2016 marks a decade that Trip Lee has been in the music industry since the release of his debut album, If They Only Knew, in 2006. As an original member of Reach Records and the 116 Clique, the Dallas native has seen the independent label grow and the movement morph accordingly.
Lee’s last LP, 2014’s Rise, came after he had debated retiring from the rap game as he balanced his roles as a family man and pastor. Two years have passed since then and Lee says in an exclusive phone interview with HipHopDX that he’s never really sure when his next musical output will be his last.
But he’s not done yet as he’s set to drop his first mixtape, The Waiting Room, tomorrow (December 9). The project features labelmate Tedashii and production from frequent collaborator GAWVI. Lee moved to Atlanta, Reach’s headquarters, soon after Rise’s release to help plant a church and to be closer to his musical family. As he’s transitioned to his new home, he’s been reminded that there’s a lot more to life that he is waiting for. Whether it’s the dream of becoming the best artist he can be, hoping for an end to police brutality or the restoration of his health when he gets to be home with his Creator, Lee put pen to paper to express what he’s persevering through in The Waiting Room.
HipHopDX: I know during Rise, it was a time where you were debating retirement, what did you learn from that album and did it give you any renewed sense of confidence or reassurance in music?
Trip Lee: Even when I did Rise, even while working on Waiting Room for a lot of the time, it’s always a thing for me where I’m not quite sure whether it will be the last one or not. And that doesn’t have anything to do with my desire to do music or my even my confidence with music. It’s really just trying to always think about what’s the best way to use my time when I have other things going on. One thing it did is it did remind me how much I love making music. It did remind me how much I love connecting with fans who’ve been impacted by the music. Doing the tour did remind me how much I love shows like that that I get to put together. I never get tired of making music and trying to connect with people in that way and same thing with The Waiting Room while working on that, I really do love the creative process. It’s amazing that I get to like sit down and think of ideas then get to make those ideas and hear how they impact people. I never get tired of that. I love that process.
HipHopDX: It’s been a couple years now in between projects. Is there anything new that you brought to The Waiting Room or do you feel you picked back up where you left off?
Trip Lee: I’m always trying to bring something new. I’m always trying to get better and in between certain projects, there may be different things I’m thinking about that I want to get better at. One of the things I’ve always admired is artists who don’t stay stagnant, but they get better with every record or they give you a different kinda feel every record, I admire that. And even though the album seems to be kinda dying a little bit, people don’t always love full albums as much and playlists are getting so much more love these days, I still love a good body of work, someone putting together just a great record, so I always try to do that. With this one, one of the things I focused on a lot on this one is just a raw kind of realness about how rough life can be. So you got some of that on my last record with “Sweet Victory” and songs like that and on this record, there’s a lot of those. A song called “IDK” where I’m expressing this life sucks and it feels like God never hears me when I ask him for help. There’s another song called “Longer” where I’m kinda doing the same thing lamenting some of the hard things about life and a song called “Clouds” where I’m thinking about the ups and downs of being someone ambitious with dreams. And this happens in album processes, too. On Monday, I’ll be like “Ooo this album is amazing, I can’t wait.” Tuesday, it’s like, “This sucks, what am I doing?” Kinda the ups and downs of having dreams and ambitions, so I talk about a lot of that stuff on this record. It’s definitely going to be different than Rise, have a different feel than Rise and there’s a lot of ways I’ve tried to improve in between the records.
HipHopDX: The intro song is “Clouds,” and after your long run in the music industry, what dreams do you have that you’re still working on?
Trip Lee: Most of them when I dream about stuff with music, I mostly dream about being as great as I can possibly be. I don’t so much just dream about how ever many people I really want to get my record, though I tell a lot of people to get it obviously, or oh, I just need this Grammy, or I just need this or that, I’m mostly dreaming about ideas that I wanna go after. Oh, it would be dope if I did a song that had this element in this or what if I did this kinda storytelling stuff? I love listening to a record where I’m blown away at creative decisions, how the music feels and the storytelling. I miss when there was more storytelling in Hip Hop with twists and turns. You think of like some of the peak ‘90s Hip Hop where we had some of the best storytelling, Biggie was doing great storytelling, Nas was doing great storytelling, Jay was doing great storytelling. I love thinking of different kind of things I want to be able to do with my music and the impact I want it to have. That’s what I dream about most. The reality is, sometimes I have an idea that I think is amazing and maybe doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, but I have to move on to the next song and that’s just part of the creative process. If we can’t push through something not always turning out the way we want it to be, then we can’t be great. I think part of being great is being able to accept that things don’t always work out exactly how you want ‘em to. And you just gotta kind of have the discipline and the diligence and the passion to push through it. I’m so obsessed with trying to make things great that I’m willing to just stick with songs for a long time even. “Too Cold,” I probably wrote that song 10 times because it just kept feeling not good enough. So my dream is just related to making the greatest music I possibly can.
