Asked about the highlights of his last week, rapper Trinidad James lists live appearances at Santo's Party House in New York, Art Basel and Liv in Miami, and interviews with MTV and the morning shows of New York radio stations Hot 97 and Power 105. He doesn't mention the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where Trey Songz brought James out to perform his hit "All Gold Everything" during the singer's concert there last Wednesday.
That James would have even found himself onstage at such a prestigious venue would hardly have been imaginable on October 17th. That's the date the Atlanta MC uploaded his video for "All Gold Everything" to YouTube, initiating what has been one of the fastest ascensions in recent hip-hop history. That rise culminated yesterday with the announcement that Def Jam Records had signed the rapper (for a reported, but unconfirmed, $2 million), following a bidding war said to have included Interscope and Maybach Music Group.
James, who only began recording on a consistent basis this year, released his first mixtape, Don't Be S.A.F.E. (on which "All Gold Everything" appears), in July. The 10-song release received coverage on hip-hop blogs and helped build James' following in Atlanta and New York (where DJ J-Dirrt, now James' manager and live-show DJ, gave "All Gold Everything" an early push on his Internet show, Ballers Eve). As recently as late August, though, James was still working at a sneaker boutique in downtown Atlanta. But the striking "All Gold Everything" video, which features a shirtless, heavily bejeweled James strutting through Georgia's Clayton County with a pitbull puppy under his arm, made him an instant touchstone online. Buoyed by the attention from the video, the song itself quickly spread to clubs and commercial radio.
"It was the perfect video for that song," James says of the clip, which was directed by Motion Family (he says he wrote the treatment). "Whether you like the song or not, if you look at it from the basis of what type of video would go with this song, that's the video that describes to you that this guy, he's comfortable in his own skin. Because that was the purpose of the whole video – to show that I'm comfortable being me."
James' flamboyant personal appearance and quirky lyrical demeanor lend easily to parody but, on close inspection, the deceptively simple "All Gold Everything" reveals itself to be a savvy, calculated move. Located within the song's lyrics are slick overtures to virtually every demographic of rap consumer – drug dealers, hipsters, sneakerheads, Instagram-using college girls and, most notably, users of hip-hop's new drug of choice, "molly."
"All I got for you is the reality of my life, so either you can relate or can't relate," James says of his lyrics on "All Gold Everything." "But the topics that I speak on in my music are topics that any human being that's really living life can relate to, you know?"
Now that he has arrived in hip-hop's major leagues in seemingly record time, James, whose output beyond Don't Be S.A.F.E. includes a scant few tracks (among them the just-released "That Turn Up" and a collaboration with Gucci Mane), will have to disprove his many skeptics.
"Don't judge the whole man by 'All Gold Everything,'" James promises. "'All Gold Everything' was for a reason. I made that for the hood because I grew up in the hood, but I didn't want to make a regular hood song. That was my type of hood song. I tell you about what I really do, what I really came up doing, what I really am. But that's not the whole identity of me. 'All Gold Everything' is just one of my lanes that I can do."