Trife Da God and Ghostface Killah: “Coming Of Age” (ELEMENTAL Magazine Cover Story, June 2005)

  

While President George W. Bush has weathered more hip-hop ether than Vanilla Ice and Bill O’Reilly combined, the slogan of his education law, “Leave No Child Behind,” deftly describes an unspoken rule amongst rap circles. It seems like every thriving MC dutifully carries the burden of giving back to the block by putting on hometown MCs after securing his multi-million dollar record deal. This can garner various results: Nelly’s St. Lunatics only made temporary noise with a few radio hits, while 50 Cent has transformed his G-Unit crew from a trio of New Yorkers to an Aztecan hip-hop empire, with each member releasing solid solo projects. While 25-year-old Trife Da God is grateful for the opportunity to enter the industry under the watchful eye of Wu-Tang legend Ghostface Killah, he’s quick to point out that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

“He’s opening doors for the kid. Some people can say that [the opportunity was handed over], but ain’t nothing easy in this game,” Trife maintains. “All of it is hard work, that’s how I take it. I take everything that I’m involved with seriously. I haven’t really experienced anything on the major label tip, but that’s what I’m here for, and I’m going to keep grinding it out. I’ve paid my dues, so I’m ready to just spread my wings and fly.”

Trife grew up on Staten Island, New York, the city most known for hosting the 13-member collective that Ghost pledges his allegiance with. He was close to Ghost’s younger brother, and he spit a verse to Ghost in what he estimates as 1994, when he was about 12 years old. Though he said that he had limited previous studio experience aside from writing his own rhymes, Ghostface was impressed.

“It was murder,” Ghost remembers of the verse. “I knew he had work. We’re from the same hood, and there’s a lot of talent in the hood. I heard him, he was nice, so I told him to hold fast and keep writing.”

“He was like, ‘Just keep writing, get your flow more sharp, and I’m going to come back and scoop you up,’” Trife adds. “He stayed true to his word—he came back, scooped a nigga up, and flew me up to Miami in 2001. The rest is history.”

That flight was to work on Ghostface’s junior outing, Bulletproof Wallets. Trife dropped guest verses on two tracks on the disc (“Theodore” and “The Juks”) and performed live shows with Ghost to help promote the album. “As soon as we finished Bulletproof Wallets, we were already on tour,” Trife says. “Everything was moving fast around that time. I was just on his album, and I’m on tour already. I’m like, ‘Damn, this is what it can be like.’”

Sightseeing wasn’t the main priority on Trife’s agenda, though. He readily spews a grocery list of experience points he gained from the Bulletproof Wallets campaign. I “learned a lot from that,” he says. “When we went on tour, I learned what it was to be on tour. When the time comes, you have to sit there and do interviews, you have to hit up radio, I learned all that. I learned how to be more creative, try to find different topics to talk about. It probably always was in me, but it took him to get it out of me.

“I sat back and watched [Ghostface] play the game, and I just kicked up certain shit,” Trife continues. “I sit back and observe certain shit, and use it to my ability. Even learning from his mistakes, I learned a lot. We all make mistakes, but if I can avoid them from learning from him, it’s all good.”

Trife earned more exposure as a member of Ghostface’s Theodore Unit crew, which consisted of Ghost himself, Trife, Wu-Tang affiliate Cappadonna, Kryme Life, Wigs, Du-Lilz, and Solomon Childs. The group combined brand new tracks and leftover songs from Ghost’s Def Jam debut, The Pretty Toney Album, and released 718 under Sure Shot Recordings in summer 2004, which was praised by critics as one of the premier indie releases of the year. While the whole crew showed ample rhyming skills, Trife was the highlight of the disc, with his deadly bars on tracks such as “Who Are We,” “Paychecks,” and the Method-Man-assisted “The Drummer.”

After laying groundwork with his first two projects, Trife is ready to display more of his talents with 718: Stapleton To Somalia. Though Ghostface is cited in the album’s listing due to his extensive involvement in the album (a la Raekwon in Bulletproof Wallets), and other Theodore Unit members make guest appearances, the disc is primarily a launching pad for Trife to show his solo power—something that he says his listeners expect.

“People are feeling me out there,” he ensures. “Some people are wanting to hear more from me. With me being an MC, I have to live up to doing more joints for the people and getting myself heard more so they can grab a hold of me. I’m going to just let the people know, this nigga’s got skills, he’s keeping it true, and he’s a real nigga.”

The recording process for the new album wasn’t as simple as his previous work, though. Previously, he only served as one portion of a plate; with this album, he had to cook whole meals on his own. While he had to endure a learning curve with recording his own songs, he maintains that he was up to the challenge.

“It was very different,” Trife says. “I’m bringing people into my world a little bit. Not too much, because this is like a mixtape album. But I opened up, so now you can see a little of my potential, because most people probably haven’t even heard me do a song by myself. With there being three people on one song, or a joint where someone else already made up the song and wrote the hook, I’d just have to jump on do 16 bars. This time around, I had to take control of all that. I had to write the verses, and write the hooks. It was a lot more work on this one, I had to really let my pen go.”

