The late, great, Guru argued, quite memorably, that even those amongst the most skilled emcees need a unique voice to truly stand out. Houston veteran Trae Tha Truth possesses possibly the most unique vocal presence in rap music today. On one song, he can bellow out soulful melodies in the great Texas tradition of Devin the Dude, Big Moe and Pimp C, and the next he’s a rapid-fire human assault weapon. On others, Trae hisses each verse, seemingly through tightly clenched (and diamond encrusted) teeth. Still, while his approach changes from song to song, the H-Town native with the inimitable rasp maintains his trademark reserved presence at all times. He doesn’t rap as much as he simmers. Perpetually just a few degrees away from his boiling point, Trae Tha Truth attempts to ascend above the H-Town underground into national recognition with his sixth solo album, Street King.
At eighteen tracks deep and twenty-two guest appearances (WTF!?!), Street King is a clear and ambitious attempt to reach audiences outside of the ABN emcee’s core. In some cases, the Wiz Khalifa-featured “Gettin Paid” and Lupe Fiasco, Big Boi and Wale-featured “I’m On” in particular, the attempts are successful. On the latter, Trae more than holds his own among three other high-octane spitters, over sparse production that lacks the lushness and bowling ball paint sheen associated with Houston artists.
Other times, the guests draw unnecessary attention from the star of the show. Even with the many classics he has under his belt, I think it’s time for A&Rs to keep Wyclef a healthy distance from their Hip-Hop artists. He wails away, as only he can, for more than half of “Slum Religion” before we get a short verse from the main event. The track “Keep On Rollin” falls into Gorilla Zoe’s spiral of trap paranoia and ends up sounding like a guest on his own song. Unsurprisingly, Scarface steals the show on the dead homies dedication, “Goes Out.” Over spacey synths that some will recognize from Dom Kennedy’s “1997” (it’s the exact same beat), and reminiscent of his appearance on Jay-Z’s “This Can’t Be Life,” ‘Face vividly details the loss of a close friend on “another sad rap song that (he) shouldn’t have had to write.”
Yeah, about those guest appearances…there’s way too many of them. The cacophony of voices is distracting, and causes the album to have less focus than even most mixtapes. Rick Ross, Jadakiss, and singer MDMA each appear twice. Trae’s aforementioned voice and presence help anchor the listener, but there’s still a schizophrenic effect that makes Street King feel like a glorified compilation album. Also, the project lacks anything that screams classic Trae. Few, if any, tracks would feel comfortable next to a “Swang” or anything from Guerilla Maab or ABN.
While a not a wholly unsatisfying listening experience, Street King is missing the stick-to-your-ribs soul of some of Tha Truth’s lesser known releases. Though it’s a fairly solid effort, here’s to hoping that Trae’s latest release is more of an anomaly than what we can expect in the future. Otherwise, one of Hip-Hop’s most unique voices could get lost in the crowd.
Label: ABN Entertainment/Fontana Distrubition | Producers: Wyclef Jean, Mr. Lee, Drumma Boy, StreetRunner, V-Don, CyFyre, Track Bangas, Mr. Inkredible, Boss Kon, Rugah Rahj, Rockaway Productions, Platinum Hands, Revelation Sounds