It's been nearly one year since Fat Trel was released from Virginia's Arlington County Jail. In that time, the MMG signee has recorded nearly 250 songs—16 of which appear on his first post-prison mixtape, Finally Free. The best part? Trel practiced drug abstinence the entire time.

"I’m sober now, which is crazy because this is the first mixtape I’ve ever recorded sober," he shares during a visit to XXL's Manhattan office. "The core fans probably will be able to tell the difference—I know I could tell the difference."

On July 13, Fat Trel dropped the tape that fans are already calling a trap classic. His loaded, canorous bars on Finally Free float over production from DMV-bred producers, with some cunning verses from label head Rick Ross, Ant Glizzy and Tazzy laced throughout. Yung Lan, Yung Clip, Crank Shop and YB On Da Beat provide a pristine sound on fan favorites like "Kitchen," the I Am Northeast-assisted "Rob Me" and "Come In," making them Trel's go-to producers.

"I like their sound, man. They’re dope and they’re coming up," Gleesh says. I don’t want to say that I’m working with them because I’m trying to be the first big artist to rap on their sound, but they are dope right now and I’m trying to snatch them up, kill all their beats and just work."

With a 3-year-old son and a daughter turning 11 this year, Fat Trel is going harder than ever before. Every week the "Large Amount" rhymer spends four to five days in the studio perfecting his craft. The response that Finally Free has received from fans old and new proves his grind hasn't gone unnoticed.

Fat Trel spoke with XXL about his roller coaster of a year, the status of MMG, fatherhood and Finally Free.

XXL: In your opinion, what is the deepest cut on Finally Free?

Fat Trel: One of the deepest might be "No Freedom."

Why is that?

I wrote it while I was locked up and it was like me looking in the mirror and talking to myself. I apologize to my kids for leaving them or making bad decisions that forced me to leave them. It’s just deep to me ’cause it’s real. It’s like, "Damn, I can’t believe I’m in this spot. I can’t believe I’m sitting in a cell right now." So I just wrote it like man, when I get out I’ma do shit different [and] I promise not to come back here.

Did you write most of Finally Free while you were in jail?

Some of them. Really, I just wrote a lot of verses in jail. Some people can listen to the radio and write music to it, but I can’t. I need to hear the clean instrumental or I just can write to no music at all. But as far as verses, I probably wrote like 150 verses in jail. Some of them I used on records on the tape, and a lot of stuff is just new work that I recorded since I’ve been home.

Talk about some of the artists featured on the project. How did you decide who would make the cut?

One of the artists is 3ohblack. 3ohblack is a D.C. nigga just like me. We be chilling in the studio, just working and creating music. "Dynamic" came out really, really dope. He was like, “You going to put it on there?” and I was like, “Yeah bro, got to. It’s too dope.”

And then another artist, his name is Tazzy—he’s a singer and he raps. But he’s really new; nobody really even knows about him, but he’s dope and very talented. I love his voice. We probably made about four or five records together.

I just love my home team and I love that more artists are coming out of D.C., because it was really a go-go ran type town. If you wasn’t doing go-go you wasn’t cool. But now it’s like everyone is rapping and singing now. I just love working with DMV artists because I know that I can relate to them because we from the same area.

Were you able to convey the message you wanted to on Finally Free?

Really I just wanted to say that in a way I’m still the same me but just moving better, moving different. The message I want to get out there is that, you know, Fat Trel is finally free. I’m home and we’re going to keep running it up.

Have there been any issues since you stopped using drugs or has it been smooth sailing?

I’d be lying if I said it was smooth sailing.

Quitting anything is hard.

Yeah, quitting anything is hard. I love lean—I really enjoy it. Weed is cool. I’m not no big weed smoker. Like, I won’t buy ounces and ounces of weed. I might buy an ounce, and it might last me for like a week or two. Literally, cause I don’t smoke that much. It’s been kind of hard, especially when you got your friends in the studio. Everybody smoking, drinking, poppin’ percs. It’s kind of hard, but at the same time, it is what it is. It’s something I gotta do in order to stay out of jail.

Now you're working on your debut album.

Yeah. I think I’m going to Atlanta to Ross’s crib and I’m going to ask his help on some of the ways to go about making an album, cause I’m used to doing mixtapes. I’ve been doing mixtapes my whole life and have yet to put out an album. I just want to get around Ross, get that feel, work around those Atlanta producers and just try to create it.

Lately you've been with everyone from Shy Glizzy to Dave East to Rico Nasty. Have you been working with them in the studio?

Yeah, me and Shy been creating some music. I sent Rico Nasty a song; I’m waiting for her to send her verse back. But I really want to get in the studio and create something with her from scratch.

That would be dope.

And Dave East, that’s the homie, man. We’ve known each other for years and we just vibe. We got that vibe—real niggas link up.

Perhaps Nipsey Hussle, too?

Yeah. I ran into him in L.A. He was in D.C. a few days before that. I tried to get to him but the Broccoli Fest was too heavy. I definitely need to do some new music with Nip, because we ain’t have a song in like two, maybe three years. Shout out to Nip.

How have you been keeping busy outside of music?

I spend a lot more time with my daughter now ’cause she’s getting older. I can take her a lot more places that I couldn’t take her when she was younger.

She can appreciate it more now, too.

Yeah, but not only that. I just felt like she was too young to be in the studio with me. But now it’s cool to spend time with her. I go to the nail salon with her, watch her get her feet done. And every time a movie come out we always go to the movies. So when I’m not doing music, I just spend time with my kids or my little lady friend.

And as far as MMG, how is the roster these days?

Everything is cool, man. It’s wonderful. Wale actually got a new deal, too.

I was just with Ross in Vegas. He lost his best friend, so it’s been real touch and go. You know, death affects everybody in different ways, and that was like his ace—his best, best friend. So when I’m around him, I just try to spend time with him. I don’t even really want to make it about business. If we happen to talk about music or business that’s one thing, but right now he’s in a space where I just want to be there for him as a friend.

How about Meek Mill—have you spoken to him since he's been out?

I did speak to him on FaceTime. I hollered at him on the homie’s phone and shit. He’s in a good space too, man. He’s just chilling with his son. That’s what we like doing now besides doing music, chilling with our kids because being brought up by our moms you wish that you had spent more time with your dad. So now that I look back on that, I try to be the father that’s around or have my daughter around, even if I’m busy. Just have her around in my eyesight. So shout out to Meek though, man. We’re gonna get some work in too. I got to go to Philly so we can record some shit from scratch. Cause Meek the type of person I don’t want to send a record and say, "Yo do a verse, let me know." I want to do shit with him.

Can fans expect music from you and Wale as well?

Of course! That’s my brother. Me and Wale have too much unreleased music. But you know, Wale real picky about letting me release them records, man. And he’ll kill a record and be like "It’s aight," and I be like, "Bro, what're you talking about? It’s a dope-ass record." Sometimes I just leak some shit and wait for him to call me, 'cause he don’t play about his music. If he don’t want it out, he don’t want it out. And I gotta respect that as an artist. But I feel like life is too short. Just release that shit, let that shit go. He holds on to it.

How about a project with just Gleesh remixes?

Yes, yes. I want to do that. Like how [Lil] Wayne had No Ceilings. I think that would be dope, like for real. And if you think about it, I’ve done, like what, five freestyles since I’ve been home? So that’s half a tape really.

That’s an EP, honestly.

[Laughs] If I can knock out like, eight more freestyles that could be a tape. So that would be something I’m interested in doing [but] I have yet to do it. Just put out a tape of me killing it on everyone else’s beats. That’d be some dope shit to do.

Music aside, it’s been a rough year for you. Fredo Santana's death was devastating to the entire hip-hop community—you even got a tattoo of him. What was your relationship like with Fredo?