Trife was up to the challenge. He emerges as a solo artist on the new project, handling six tracks by himself.

“He’s grown big-time,” Ghostface notes. “I took him on the road and everything, and he’s seeing new things. That enhances your rhymes and adds to your talent. He’s in his prime, so he’s going to get even better. He’s [also] still growing because he still plays the hood. I don’t play the hood too much, because I’m doing too much other shit. He still lives there.”

Don’t get it twisted, though. Ghostface’s contributions don’t go unnoticed. He appears on six of the album’s 18 tracks. “It’s beautiful working with Ghostface,” Trife beams. “We have fun, we get in the studio, it’s all love. We write, we help each other get down with the pens and all that. We have a good vibe together, we make good music together.”

“If I listen to my Bulletproof Wallets shit now, I’ll be like, ‘Damn son, I was sounding like that?’” Trife says excitedly. “The [listeners] probably don’t notice that, but as the person that wrote the lyrics, I can see the difference in my styles and rhymes. I got more advanced, and more sharp [since then]. That was the first time I was really going in the booth. Now I’m comfortable being in the mic booth with the headphones on, and doing whatever the fuck I want. I know what sounds good on a track. My ear is more trained to the music now.”

718: Stapleton To Somalia (“That’s like representing the struggle,” says Trife. “Cause there’s a lot of poverty out here in Stapleton, and Somalia—you already know what it is like out there.”) showcases Trife’s vicious, polished flow. He touches on his drug dealing history on “Cocaine Trafficking” and “Them Drugs Ain’t Mine,” the latter chronicling situations where he landed time from the law falsely accusing him of other crimes. “When I first started hustling, the police would always fuck with me,” he says. “I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was a sign that I shouldn’t have been out there slinging drugs. I was a young, stupid ass little nigga, but that’s a real story right there. It means a lot to me because people need to know how police get down. They be trying to give black dudes time to get them off the street. These little niggas don’t understand that.” He simultaneously paints a visual of his Stapleton Projects home and makes a hood anthem with the catchy, sample-rooted “War,” and spits street narratives over a haunting soundbed by up-and-coming producer Emile on “Event.”

Some of the album’s highlights appear when Trife goes beyond his gangsta rap steelo. “Life” has him waxing autobiographical material over soulful production from Jim Bond, and the nostalgic “85 Hip-Hop” teams him with Tommy Whispers, Fly Guy, Kryme Life, and minimalist hand claps and scratches by producer Mike Payne to pay homage to his predecessors. “Tommy Whispers had his verse first, and that’s how he started his rhyme,” he remembers. “’This is hip-hop, 85 hip-hop.’ We ran with that name, we got the old school beat, and we just went with that. We’re just showing the ones who came before us respect, and showing that we’re grateful that they opened doors for us.”

Add some trademark Ghostface highlights (including “Struggle” and “Ghost & Giancana,” a dusty yearbook heater which features Ghost tag-teaming with Kool G Rap), and you have what Trife calls a complete album. “This album is like a buffet—you can eat all day on it,” he boasts.

Trife has come so far since the day he rhymed to Ghost, he seems surprised by it himself. Before his break into the industry, clever lyrics weren’t the only thing he was delivering. “In the hood, you’re a product of your environment,” he laments. “I don’t really want to say it, but you’ve got niggas out there slinging drugs, and getting involved in shit. I don’t like to really polly about that, but that’s the reality of it. We’ve all got our own story to tell, and that so happened to be my story too. Niggas hustlin’ on the block, niggas get shot at, shoot back. Same shit, everybody goes through this shit.”

Other side hustles are also in the vault. “I was working at UPS. I had benefits and shit like that, I was getting paid decent money to live on,” he remembers. “I had taken a few tests, like tri-borough bridge and shit like that, I had that on the backburner. I still have it on the backburner now, because I passed the test and shit. If I wanted to quit rapping right now, I would still have other shit to fall back on. I live in my own crib, push my own Vs, I take care of myself. But I’m a determined nigga, so I know how to get out there and grind on any aspect, whether it be rapping, hustling, or 9-to-5ing it.”

Ghostface says that collecting MCs from back home isn’t as simple as outsiders may think. “It depends,” he says. “A nigga could be nice [on the mic], but a nigga could be shiesty, whether it’s thieving or giving out too much information. If you put someone inside your circle, you’ve got to be careful. I knew [Trife], he stayed in the same projects, and he used to come to the crib.”

Trife plans to take advantage of the opportunity. He labels Stapleton To Somalia as a “mixtape album,” and he plans to release a solo LP with no guest appearances later on, after measuring feedback from the new disc. “Doing this rap shit is a way out. I went to school and shit, but this was in my heart. It feels good doing this,” he says. “To have fun at something you like to do, even though it’s a job, you make your own hours. I put [hustling] to the side and tried to fuck with rap. I’m trying to do this hip-hop shit, try to get as big as I can get.” Sounds like the chance of a lifetime.