Yesterday I made my first visit to the Fader Fort to watch Trinidad James, the young Atlanta rapper who last year leveraged a viral YouTube hit, "All Gold Everything," into a major label contract that allegedly runs to seven figures. James is a divisive character in some quarters of the rap world. He's been called a novelty act, a symptom of the erosion of lyricism in rap music, and a throwback to the days of American minstrelsy, among other things. The people calling him these things are going to be bummed when he blows up this year.
James is a natural star, a supernova of charisma and energy, and the fact that he's one of the least refined lyricists in hip-hop does nothing to detract from his music's appeal. Take, for instance, "The Turn Up," which consists of little more than James commanding his audience at the top of his voice to do whatever drugs they can get their hands on, interspersed with about a million N-bombs. It's one of my favorite songs right now, and when he played it at the Fader Fort thousands of people—including more than a few who've adopted elements of his distinctive sartorial style—complied by turning it all the way up.
Few people take Trinidad James seriously, and few took Master P seriously, either, when he stormed the pop scene in the late 90s. Like James, P and his No Limit roster were loud, unrefined, and completely at odds with the cerebral backpacker rap that a lot of critics would rather represent the hip-hop community. Then he went on to sell over 75 million albums on his own record label, launched a multimedia empire that included feature-length movies, and basically became the guy who every entrepreneurial-minded rapper in the world wanted to be. Most successful hip-hop enterprises these days, from Cash Money Entertainment to Odd Future, have some of his DNA.
And if you've forgotten, he also made a ton of hits. Last night P headlined Andrew Barber's Fake Shore Drive showcase in a large parking lot only a few minutes' walk from the Fader Fort. The VIP section was full of Chicago rappers, producers, and promoters, and the mood was a mixture of family reunion and hometown pride. The Cool Kids played their first set together in a year to a mob of appreciative fans, but there was even more anticipation for P's set.
When he finally took the stage, with a posse that included people waving flags and a heavily muscled shirtless giant wearing a black ski mask, and tore into "Make 'Em Say Uhh!," the place detonated. At one point I saw pretty much every rapper in Chicago bouncing around like hyperactive 12-year-olds, grinning and singing along to every word. From where I was standing it looked like Master P got the last laugh after all.