By Ashley Dean, Denverite | If you want to know something about the Denver hip-hop sound, ask the guy who left and came back.
D-Trait — real name Tunde Williams — was born in Denver and spent his early years in Philadelphia before returning for good at 16. Since then you might have heard him rapping outside George Washington High School — or more recently, singing inside a spot like Your Mom’s House. His style and approach have changed over the years, but then so has Denver’s.
“I feel like at one point Denver did have its own sound, and it’s getting back to a point where is does,” he told Denverite in an interview that also covered his own sound, the value of a unified scene and his post-show routine.
You can catch him live on Feb. 24 at Black Box, hear him now on your streaming service of choice, and read what he had to say right here:
Ashley Dean: How did you get your start in Denver?
D-Trait: I’ve always been musical. I love music. So when I did move back I was like, the new kid around. A lot of people were already established. I went to George Washington High School. George is one of them special places. Everyday is a fashion show. … We used to have rap battles after school every day. Everybody that was dope was rapping after school. I was always a part of that. I would rap and the people who would be there would be like, “Ohhhhh that was dope!” The people who wouldn’t be there would be like, “He can’t do that.” So I had that “I don’t believe in you” swag. I’d be beating everybody. Running through everybody. I never lost. I was known really well for that. I actually had a cool little buzz and a cool little team I was rocking with for a while.
I stayed here for school. Ended up going to Metro. I spent probably more time in the gym or outside of the gym rapping than I spent in class. People just knew me for that. There was a period when I kind of stepped away because I was going through a lot of different stuff that was taking my life in a different direction. I had to reestablish myself again.
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AD: What’s the greatest strength of the hip hop scene here and where can it improve?
DT: The thing I love about the scene the most, just looking in from the outside and trying to be objective — the issue we always have here I call the “crabs in the bucket syndrome.” Everybody wants to be the guy, everybody wants to be the man, everybody wants to be the one. Because of that, there was no unity in the scene, people feel like they can’t work together, they can’t collaborate. … Now it seems like everybody is branching out. Everybody is networking. It’s kind of clicked. After years and years of everybody saying we’re not making it because we’re not working together … people got tired of saying it and decided to do it.
A lot of us have been on the same shows with everybody we don’t know. A lot of the promoters are working with new people now. It used to be: you don’t know these three specific names or they don’t know you, you’re not in with them, you’re not gonna get booked. That’s how it used to be. … But the best inventions came in perilous times when people had to figure it out. (He cited Chicago and Atlanta as cities where the scene unified in order to get taken seriously nationally.) It’s dope because I feel like everybody is working, everybody is networking, everybody is unified.
AD: Where in Denver to you tell people to go for good hip hop?
DT: Live at Jazz@Jacks, they do what’s call the 5280 Jams, which is usually the last Sunday of the month. That’s super, super dope. I’ve met some amazing artists there. I know Roux Black does this thing called the Test Kitchen, that’s super, super dope. Also they have another thing called the Cypher, that’s super, super dope. And you have other things too that might not be hip-hop based but someone who’s apart of the crowd and would go there to network — Deja Vu Poetry Night at a place called Vinue.
AD: OK, last one is an easy one: How do you reward yourself after a good show?
DT: It’s funny ’cause my routine is kind of the same. The first thing is, after a good show — me personally performing because if I’m headlining then I will be the last person to leave — I don’t want anybody around me when I leave. I don’t want anybody walking with me to the car. I want everybody gone. In that scenario, I leave, I walk to the car, I sit in the car for two minutes, real quick, just soak in the moment. I thank god and say my prayer. Then I get on my phone and figure out where to eat. I love, love, love to eat. If I could eat at Benihana for breakfast I swear I would. I love food. Then I network. … I sit down with my team, I plot where I’m going, get their thoughts and tell everybody where I’m going from there. I get home, say another prayer — the “thank you,” extended version — then I count my money.
This interview has been edited for length.