By Marcus Dowling
A shirtless “fat fool” tagging hip hop with an large black mark across its hippie dippy hipster existence, Washington, DC’s Fat Trel is possibly the game’s next great emcee. In concert on Sunday night at the Nation’s Capital’s U Street Music Hall, he delivered a spellbinding performance that truly signaled the arrival of a sea change, a new world order in hip hop’s future progression.
So much of trending rap is bathed in a warm glow of “post-racial kum-bay-ya.” Young black men now embrace all of society in a comfortable bear hug, seemingly okay with temporarily disavowing the memory of Jim Crow for big bucks. Black rage is white angst is “Si se puede” is yellow fever is the red man’s “Long Walk.” Kanye is correct to think that he’s slick in embracing the “post-racial” fallacy and getting thousands of white people to call n*ggas gorillas because their white dollars are making his black life richer than they could ever imagine. However, Mr. West’s methods appear petulant and inappropriate when compared to far Northeast DC resident Fat Trel. In handling his racial anger in a less surreptitious manner, he’s an entirely different dude for an entirely controversial time.
At various points in Sunday night’s 90 minute performance with a go-go meets nu metal live band, he made the kind of terrifying racial statements that made Public Enemy millionaires. “Now y’all all know, like there’s n*ggas and African-Americans, there’s crackers and white people.” It was a shocker, the kind of thing that good, upstanding black folks aren’t supposed to say anymore, not that Trel would know. This was said by someone who, as his 2010 single states, spends his time “trappin’ like a fool” instead of drinking high priced martinis at happy hours or enjoying hummus, bikram yoga and the other unintended benefits of gentrification. In still wholly living in the “old school” black expectation where, as he states, “white label owners make me feel like I’m not very intelligent,” the “new school” rules don’t really apply.
On singles like “Respect With The Teck,” “Nightmare” and “Freeze Me,” there’s a level of honest menace delivered with a hazel-eyed gleam that distinguishes him from the pack. A supremely lyrically gifted emcee, his melodic wordplay invites a listener into his world, and though likely wholly unaware of it or its repercussions, you demand to know more. When he assented on Sunday night to sharing, he explained that he titled his 2010 mixtape of legendary local lore, <em>No Secrets</em>, as such because he “didn’t want to hide his past from anybody.” A smaller than expected but enraptured crowd got a gut-wrenchingly real glimpse into the man. “I left home at 15 because I felt like the streets had more love for me than my own mama did. I failed the ninth grade, so I was like, if the ninth is this hard, then f*** a tenth…f*** a twelfth…sophomore year? F*** sophomores! I’m 21, and I have two kids and two baby mamas. I see a lot of white and caucasian people in here, and I want to let you know that I love you. I love everybody. My next baby…she might be Korean!” It was the kind of soliloquy that removes the legendary fourth wall, pulling you onstage with him, and making his movement your movement as his success dependent upon your support.
If wanting another show with another handsome black man in skinny jeans and fresh kicks spitting struggle bars, this was not the show for you. However, if you wanted to hear real tales about real n*ggas doing real things other than behaving like simians in Europe, this was the perfect event. Life for everyone is not so great. As goes Fat Trel’s development into a top-tier emcee, along with it goes the hopes and aspirations of the 1% of the 99% who are ready to come to blows. The tide has shifted.