ap-A-Lot Records has helped make local luminaries Houston Hip-Hop royalty for the last 20 years. The labels most recent experiment has been Trae, a longtime affiliate of both The Screwed Up Click and Guerilla Maab. A cousin to Z-Ro, Trae has watched his friends and familys lives forever changed by the legal system. In a time when rappers pride themselves on jail connections, much of Traes rap family is behind bars.
Perhaps thats why the Houston hard-head fittingly called his first nationally distributed solo album, Restless. The summer release shows the slow-grind of a rapper who says he made a livelihood off of mixtapes the last five years. While he may be reaping some financial benefits, Trae shares the downsides of the fast life in entertainment. Fresh off of jumping on the Its Goin Down remix, Trae explains how hes paid the costs to be the new boss.
AllHipHop.com: Its been a long time coming for you but its been a tough journey for you so what keeps you going?
Trae: I mean, you know, its because Im a real cat. Thats what holds me down in these streets. Thats what I came here to do, to go out there and do the music. Also, my motivation is in all the people I lost and then my brother is on lock. In fact, two of my brothers is on lock, Dinkie and Jay Ton from SLAB. I have to be strong for them, thats what keeps me going.
AllHipHop.com: Houston Hip-Hop has had some bad fate with Screw, Fat Pat, and Hawk. Then Pimp C did his time, Jay Ton is locked up now, Z-Ro is locked up now, Dinkie is locked up now, how does everyone keep their head up?
Trae: I mean I cant really say for everybody else. For me, thats a lot of family, so I have to be strong for all of them. Jay Ton and Dinkie my brother, so I have to stay strong for them. Z-Ro and Jay Ton went in [within a month apart of each other.] Z-Ro got four years and Jay Ton got two.
AllHipHop.com: When youre at a height of your success like that how do you make sure you dont lose the momentum when you get locked up?
Trae: Its kind of hard. I been in this situation many times before, but when Im out here, Ill keep their names living so its going to be easier for them as opposed to if they had no one representing for them. I dont have to make sure I have to rep for them, its natural. Thats like if you and me were brothers, and you were gone, Id be behind you 24/7.
AllHipHop.com: What do you think of people who put the label chopped and screwed on their material without having known DJ Screw?
Trae: Me getting older, I think in the city of Houston, if youre from here and you know him and youve been doing your thing for long, I can understand you trying to keep the movement alive. But if you dont know him, then thats wrong.
AllHipHop.com: What was your relationship with Fat Pat and Hawk like?
Trae: Pat was close to before my time you know. Me and Hawk were real close, and you know Hawk was just like Screw. I was always younger than most people and Screw would build with me on the extent of music and hed deal with me in life to like a little brother and little n***a they helping. Thats the same way Hawk was. Thats why it hurt a lot when I lost him. Thats why I feel I really gotta grind now.
AllHipHop.com: Everyone in Houston came out of that mixtape circuit. Howd you get into it?
Trae: Thanks to Screw. After Screw passed, I did the SLAB mixtapes to start a situation to keep his name going. It was more to uplift Screw and from there I was also expanding my skills and doing me. I was doing everything from chopping my own s**t and all that. I been playing with different s**t. I learned a lot of things from Screw. I really wasnt watching him to learn I was just watching him, cause I was over there and that was my n***a. Thats how it was, I was just watching him. Ive watched a lot of my n***as do s**t, and with my album, I recorded everything myself. I do everything on my own after I watch and learn. Studios in my house so I record myself. I premix the tracks too and then I take it outside.
AllHipHop.com: Explain the Houston mixtape success
Trae: Youve got people like Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, Hawk, Grit Boyz, and all them cats and so we never needed a deal. If you were to come see my house and everything I got, I had that s**t from mixtapes. The mixtapes kept my fanbase loyal to me because I always stay in touch with the streets because thats where Im from. I can move anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 mixtapes and thats $8 to $10 a piece, so you do the math. I put one out whenever I felt like putting out music and I was in the studio like everyday so I was dropping on the regular. I have lots of albums and mixtapes.