HipHopDX: What advice would you give to people chasing their own dreams?
Trip Lee: I think one of the things for me that’s been good for me and I think it’s one of the reasons it’s probably good to focus your dreams on being the best you can be is because I can not control how many records I sell. I can not control awards I get or any of that kind of stuff. I can’t control that and the Lord has been gracious and I’ve had record sales and I’ve had awards, whatever, I have some of the stuff that I wanna have, but I’d encourage people to kinda lock in on the things that you’re passionate about and try to be as great at it as possible. Because it’s much more productive to focus on things that you can do something about. You can do something about being as great as you can possibly be. You can do something about getting around people who give you good feedback. Those are things that you can actually do something about to get better at. One of the things that’s been helpful to me is there’s been many, many, many, many times that different people have said, I don’t think that you can do that. That sounds hard or that doesn’t seem right. But when I latch onto something, one of the reasons I’m so passionate about things, I don’t try to get passionate about stuff that I don’t think I can actually do, but when I’m convinced that I can actually do something, it’s really hard to tell me otherwise and that kinda drives in filtering feedback. There’s some people giving me feedback, cool, who I know the kind of feedback they give and even if they tell me I can’t do this, but I think I can actually do it, so I’m gonna press through. I’m not gonna make unwise decisions, but I think that kinda diligence and determination to kinda press through even when people don’t believe you can do it, I think that’s been huge for me. First time I was gonna do a book, I had people I trust told me that I don’t think you can do it. First time I was trying to put out this album when I was in high school, did my first album when I was in high school, I had people tell me they didn’t think I could do it. So for me, it’s not like holding grudges against people ‘cause they don’t think I can do it, but it’s like when I’m convinced I can do something, there’s not really much you can do to tell me otherwise and I think it takes that kind of drive to be great because you have to push through adversity and naysayers.
HipHopDX: I heard this saying recently, “There’s a lot of people who are famous without being great.” Would you agree with that statement, especially in today’s social media-driven world?
Trip Lee: Absolutely. There’s not always a correlation between how good you are at something and how well-known you are for it. You could be really well-known and not be great at something, absolutely. And there’s plenty of people who are really great and not that well-known. The thing is, there’s stuff you can do to try to be well-known, I don’t try to focus on that stuff. I do want to do marketing for my record obviously, I want to make music that I think people will like, all of that, but I think we’re at our best when we focus on being the best we possibly can and for me, I’d much rather make incredibly great music and not be as well-known rather than kinda sell out and not make great music. I would crumble up and die if I didn’t get to make the kinda music I want to. Or if I had to be like the only way people can like me is if I don’t talk about God in all of my music or if I just kinda dumb down my lyrics or if I whatever. I don’t think I’d be able to make it because I’m just driven by being able to make great stuff that has good content in it. I just wouldn’t, if I base my worth on how many people like what I’m doing or how famous I am, my emotions are always going to be up and down. Ima always going to think that I must be amazing, everyone likes me, or I must be worthless when people don’t like me. And that’s not a good way to live my life. I don’t want to live my life just for the applause of other people. I actually wanna be great at what I’m doing. I actually wanna honor God that’s what I was put on the earth to do. I wanna make great stuff and then I’ll trust God with the results and I’ll focus on the stuff that I can actually do something about.
HipHopDX: It’s all about that perspective.
Trip Lee: And it can be hard as an artist, especially in this, when there’s literally immediate, you immediately have people telling you whether or not they like what you just posted with literal likes, it’s easy to get really obsessed with that and to kind of live your life to just get more likes and more claps. That’s just a dangerous place to be, it’s just a prison ‘cause people may like you today, they may not tomorrow. I always live with that reality in front of me. People might not care about me next year. So let me while I’m in this moment, let me enjoy it and let me try to give people the best music I possibly can and let me use this platform well, but my worth ain’t based on this. I love it, but if I can’t do it for some reason, I’m not allowed to do it anymore, I finish rapping, I’ll thank God for the great run and I’ll try to be faithful in the next season. I don’t expect that to happen, but I know that people don’t, you can’t win in the same way forever. There’ll be some point where stuff shifts and that’s ok because my worth isn’t based on that.
Click here to read more.