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With the Deluxe Release of his 2023 ‘SOUTHERN LEGEND,’ KingTrey Continues to Widen his Range and Draw us Back into his Breakout Album

Evan Dale // Jan 31, 2024

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Chicago always has something going on. Bountiful creativity, art in spades, and music equal parts authentic and homegrown as it is experimentally groundbreaking no matter the direction it takes, or the trend it reinvents, the city is an artful stew overflowing with new ideas, new sounds, and a steadfast vision of progress. For a corner of music particularly adjoined to the city’s heart and history, KingTrey represents a continued tradition of the torch pass to younger hip-hop artists making waves on Lake Michigan that go on to splash influence at a much broader international scale.

The recent Deluxe Edition release of his 2023 Summer project, SOUTHERN LEGEND, is as good of a reason as any to shine another light on it and run back what continues to be a defining moment in KingTrey’s young career.

For the Evanston rapper, the project’s original drop on July 28 of last year already felt like a welcome party for his arrival to the next tier of his journey. SOUTHERN LEGEND hums from beginning to end with an unapologetic sense of self and self-confidence. And for KingTrey, that means it rings with clear influence from the imperfect griminess of the 2000’s mixtape era; that means it knocks with hard-hitting basslines and addicting hooks; that means it tethers multiple Chicago moments, and myriad stylistic nuances together with his rugged yet approachable flow, and his omnipresent collection of friends featuring on his tracks.

SOUTHERN LEGEND in particular is an exhibition of his network, folding in Chicago names and beyond; while the deluxe edition pulls in even more features on a brace of new tracks (DIFFERENT & BARKIN), and a pair of Don’t Need You remixes by DJ Earl and Nothing_Neue to flex just how far his music is reaching. Via remix, maneuvering in stylistic spaces beyond his own, he’s planting his flag at higher elevations, and he’s rekindling nostalgia for the 90’s Bulls with more than just his album artwork.

Chicago is always having a moment. But the indefinability of the current smattering of talent there is worth the Golden Era conversation for a city that has at its very worst, always represented one of the most relevant global rapscapes. But now, even only taking into consideration the fellow Chicago artists featured on SOUTHERN LEGEND’s Deluxe Edition, the city is reaching not only new heights, but wider stylistic berth, than ever before.

Upon the project's release, the dynamism of Blvck Svm and Mick Jenkins stood out, as it made Risky a  display of KingTrey’s ability not only to keep pace with two of the most thoughtful lyricists in the game today - both based in Chicago - but also how uniquely malleable his sound is to stand up to the immersive nature of his guest artists without fighting them for poetic space. Later, with Carefree – which again features Mick Jenkins, and fellow Chicago legend, Femdot – KingTrey takes a step back from the verses, and instead indulges in hooks and bridges, building bridges, too, across his city, and into new sonic spaces for he and his guests.

In another direction, Let You Down which features an expectedly lyrical cut from Brooklyn rapper, Kota The Friend, pushes KingTrey to counterbalance the poeticism with a more melodic verse of his own. And them, The Long Way displays his knack at crafting anthemic tracks riddled with the risk well taken to lean heavily into his melody at moments, and into his bag of bars at others, showing the full range of his skillset. It’s that flexibility within his own stylistic spectrum, that makes KingTrey – and makes SOUTHERN LEGEND – such a successful exhibition of his range and unique sweet spots.

So, with the additions of the emotionally mellow, chopped and screwed, Mick Jenkins featuring DIFFERENT; the downtempo, addicting, and Yvng.Wolfe appearance BARKIN (produced by Austin Marc); and two electronic remixes of early standout, Don’t Need You, KingTrey is widening his range even further, while pulling us back in to the project that is setting him on a trajectory of particular promise.

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