Music Interviews

[Interview] Sweet James: The Evolution of Trap

Sweet James

Have you ever thought of the meaning of the word trap? – Andre 3000

When Outkast brought the concept of the “trap” to mainstream ears back in 1998, little did the world know that over 18 years later trap music would be the defining sound of post-millennium Hip-Hop. Sweet James, a 25-year-old emcee hailing from southside Atlanta, is one of many young artists whose life experiences have been defined by the sound popularized by T.I. and also the real-life dangers that come with hustling in streets. But with other strong influences coming from such legends as Curtis Mayfield, Billie Holiday and the Isleys, James also views himself as an old soul. It’s these diverse influences that merge to create the unique, melodic sound that makes up his debut album Ain’t Shit Sweet.

In this exclusive interview with BeatsBoxingMayhem, Sweet James break down how he plans to use trap to elevate consciousness in music.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: With songs like “Matter of Fact,” “Wait” and “Pressure,” you have a melodic sound but not what most of us classify as melodic in today’s Hip-Hop. It almost has a 90s R&B vibe even though you’re spitting. This isn’t what we expect from trap music so what inspired this sound?

Sweet James: That’s what I like about it. I don’t know how it came about… I’ve been rapping. Like time, everything evolves. I feel it’s just me, I don’t feel like I’m trying to make a certain sound; it just comes out like that. It fits me — I don’t be on no extra stuff. I feel like if you’re in the streets for real, you don’t feel the need to talk about it and be flamboyant. It’s not anything to be proud of. No, you’re doing it as an ends to a means, because there ain’t shit else to do.

It is what it is. This is how we make money and survive. I feel that’s my vibe. I’m not no extra-ass nigga. That’s where [the album title] Ain’t Shit Sweet comes from. I don’t need to come through like “nigga I’m a kill you.” I feel I’m a boss, and niggas who talk like that don’t have that boss mentality. They’re still a worker. The dude from American Gangster had a suit and tie on and clearing a million dollars per week. I’m not talking about the corner because that’s not where I want to be. Niggas don’t have no guidance to understand.

That’s where I come in. I relate to everybody and I know what’s going on. I know why niggas are in the street. I know why niggas sell dope, why they got jobs — it’s all to pay bills, feed your family and keep a roof over your head.

I’m a very laid back individual. I like girls, I don’t like to be around a bunch of niggas. I done been locked up, I’m not trying to be around a bunch of niggas. I got a couple partners and that’s it. I like girls, money and cars. I’m not trying to be a destructive ass person.

If anything is going on illegal, it’s a means. No move is made without calculation. That’s why I “Wait” and ain’t quick to make no moves. If you listen to it for real that’s the whole song on “In My Thoughts.” [Recites lyrics] I might just tell ’em push up on me… Fuck that shit/Don’t need that press/ Don’t need that drama/I’ll sit back and count a comma

Fuck that, go count some money. You thinking about doing something stupid, go do something else. Don’t do it. Someone comes out flexing with a bag and wants something, he gotta wait because I don’t trust him. I feel the music has a message and I want people to take something from it.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: I read something recently that stated Atlanta’s murder rate is higher than Chicago’s. But based on the popular images portrayed in the music and media, most would think Atlanta is more of a party city as opposed to the dangers of trapping you discuss on “Be Safe.” Talk about the importance of illuminating the dangers of the trap that seems to be minimized these days in mainstream Hip-Hop.

Sweet James: That’s the whole purpose of music. You can take it all the way back to the Underground Railroad. They were singing their way through that shit. I don’t understand when niggas say the words don’t matter. Nigga, this was getting us to freedom! What the fuck you mean the words don’t matter? I feel a way about that because I take pride about what I say in songs. I refuse to be somebody just talking about nothing.

That may be too deep for someone but that’s the foundation of this shit. There wouldn’t be so many songs with the pain and emotion without it.

I’m wanna go in this bitch for the gusto. I ain’t trying to be no worker. The only way you end up a worker is if your words don’t mean shit.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: Even in 2017, there’s still a persistent stereotype that southern Hip-Hop, Atlanta in particular, doesn’t care much about the lyrics. In years past this has been broken in the mainstream by the likes of Outkast, T.I. and others. Does it need to be broken again?

Sweet James: I feel it’ll be broken soon. I feel like there’s so many clones out here that the originators of the styles can’t even be themselves. They have to reinvent themselves so quickly and it’s not happening organically.  I’m a fan of the game but I see what’s going on. Everybody sounds the same. I’m on that 4:44 heavy and Jay has a song talking about that on “La La Land.” That’s some real shit.

I respect the hustle, it got you on. But it sucks for the orginators. I will say this — all clones eventually fall to the wayside.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: 21 Savage recently stated that authentic trap music can only come from Atlanta. The actual sound that defines trap music with the 808s is pretty much a mainstream staple now for most artists. Being that hustling is also a universal thing in most hoods, does true trap music only exist in Atlanta?

