Trinidad James is the proverbial hip-hop overnight success story. In a matter of months, the 25-year-old neophyte went from slinging streetwear at a boutique in his hometown of Atlanta to inking a deal with Def Jam Recordings, largely based on the popularity of “All Gold Everything,” a single from his debut mixtape, “Don’t Be S.A.F.E.” The song bowed at No. 47 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart last year with help from its eye-popping viral video, which at press time had garnered 3.2 million YouTube views since Vevo posted it exclusively on Nov. 30. (That’s in addition to the 6 million-plus views the clip had already amassed via WorldStarHipHop and James’ own YouTube page.) The track is now at No. 23 on the chart.
James’ trademark flamboyance shines against a gritty Down South panorama in the Motion Family-directed visual. Outfitted in leopard print and a plethora of gleaming baubles, James invokes images of vintage Andre 3000 and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard while riding a gold-plated bicycle and spouting catchy one-liners.
“The video brought together this new movement, where hipster meets the hood,” says James’ manager, DJ Dirrty of Ballers Eve. He credits the clip with catalyzing James’ rise but notes that blog coverage (on sites like Pitchfork and the Fader) and preliminary alignment with streetwear influencer brands like Supreme laid a foundation for James’ career. “Trinidad James did not come out of nowhere,” he says. “We did the groundwork in a very short period of time.”
Capitalizing on the swelling buzz, James headlined his first major New York show on Dec. 4 at Santos Party House. Def Jam, Atlantic and other labels were present, as were Busta Rhymes and A$AP Rocky. Days later, Trey Songz invited James onstage for an impromptu performance of “All Gold Everything” during his headlining show at Madison Square Garden.
“We realized that the sky’s the limit; there’s a lot of potential. He has so much charisma,” says booking agent Peter Schwartz of the Agency Group, which signed James in November. Schwartz and colleague Josh Dick are assembling an aggressive touring schedule for the rapper, with a headlining stint kicking off in February and festivals and European dates following. “The amount of inquiries on him is staggering. We get possibly 50 to 100 inquiries a day.”
James inked a contract with Def Jam in mid-December that includes a joint venture with his own Gold Gang Records to release other artists. He lauds his new home for investing in a green artist. “It’s like a gamble,” he says. “You don’t know what you’re getting but you have a strong belief that this can [be] something big. They believed in me.”
The signing caps off a big year for the label, which named Joie Manda president in March. Manda oversaw a string of No. 1 albums from artists signed before his tenure — Nas, 2 Chainz and Rick Ross — but looks to make his own mark with James. “Trinidad James represents the cutting edge of what’s happening in the culture today. We are thrilled to have him at the label,” Manda said in a statement.
Def Jam rereleased “All Gold Everything” for retail on Dec. 20. The song has sold 97,000 units, according to Nielsen Soundscan. But the previously free “Don’t Be S.A.F.E.,” rereleased to iTunes by indie Think It’s a Game Entertainment on Dec. 4, has moved just 1,000 units. So, James knows that he still has much to prove. “I don’t think I’ve made it. I don’t think you’ve made it until you’ve put out an album and people actually go purchase it,” he says.
But he insists the high expectations that come with his deal (rumored to have a $2 million price tag) won’t make him change the quirky aesthetic exemplified by “All Gold Everything.” “I’m gonna continue to do me — the same thing that got me to where I’m at right now,” he says.