: "Fuck a degree/Be glad I got a diploma/We can grow up to be presidents/Yeah, right/We can grow up to chase after dead presidents/Hustle for the rent/Now that sound 'bout right/Now that sound like the story I'd write/Story of my life got me feelin' like Mike."