Sweet James: Authentic trap, the real deal? You can only get the Coca Cola formula from one spot. Yeah, that’s us all day. It wasn’t a term until Atlanta made it one. That is down south music. East Coast has their sound and vibe. West Coast has their vibe. I mean, I could make a Bay Area song but would it be authentic?

There’s only one type of Kool Aid. The rest of that shit is flavor-aid.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: Let’s get to the album Ain’t Shit Sweet. How many tracks and how are you expecting it to be received in today’s climate?

Sweet James: It’s 10 tracks with no guests. Everybody that’s heard me says the same thing — the music is different. It fits this climate just fine. With these millions of clones, we need a different sound. I’m a real one, I know the power of what music can do. I can fill the void. That’s why I’ve made songs like “Be Safe” and “Wait.” I want niggas to think out here. Because if I would have, I wouldn’t have went through a lot of shit.

There is a way to make your shit fire and niggas still get a gem or two out of it.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: You spoke about wanting to be a boss. One thing about Atlanta is there are a lot of aspiring bosses but not a lot of folks willing to put the work in to get to that level. We see that a lot down here…

Sweet James: There’s a lot of “I can do this for you” people in Atlanta. But I don’t believe in saying I can do something for you and making you pay a dumb ass amount of money. I’ve done everything myself these people said cost xyz for way less money and the same quality. This is what I mean by a lot of fake bosses. A boss knows when they see potential and when they can use their connections for discounts. A boss will work with someone on the come-up and not tax them a crazy amount. A boss will not sell you empty promises.

I studied how the labels operate. What do I need a label to do for me? How does an album roll out? If I’m paying to get the album finalized, are we working as a unit? If you’re the boss, you’re supposed to be a leader and lead me to the other side. But if you have me out here by myself, is that a boss? A good boss is a leader and inspires confidence from their workers.

Even this interview, you’ve done your research and know the songs. I’ve sat with so-called bosses who want thousands of dollars from me and don’t even know my Instagram name. But you’re a boss? This is how you do business? That’s what made me say ‘fuck y’all’ right then and there.

A lot of these dudes claim they got keys and all they can open is the damn janitor closet.

I don’t talk a lot, I can peep game. I focus of what’s being said at all times. That goes back to my demeanor. I’m not gonna get all worked up. We’re gonna keep this shit all the way playa. There ain’t no bad blood, but I know just not to fuck with you.

I done took a lot of Ls. If I hadn’t, I’d of thought deals like that were sweet. It all goes back to thinking. They don’t want us to think or research nothing, just stay in a bubble. I want niggas to think. We do that and we can conquer a lot.

BeatsBoxingMayhem: It’s not a coincidence that a lot of best entrepreneurs and businessman in Hip-Hop came from the trap and were able to take those experiences and translate that into the legitimate world. That is also something you can argue is an American tradition going back to hustlers that came out of Prohibition like the Kennedys who finessed that into political mobility within a generation. 

How did you experiences mold you to be a better rapper and businessman?

Sweet James: It shows you how to read people and situations. It shows you how to see a snake or a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It shows you how to pay attention to details the average people will overlook. People forget you’re not supposed to do this forever. Yes, it can be a hypnotic lifestyle and addictive, but once you lose in the game, you start analyzing the pros and cons. Everybody loses. You then understand there is a better way to hustle without risking your life.

I’m not trying to be out here selling drugs. I did my dirt. I have things to live for and jail ain’t one of them. I’ve been to jail, I know what it’s like. It don’t feel good when you have 12 behind you. Family depending on you? You’ll do whatever when you’re about to lose your house.

The criminal lifestyle is just to get out the mud. A boost, a little leg up. You know what you’re doing is wrong. That’s why they say don’t snitch because everyone knows what the fuck they’re doing. You knew the consequences of your actions. And when you really know how those consequences can put you away forever, you move smarter with the money and look for a way out. This is not supposed to be a generational thing. Having generations of trappers is a no-go…and let’s throw 9-5s in there too because that’s a trap. A job is a trap. Going to a job every day that you hate. Can you leave? That’s what the trap is, you can’t leave that bitch.

This is why I feel there shouldn’t be any bad stigma on the word because everyone is trapping. Everyone has got up and said ‘fuck this job’ and went anyway because you’re trapped. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing to get money. You’re going to pay those folks off top to get that reup, that’s the taxes. So from 6am-3pm you’re trapping. That ain’t no life. How did it get like this? What makes sense about this?

If you’re washing dishes your son needs to own a restaurant.  What we’re doing now is not meant to be generational. It’s always supposed to evolve and get better.

Sweet James’s debut album, Ain’t Shit Sweet, hits all streaming platforms Friday August 25. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Shop for gear @iamtrapcheck.


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