Evan Dale // Dec 31, 2020
Prior to this year, there was a certain expectation that came with a lot of things in music: that you could go to a concert just for fun on a whim; that good music didn’t really require a strong underlying meaning; and that Trinidad James put out absolute bangers. One of those things is still true, but Trinidad James, alongside the rest of music is evolving – and evolving for the better and more well-rounded (even if he’s still dropping party anthems left and right). But, as high-energy, up-tempo, and anthemic for the night out as a lot of his 2020 album may be, it’s an important footnote that even the banger and the seemingly least deep-thought tracks on the album all the way to the lyrically endowed thought-provoking genius that is Black Owned are representations of Black art, and that nearly all of the music we now know and celebrate at such a wide scale is only possible through a Black lens – through a Black Filter.
It’s always been the case. It’s also the case that in any other year, Black Filter would still unavoidably be in this conversation. But in 2020 – a year marked by much more than wildfires, elections, and a pandemic – but most fervently by what all of those issues and many more mean when applied that Black Filter – when seen through the lens of underrepresented communities – really says about the state of society. And Trinidad James – a hype-hop rapper best known for his breakout hit All Gold Everything – is here to teach something – or perhaps, somethings new.
It’s been eight years since he dropped his debut smash hit. And though his name has emerged time and again in reprises of its original cut, in features across singles and projects big and small, in further releases of his own, and in his role hosting Complex Magazine’s Full Size Run, it’s Trinidad’s current run – one that began with the release of 2019 single, Playli$t and culminated with the release of the Project of the Year, Black Filter – that has once and for all pulled his limelight status away from the fate emblazoned upon him by his initial golden stardom.
Context aside, Black Filter is an incredibly wide-ranging mosaic from an artist that has never before been credited for anything of the sort. An established rapper – a more established purveyor of the ignorant edge to Atlanta trap popular culture to a mainstream audience that looks past his raw, and multifaceted experientialism – Trinidad James has completely changed his listeners’ expectations, displaying steadfast artistic breadth with incredible creativity and skills at every corner of his emerged spectrum. Context included, Black Filter was he and producer, Fyre’s, concept album to illustrate the path of Black musicians through time that ultimately led to the album’s release. Black Filter is wide-ranging because it takes into account that filter’s whole. It’s Soul, R&B, lyrical rap, melodic hip-hop, and an homage in particular to James Brown, all rolled into one through the lens of an Atlanta hip-hop star who – like many of his Atlanta compatriots – is redefining what both hip-hop and in particular, hip-hop from the Southern culture capital means to culture at large.
Top to bottom, there’s not only something in Black Filter for every fan of hip-hop and rap, but something every listener has also likely not heard before. Take into account, for instance, Black Filter’s most stylistically transcendent three-track run: Playli$t, UGLY, and Black Owned. Along with their accompanying visuals, listeners begin to get a glimpse of just how wide-ranging, capable, and influential Trinidad James is, especially when he’s got the right producer (and directors) backing his creative paroxysms. An anthemic banger, a comically nuanced stint, and a lyrical show that not only meets the moment but builds upon it; very little about any of those three tracks could have been preconceived by even Trinidad’s most loyal fans. It’s an unparalleled exhibition not only of hip-hop range, but of successfully navigating each direction he so effortlessly explores. The three tracks are three of the album’s best, of his best – in the conversation for his three best – and not a one sounds like – or looks like – the others.
That’s a feat in and of itself, and through the three tracks, Trinidad James brings to mind an idea that he is to Atlanta what A$AP Rocky is New York: a wide-ranging, iconically stylistic artist unapologetically exploring the wide range of his creative spectrum and making statements in the process. The rest of Black Filter reinforces that notion even further, with no missable tracks, and no two tracks that boast the same aesthetic, even while telling the same story.
And that’s what the world needs from its creative leaders. Trinidad James has for years built a platform on a variety of skills and unique style and is now using it to push further the boundaries of music, and push even further still the boundaries of what music, videography, fashion, and culture at large are capable of saying – of really saying. And what Black Filter says is not only that Trinidad James is the truth and that the album is 2020’s best and most definitive, but that 2020 – through the lens of Black culture – through the lens of all the struggles and challenges being fought and overcome in a year as hard as any – has brought the Black Filter into focus through everything from albums to protests.
See our Comprehensive List of 2020's Best Projects here: