Trae’s been having somewhat of a rough go of things lately. After gun violence marred 2009’s annual Trae Day, a Houston charity event where Trae arranges free food, health services, school supplies, and a community concert, landmark Houston rap station KBXX suggested that Trae was responsible for the violence due to the graphic content of his music. A prolonged feud between the rapper and the station resulted in Trae’s music being banned from his own hometown station, a measure so severely enforced that some DJs lost their jobs for playing songs featuring his guest verses. Dark days for Trae resulted in repeated delays for “Street King” and ultimately a three-year gap between proper solo efforts. Still, as the title of a recent mixtape proclaimed, even Houston’s biggest hip hop station “Can’t Ban the Truth,” and “Street King” is Trae’s biggest album to date, a star-studded affair with practically every track featuring an A-list rapper or producer.
Listeners know that Trae’s music is made by the streets and for the streets, and despite the presence of so many collaborators “Street King” is no different. An undeniably heavy LP, it features an array of hood anthems as well as gloomier downtempo tracks. Trae isn’t exactly a happy fellow, and like his blood cousin and solitary musical brother Z-Ro, his versatile delivery ranges from a distinctive, menacing drawl slathered in Texas syrup to a rapid-fire triple-time to the deep, bluesy singing he employs on most of his hooks. While not as startlingly personal an album as some of its predecessors, the Asshole by Nature, Guerilla Maab-ster, and Screwed Up Click representative lends a vintage performance to “Street King.”
The first standout arrives in the form of “Inkredible (Remix)” with Rick Ross and Jadakiss. The contrast of Trae’s sinister delivery with Rozay’s ebullience and Jada’s commanding presence makes for an early treat. Ross also appears on the soulful “I Am the Streets” with Lloyd and the Game, and Wiz Khalifa guests on the epic “Gettin’ Paid,” a slow and thunderous duet produced by V-Don. “Keep on Rollin'” with Gorilla Zoe is equally gloomy, with an infectious, simple hook in step with recent Z-Ro tracks such as “1 Deep” and “Do Bad on My Own.” The heartfelt “Goes Out” features a dramatic Scarface verse and strong production from Mr. Rogers, and the best is saved for last courtesy of “I’m On,” an outstanding posse cut featuring Lupe Fiasco, Big Boi, Wiz Khalifa, Wale, and MDMA. CyFyre’s beat uses a brilliant “Return of the Mack” sample, and the five heavyweight rappers seem to fuel each other’s excellent performances.
With so many guests, “Street King” doesn’t always feel like a Trae album, and it lacks the cohesion of earlier work. Often introspection is sacrificed in the name of high-profile collabos. While a solid track, “Slum Religion” hardly feels like a Trae song with Wyclef Jean handling most of the vocals and island production. Some of the best songs are ironically the solo songs, of which there are only two among the album’s eighteen tracks. The marquee Lil Wayne duet, StreetRunner’s “That’s Not Luv,” is in fact among the more forgettable tracks here, and Jada’s second appearance on “Life” is underwhelming. The reliably irritable Shawty Lo does little to help matters on “Hood Shit.”
Neither particularly well-rounded nor without its share of repetitive filler, “Street King” does not stand among Trae’s best work, but it’s a rather enjoyable affair nonetheless, with 2011’s brightest stars turning out in droves to show support for the blacklisted vet. Although a long and sprawling listen, for an acclaimed rapper yet to experience a national breakthrough “Street King” plays like a badge of honor, boasting of countless underground triumphs, dues paid, and undying respect commanded among his peers. With or without airplay, Trae time and again upholds his title as “Street King.”