Searching for Tha Truth

Houston rapper Trae tha Truth visited Walla Walla last week as part of his "Truth Tour." Andrew Schwartz reports on the hype.

Andrew Schwartz, Feature Writer

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Illustration by Eric Rannestad.

Why the cameraman? He points his drone-like gizmo at the back of Xavier Tre’s head. He glides and creeps stage right, stage left, always at the rear of the show, pulsating occasionally into the action at moments irregular. The lighting in the room is presently red and green. His gizmo has two vertical black bars, which he holds and manipulates much like a child pretends to fly an airplane. The contraption convolutes above and between the handles, but at the center a protrusion dangles the DSLR, which seems to operate autonomously, though we suspect beneath his grip lies some well disguised mechanism of control.

The crowd, which is sizable and diverse, struggles amongst itself to get a moment or two within the camera’s frame. Xavier Tre and his associate, who appears half hype-man and half accompaniment, turn to the camera, literally face away from the crowd, that their own presentations, moments in time, might make the evening’s records.

We like Xavier Tre. He is uplifting. At the end of his show, he says that ”I’m making music talking bout my past, talking bout my present, talking bout my future, and y’all listened.” Xavier Tre is followed by Slim Jesus, a nineteen year-old skinny white rapper from Ohio who sports a large watch covered in glitter and wears his jeans at his knees. When the crowd boos Slim Jesus as he takes the stage, Xavier Tre returns to deliver an expletive-laden lecture on the power of positivity. He suggests that those of us who are not positive have no place in this room.

The room is in the Main Street Studios. The day is the first of February, a Monday, and for reasons which remain unclear, but which portend a future bright and cultured for this humble Washington town, Houston rapper Trae the Truth (not Xavier Tre) is slated to perform as part of his “Truth Tour.” Preceding him are the mentioned Slim Jesus, the second most famous rapper this evening, on his “Young and Ignorant” Tour, as well as a number of local crews.

And what local pride there is! Many performers don Northwest paraphernalia, Mariners hats, Sonics jerseys. Xavier Tre’s shirt says “Progress.” Walla Walla crew 2sick, whose bandcamp page invites listeners, by dint of their album “Pain Killa Music,” over to the “grimy side of Walla Walla,” played before Trae tha Truth, and now they dance with us in the crowd.

2sick is composed of mostly Latino dudes. Many attended Walla Walla High School. Fernando, who legitimately rocks his fedora, submits to a lengthy interview during an intermission, during which he expresses charming wonder, awe, and excitement at the size of the crowd, and the caliber of those with whom he and his compadres shared the stage. “Badass” is his adjective of choice.

Back inside, a high school lad holds his girlfriend’s waist in a proprietary manner. With monotone expressions they observe the skinny white kid who writhes and shimmies about the crowd in a sort of hyperactive electric slide. When asked about what drives him, the kid responds, panting, ”I like the rhythm.”

We want contact. We want to touch the rappers. We extend our arms skyward to the stage. Cillian, the Senator among us, is the first to have his efforts requited. He receives a bro-handshake. We are deeply envious. We resent Cillian.

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What, indeed, does it mean to be a part of the show? Musical performance is often inspiring, rarely in a pure sense, but rather because it makes you somehow perversely jealous of how dope a performer seems up there. Midway through 2sick’s performance, a random man gets up on stage and starts giggin’. It isn’t even clear if he is associated with the members of 2sick (after further analysis, it appears as though he is a friend). He just dances, basks in their glow (which, if I were them, would seem to me like an illegitimate harnessing of my personal spotlight) but none of the performers mind.

Even Slim Jesus has a posse. Outwardly, at least, he regards the booing with stoic, brash, and unapologetic confidence. He raps, “I ain’t afraid to catch a body and skip out from state to state / and if there’s a witness, I’ma kill him too, and beat the case,” lyrics from “Drill Time,” his twenty-one million view YouTube sensation. Unsurprisingly, he received a significant amount of flack for his lyrical inauthenticity (Slim Jesus is probably–and understandably–afraid to “catch a body”). To his credit, Slim Jesus has responded with candor and insight:

“If I rapped about driving around in a fucking car and fucking listening to country music nobody would give a fuck about that shit,” he said in an interview to Hip Hop DX, a news website for the genre. “I make music about some shit because it sounds cool. I like making music. I make cool music. Like I already said, I’m not out here claiming that I actually kill people … I make music that I wanna listen to, the type of shit I listen to.”