AllHipHop.com: How have you matured over the course of all those albums and mixtapes?
Trae: You know I matured because I go through a lot of real life s**t, and that prepares me for the next battle. Each situation makes me more of a grown man.
AllHipHop.com: Do you ever wish the pace would stop?
Trae: I do. Im in a situation where I got one child and Im more of a financial presence rather than being with him because Im always on the road. I always wish it would stop because thats my son. Thats some of the s**t that happens when you in this s**t. Im single right now. Youll lose your wife, youll lose everything behind this s**t. People think this rap s**t is easy, but Ive been in this s**t since I was 12 and Ive lost lots of s**t over this. But if I werent doing this, then my son wouldnt be situated, I wouldnt be situated, my mom and brother wouldnt be situated. Its like a give and take thing. You gonna win some and you gonna lose some. My son just turned three.
AllHipHop.com: Does he listen to your music?
Trae: More so he cant understand, but he knows my voice so anytime he hears my voice; he knows its me. Sometimes I may be with him, and Ill be rapping to him and talking to him. My little dude, when he was in the process of being born, his mom used to be around and I used to be working on music. It was like my little boy always, even when he was in the stomach, he been around music. Its like when people talk to their babies before theyre born. Hell know my voice before he knows anything.
AllHipHop.com: After Katrina a lot of New Orleans artists moved out to Houston
Trae: I support them. You know its not only the artists, a lot of people moved over. At the end of the day, I support everyone because I hope they would do the same for me. They come out here and they do their music thing, and we support everything it is they do.
AllHipHop.com: With your situation with Dinkie and Jay Ton, do you think youre in the same situation as Bun B was with Pimp C?
Trae: Ive done been in that position. Dinkie been gone since I was 12, and Im 26 now. Ive been in that position. Im maintaining. Dinkie used to live by the streets, and hes well-known out there with the older Gs. With Jay Ton, its different. Thats my brother and Ive never been separated from my baby brother and to be separated from him I take it a lot harder. Hes a G, so he aint tripping or nothing. At another time, this s**t couldve [happened to] me.
AllHipHop.com: Does it make you more careful that nothing happens to you?
Trae: My everyday life makes me more careful. I been head of the Assholes by Nature. That camp is something very serious here in Houston. I wouldnt be able to be the head of that camp if I werent in the right state of mind, and I wouldnt be able to have the camp respected as it is if we werent in the right state of mind.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think the legal system is flawed?
Trae: At the end of the day, I wanna know if that was their son what would they do. I dont think they do the s**t that they do to people if it was their own, because they would understand why their child was doing what they were doing. A Lot of people down here trying to figure out their sons. They dont want their son to have to be put up in an orphanage. When I was younger, I caught this bulls**t ass robbing case, but I was just trying to take stress off my momma. Shed come home and shed be stressed and I wanted to help her. I was doing good for a while, but then I got caught for that s**t. In the end, I was trying to help. Nobody knows how it feels until they see their loved ones stressing about how theyll feed you. Thats something you dont want to see, especially when youre younger and these are the people that love you, so you gonna do what you gotta do. Whether its being in the dope game or robbing or whatever. This is like the Katrina situation. You had motherf**kers looting. Yeah sure, enough they were looting, but they were looting to survive but people dont look at s**t like that. They glorify the bad s**t. Like in Houston, they glorify the drinking. Weve been hustling, n***as been drinking but dont glorify us for s**t like that, glorify for us because we had our own music world going when we were out here alone. Respect us for that dont glorify us for the negative s**t. Thats like the first time a rapper gets in trouble and its on TV and they either gonna get time or get f**ked with because of the glorification.
AllHipHop.com: You think the Hip-Hop Police exists?
Trae: I didnt until I went to New York. Im me, man, and I go anywhere I want with my jewelry on and all. I stepped out of a club and four or five men, I swear to God, were following me. They were dressed up in normal clothes and had white cars. Its hard to believe that s**t, but I done seen it with my own eyes and I believe it now. They aint do nothing to me, but they were out there to make us feel uncomfortable. [There is] nothing like that Down South, they be trying to get into the concert.