I’ve been interviewing creatively brilliant individuals for the entire duration of my more than 20-year career as a writer. It is in that span that I learned an unfortunate truth; mainstream success and fame has very little to do with talent and a ton to do with how one freaks and tweaks the game into submission by making savvy moves at the right time.
Recently I had an enlightening discussion with a young man out of New York who was forced to learn the game very quickly when he gave up independent freedom to join Def Jam, one of the most storied labels in the history of rap music. However, like the big fish that got away, there are many tales of individuals who thought they had it all figured out, right up until the movement at which the realized they did not.
Trinidad James recently sat for a discussion with The Shadow League to talk about the new Stage 13 digital reality show “Independent”. But he has no qualms about deviating into other topics in order to make his points.
Breaking all the rules of the industry is part of their game. Join four INDEPENDENT music artists as they try to take over the hip-hop scene without being tied to a record label. Stage 13 Original INDEPENDENT features Futuristic, Reverie, Sean Brown, and Trinidad James.
The Shadow League: At one point, many people thought you had surpassed the label independent prior to your departure from Def Jam. What has it been like for you from that time until today?
Trinidad James: When I decided to leave Def Jam it was one of those situations where I was like Well, okay. I need to leave this because it doesnt make sense for me. Boom, its a process. It doesnt automatically happen. It takes time because of contracts, because of time, because of this, because of single success. Its like that. Thats how business works. So, in that span of time the one thing that I stayed true to was learning to be a better artist, working on my craft. Thats what kind of just kept me sane, enjoying life and working on my craft.
TSL: When the opportunity for Independent first came about what were your initial thoughts?
TJ: It was like Whatever at first. People want to shoot stuff all the time. People always want to shoot stuff. Im a pretty shoot-able guy. It was whatever. I had a lot of different things on the table at the time. But they were very persistent, it started to make more sense after awhile when I started taking it a little more seriously. And we finally did it. So we said, why not? As an independent the more cameras you got on you the better.
TSL: As far as the industry is concerned, at what part did you realize there was far more to it than simply being talented?
TJ: I think each year. I dropped my project in 2012. In 2013, I signed my first major rap deal with Def Jam. In 2014, Im still with Def Jam and that was a really great learning process. 2015, I finally cut off ties with Def Jam, doing it more independent. I did a business deal with another company in 2015. Finally stopped doing business with them and coming into 2017 I started doing everything independently.
Music video by Trinidad James performing All Gold Everything. (C) 2013 Def Jam Records, a division of UMG Recordings, Inc.
TSL: Now that youre an independent, youre the one who decides all of the moves and so forth. How do you think that has proceeded thus far compared to when you were shackled to a major?
TJ: First of all, I was never shackled. Youll never hear me bash the major labels. Major labels are amazing for the people that they work for. They change their life, okay? So, Im not never going to bash a major label. Major labels are very, very important. You just have to make it work for you. The biggest difference between major labels and young kids is youre dealing with business men and young boys. Not even business boys.
Not even like youre coming out of a private school and going to the major labels. Youre coming out of the trap, youre coming out of the streets, youre coming out of the hood, youre coming out of the projects, going against people who have been making millions their whole life before you were born.
It doesnt mix well if you dont have a good team. If you have a good team then you might have a great time. Because, youve got business men who think theyre doing business with business men. You cant be a boy doing business with them. It doesnt make sense. Youre doing everything off of passion, business men do everything off of numbers. With that being said, how can I be mad at a major label? I just was a young person who didnt know better, just like every other person who doesnt know better. You learn, you get better and you move on.
TSL: Between the time you started filming the first episode of Independent, and the time you finished shooting the last episode, what are some of the significant changes that have happened in your career?
TJ: I got my first movie role this year on Lifetime. It was me, Meagan Good, Keri Hilson, and Kelly Rowland called Low by the First Date. I’m in a movie called Pitch Perfect 3, comes out for Christmas.
Acting has really opened up for me and, youll see if you watch the show, everything I said I was gonna do, Im doing! Thats what Im about. I dont care what people are talking about, I care about what Im talking about and what Im accomplishing.
I think the most important thing Id like to say to everybody who (reads) you and looks up to you as their big homie to understand, no matter how many people quit on you, you never quit on yourself.