….

The Truth, Pt. 2 dropped on the fifth of February. Trae told L.A. Radio Show The Breakfast Club that, “when you hear tha Truth you gonna hear more bout what I’ve been goin’ through … It ain’t real for me to put it out there, but when they hear the music, [listeners will] get the feeling and they’ll know what my mind-state is.”

I don’t know what Trae the Truth’s mind-state is. The album definitely rocks the minor chord, so perhaps his mind-state is melancholy. Onstage, however, his persona is firm and efficient. He moves slowly. Often, despite whatever Texas-style banger is playing below, the only part of his body visibly in rapid motion is his non mic-holding hand; everything else bends a few degrees with the knees or the shoulders. He sways. He’s a broad-shouldered black man with grills and a baritone voice. He drinks a pink Snapple on stage. His hype man, who occasionally yells “hah” into the mic, or raps along with Trae for two or three words, bounces around him. Trae is the rock amongst the waves, the old growth tree in the young forest. “Nobody did us no favors,” he says on the album’s third track. “We takin’ we takin’ we takin’ … you talkin’ to a taker … I bought my daughter Jordans … just to go to day care.”

Xavier Tre says that “you are always progressing whether you like it or not.” He grew up here, started rapping in high school. It’s Walla Walla, they say.  It’s a blues town, they say. He does sound engineering at Main Street Studios and was involved in the conception of the Trae concert, for which he did a lot of the promoting work. Xavier reps Walla Walla hard (check out The Dub on his soundcloud). He had a whole lot friends and supporters at the show.

Among them was Mike McGuinn, who runs Urban Grow Systems, a hydroponic supply and grow shop (a lot of their business is marijuana-related) and has been working to get more live music for young people in Walla Walla. Last December, he and his partners rented out Main Street Studios for a Metal show. The Trae show is the latest they’ve put together, and the sentiment, expressed by pretty much everyone I talked to, is that the success of this concert portends well for the future – this town wants more hip hop, and more is on the way.

For now, we have Trae and Slim Jesus and Xavier Tre and all the rest. Rap shows are often pretty bizarre events, in terms of the music itself. It isn’t really live at least in the traditional sense. At this show we notice that many of the performers appear to be rapping over recordings of their song. Like literally the DJ puts on their song, and sometimes they will rap along with it, augment the words with live flair here and there, and sometimes they will take a sip of water (or Snapple) and you’ll notice that the words keep coming through the speakers, and the sound actually becomes in that moment higher fidelity.

It’s different than lip-syncing because there is no pretense; it isn’t about illusion or risk management, or masking a mediocre talent bolstered in recordings by studio editing. So what it is about? It can’t just be about the lyrics, because most of the time at a live show, you have no idea what is being said. It can’t really be about the beats, because oftentimes, the performer didn’t even themselves do the producing. Hip-Hop rests on a slightly different set of imperatives than do other genres of music.

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Trae tha Truth has his own mustachioed awkward white cameraman charged with recording the evening’s events. Trae’s squad is the largest of all. Most just stand there. He is the alpha. The hype is rising. He is caressing the crowd up, up, up. We are jumping. Hands are up. We want contact. We want to be on the film. We want to take part.

On the last song of the show, Trae pulls Max, and a few others on the stage to gig and share in the glory. I am left behind, but I am desperate. I shove my way to the front. Make continual eye contact with the hype man. My hands are raised. I want up. I want up. He shakes me off. The stage is too crowded. I want up. Max’s ass is dancing and bootyin’ all around the stage. He bumps Trae, the man himself. Tha Truth. I want up. The hype man gives me a knowing look, exasperated, somewhat pitying, but ultimately kind. He understands. He is dancing like all the rest. Is it not his job to maintain and fuel the hype? Share the hype? What a job. What a job. He slows his giggin’ and jumpin’ and smiles wide, pearly whites. He extends his hand, clasps it around mine, and he pulls me up to join him and all the rest on stage.