Aw man, me and Fredo was close, man. Back when Sosa [Chief Keef] still had his career in Chicago, I had moved to L.A. I was working on a little movie deal with Master P and Alley Boy, so I had a one-bedroom apartment. Fredo, Blood Money and Tadoe stayed at my crib for a month straight. Just out in L.A. making music, fucking with girls, drinking, drugging. He always told me no matter what, no matter how many pussy-ass niggas he meets through rap, he could never stop rapping because it’s a blessing. It’s like a street nigga's calling, for real. But man, when Fredo died that hurt me to my heart. Especially with him just having a new son and all that, starting a family. It was really unfortunate, man.

Was that another wake up call for you?

Absolutely. You never want to see that happen. It’s crazy because if you survive the streets of Chicago, you get out of jail and all that, only to die by a drug. It definitely was an eye opener. It makes you think a lot about what you’re putting into your body.

You know, drugs will forever exist. There wouldn’t be no police if it weren’t for drugs. You’re either going to partake in it or you gon’ choose to ignore it. Weed is legal now. I mean, people used to consider weed a drug. So, if somebody say, “I do drugs,” I don’t think you should look down on them because people used to say weed is a drug, and now its legal. Now weed is like the new cigarette. Everybody smokes weed.

You lost several other friends this year as well. How did they pass?

Majority gun violence. All of them were gun violence except for the last person who died. My man Zay Ree had cancer. He [was] locked up, so he died in prison. But yeah, the rest of them was gun violence. They killed my man and his baby's mother together. D.C. always been the city [where] there’s going to always be killing. But I just thought that there was a certain type of respect level. Like if I’m beefin' with you but I see your girl out, I’m not going to shoot your girl. It’s codes—your girl ain’t got nothing to do with it. So when I seen that they killed him and her it was just like, it’s a new age now. It gotta be a new age because that never happened. We would always see niggas we was beefin' with with girls and baby mama’s out. We didn’t smack them; we didn’t get a girl to go beat them up. None of that. The beef was between me and him.

Which one of your friends was that?

In D.C. they called him Money Karno. He was a real known person in D.C. Stand up guy. Loved his kids to death. He was just a dope person. I was crushed.

It's a sign of the times. Especially with the younger generation.

They don’t care. I thought we was ruthless and we ain’t care when we was young, but these young'ns… They don’t care.

Gun violence as a whole has been a major issue nationwide in recent years—especially when it comes to mass shooting. What are your thoughts on that?

That’s unfortunate. That’s some super weirdo shit. I don’t understand what possesses a person to walk up into a church and just shoot everybody in the church. I don’t know what’s gotta be going on through your mind to say, “Yo, I’m about to just kill a lot of people today.” Strangers. People that ain’t done nothing to you. Kids. Boy just went up in the school and shot all them. I don’t understand it. It’s a fucked-up ass world we live in. [Dimitrios Pagourtzis] the same age as Tay-K and Tay-K facing the death penalty. It’s ridiculous to me, man. Like my old head used to tell me, you gotta know the law before you break the law.

With all the violence going on, do you feel something can be done to cease it?

I don’t think there’s nothing that can be done. You gotta think about it: Say you ain’t beefin' with nobody and somebody come through and they shooting at the man beside you and they accidentally shoot you. Well now you’re upset ’cause you almost died, so now you gotta go see about this muthafucka. Or boom, you kill this dude [and] his homie is mad that you killed him so they gon’ come find you—it’ll never stop. Ain’t nobody ever going to say, "Yeah I killed your man, but you know, that shit old, man. Let it go.” No, it’s not gonna happen. So to be honest, I don’t think nothing can be done. That’s why you just gotta separate yourself from it, man. That’s why the studio is a good place to be at while all this shit is going on, because it’s too much going on.

Do you feel there's a crabs in a barrel mentality in D.C.?

Yeah, but you know what, I think for any artist coming out of any city it’s going to be a crabs in a barrel, because don’t nobody around you wants to see you win. They want everybody to be together on the same level. I ain’t got no money, you ain’t got no money. We just robbed a nigga for some money to go buy these Jordans. They don’t want to see you [asking for] 5,000 a verse. You do a show and made eight bands—what? They don’t understand that ’cause they gotta work and hustle and rob for everything. They don’t wanna see that happen.

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