Trick Daddy’s new album Thugs Are Us is the usual state-of-the-art hip-hop Southern style, the beats running off the beaten track without losing their groove, sounds lifted from anywhere (giant dramatic bass booms, ’60s soul horns, dripping noises, gongs, lumbering tubas, noodling pianos), words bouncing from mouth to mouth. Of course what’s usual in this genre would be extraordinary anywhere else, and Trick Daddy is close to my favorite voice in hip-hop—not a drawl, exactly, more like a twist and a turn. The scenic route through syllables.
He’s also got the usual cast of friends—Money Mark, JV, Kase, Deuce Poppito—who are all fine, though they take too much space away from Trick Daddy, who’s only on two-thirds of the tracks. But Trina’s here too, and she’s fabulous (and Trick Daddy raps with her, hence he’s close to my favorite voice in hip-hop, as I said), and she’s gleefully doing her usual thing, celebrating herself, me me me, ho ho ho, I’m the fattest butt, the baddest bitch, dick me sweet, eat me better, and you’d better pay me too, ’cause there ain’t shit in this motherfuckin’ world for free. In fact, the whole sense of these guys, Trick Daddy and a lot of the Dirty South, is good-humoredly matter-of-fact about all the dope dealing and whoring etc., about all the thug stuff—neither glum nor defiant, nor acting particularly tough. Trina’s words say “pussy ain’t free” but her tone of voice says she doesn’t want to hold back. Just as Trick’s words say that he’s tougher ‘n us while his tone says that he’s relaxed and he’s just sitting around and chewing the fat—even if what he’s chewing is “Fuck the DA and the POs/Fuck the family of the victim, witness/That’s snitchin’-ass hoes.” He and Trina are rank and file, as opposed to New Yorkers like Jay-Z and Amil, who come on like royalty but with a royal status they’ve got to work to maintain. Notice Amil’s suicide threat at the start of her LP last year, which implies that for her there’s no choice: Either you’re on the top and in control or you suffer and die. While for Trick Daddy and crew down in Miami there’s no feeling of being on the top in anything, except maybe talent. Just regular thugs they are. And this makes Trick Daddy’s sense of political context and social justice kind of tricky, for instance the mantra he and guest rapper Society do in “Amerika”: “Four degrees and a Ph.D., you still a nigga; to use your platinum card you need four IDs—then you’s a nigga; shot by the cops at a traffic stop—’cause you a nigga” etc. etc., finally getting down to basics, “Who gettin’ 10-20-life on their first case?—my niggas.” He’s got the standard social analysis, about how he and his friends are being forced by circumstances to sell drugs and sell their bodies, but he doesn’t then come forth with the standard moralistic response of acting like this is a sordid fate, since for him and Trina it’s a fun life, a great field of endeavor.
So in the “you a nigga” mantra he’s not only saying that this is how an America he doesn’t identify with treats its black people, he’s also suggesting that blacks who don’t identify with people like him—with niggas, thugs—damn well better, since that’s how America identifies them. Of course his attitudes are standard issue, and it’s not the most interesting thing in the world to hear for the thousandth time some guy claim that he kills snitches and he fucks bitches, or to hear some gal announce that her pussy is wet. The song “Amerika” instructs the listeners to see other lands—i.e., to educate themselves, to see that America isn’t the only choice—but the lyrics here don’t take their own advice, don’t visit other realms of experience. But strangely enough, this music—hip-hop in general and the salacious and thuggish stuff in particular—is the world’s most interesting cornucopia of sound, of rhythm, of rhyme. Despite what the lyrics say, the voices sound generous, and the music is all-embracing.