Trinidad James & Fyre. Release Most Unexpected Album of the Year, 'Black Filter'
Evan Dale // Aug 19, 2020
It’s been eight years since Trinidad James dropped debut smash hit, All Gold Everything. 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 culminates with the release of Black Filter – that has once and for all pulled his limelight status away from the fate emblazoned upon him by his initial golden stardom.
In collaboration with Youngfyre (Fyre.) who produces the album at length, Trinidad unearths levels to himself across the unpredictability of his creative spectrum, that will come across as largely unexpected for those who have only ever followed his role as a purveyor of the hype and the mainstream. But, Trinidad has seemingly always been deeper than that, and Black Filter along with its deep and still emerging collection of accompanying visuals, is a testament to an artist that transcends music, fashion, cinematography, and even social statement. The entire sphere of Black Filter is a creative super-release from an artist seemingly pent up with the frustrations of unfair – or at least, shallow – typecasting that has boxed in his brash, necessary experimentalism.
The successful risks taken through Black Filter are the obvious signs of its underlying genius. Where many might suspect a modernized attempt to reclaim wherever it is that his All Gold followers have amalgamated, Black Filter rips preconceptions of a dated hip-pop star from the wall. And that’s because, that’s not at all what Trinidad James is. We just haven’t been following along closely enough. Through six subsequent releases (nearly one a year) in post of his All Gold Everything included debut, Don’t Be S.A.F.E., Trinidad has meandered, growing creatively as a rapper, a hip-hop hype man, a vocalist, a fashion icon, and a figure of cultural sheen. It’s simply been the shadow cast by the explosiveness of an unwarranted breakout hit that kept dark the reality of his artistry to all except for those who were paying attention all along. For the Trinidad superfans, Black Filter is an expected moment; for everyone else – us included – it’s a welcomed masterpiece in spite of its unexpected nature.
He and Fyre. work fluidly well together. Where undoubtedly the rapper-producer collaboration is still thriving (just listen to Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s 2019 Bandana or Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist’s 2020 Afredo), Black Filter exists on its own plane by the standards of the wide-ranging. Though Madlib’s crisp funk experimentalism of Gat Damn provided stylistically differentiated brevity to an otherwise lyrical show of force from Freddie Gibbs in Bandana, Trinidad James and Fyre. wildly shift gears for the nearly-40-minute run time of Black Filter. There aren’t surprising moments because every second is surprising. Black Filter at length is entirely unprecedented, bold, and ultimately successful.
Taking 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$AP Rocky is New York: a wide-ranging, iconically stylistic artist unapologetically exploring the wide range of his creative spectrum and making statements in the process.
With Playli$t, Trinidad James unveils a list of his favorite cohorts within the hip-hop game all the while introducing the world to a banger that, in every way that All Gold Everything was a hit, is an even more playable, addicting jam. Fitted with sharp one-liners, quotable punchlines, and an underlying understanding of poeticism with his words, what makes Playli$t so necessary to Trinidad and to mainstream hip-hop at large is that it goes above and beyond in its lyrical intent. Hilarity and braggadocio undoubtedly play their role, but there is also great rap beneath the mire of Atlanta trap and trunk-thumping bass.
UGLY takes the lyrical intent behind Playli$t’s success and replaces it with theatrical, uplifting outrageousness. An anthem of self-confidence that takes a battering ram to inwardly focused insecurities, UGLY brims with the trappy nonchalance of Trinidad’s signature, but is once again, beneath the cut of Fyre.’s meandering Southside experimentalism, a song for the people.
And no inclusion pulled either from Black Filter’s track list or pulled from Trinidad’s greater canon is more for the people – for the moment – than Black Owned. If listening to the track removed from its space crowded by hard-hitting trap, experimental risks, and glistens of absurdities, there’s good chance a listener wouldn’t even be make out that Trinidad James is the lyrically dynamic, quick-cadenced voice behind it all. Black Owned doesn’t bring to mind images of Trinidad painted gold for his ludicrous Gold Te$la visuals, or of him precisely portraying James Brown in the video for Jame$ Woo Woo. Instead, Black Owned, and its accompanying video, are a statement for the black community during these trying times, for his listeners, and for himself. Dynamically rapping his way through a relatively low fidelity beat, Trinidad makes it clear that he has always been a capable lyricist, but that he instead, usually uses his creative breadth to test the experimental boundaries of a wider artistic range. Nonetheless, Black Owned checks its boxes for hip-hop and rap; for the anthemic and the meaningful; for the party banger and the moment-meeting social statement. As does the expectedly fashionable, but proudly local video.
Through its runtime, Black Filter can be looked at as a macrocosm of Playli$t, UGLY, and Black Owned where – though no one track owns the same auditory aesthetic as the other, nor the same Trinidad James behind its direction – James is consistently putting on an exhibition of boundless range. And through that breadth, whether exploring the up-tempo, the hyphy, the low fidelity, the lyrical, or the outright experimental, Trinidad proudly displays his growth. He’s a better rapper than he’s ever shown himself to be; a more dynamic experimental risk taker; a more nuanced crafter of the high energy; a more grounded individual; and through it all, more of a showman. Black Filter – as a thesis on the range that Trinidad James brings to the table – is a masterful, necessary album that will forever be sourced as grounds for new sounds and merging lanes into a truly unique, irreplicable result.