Fat Trel Comes Clean About His Sobriety, Preps New Mixtape ‘Finally Free’
If you were to take a gander at the landscape of hip-hop in Washington, D.C. just a decade ago, you would see that the District's crop of rap talent was less than fertile, with virtually no nationally-known artists and few household names. However, to take a glance at the rap scene in D.C. today and you'll see battle-tested veterans, as well as a slew of promising upstarts, but one name and face that has become synonymous with the home of the White House is rapper Fat Trel, who has emerged as one of his city's most celebrated and respected street orators.
Building his buzz within and outside of D.C.'s borders with mixtapes like Nightmare on E Street, SDMG and Gleesh, Fat Trel would catch the attention of Rick Ross, who inked the Slutty Boy to a record deal with Maybach Music Group in 2013. Despite his quick ascent up the rap food chain, the 27-year-old rapper would also gain a rep for being one of the more unruly young artists in the game, with a stream of controversy surrounding him. Just last year, Trel was arrested on charges ranging from DWI and narcotics distribution, to attempting to exchange counterfeit money at a casino, resulting in over a year spent behind bars, yet another roadblock in his tumultuous career.
Last month, the rhymer was released from prison. With a new lease on life, he's looking to put the past behind him and focus on building his brand as an artist with his forthcoming mixtape, aptly titled Finally Free. While there are few details on the project, Fat Trel says Finally Free will be symbolic of his growth as a man in addition to picking up where he last left off.
"The vibe is just getting back to everything I missed," Fat Trel tells XXL of Finally Free. "Getting back to the money, of course. Getting back the streets, the love from the streets. Getting back in the strip club, you know, the strippers love me, I love the strippers. Just getting back to everything and becoming a new person, too. I wanna talk about some of the shit I learned, being mature and how I disappointed a lot people and let my fans down. I'ma touch on all that."
XXL got Fat Trel on the phone to discuss life after prison, his new music, being sober and his plans to atone for his past transgressions.
XXL: Fans of your music were happy to find out you were free after posting a few pics on Instagram announcing your release. Did you post those on the actual day you were released and if not, what date did you officially touch down?
Fat Trel: You talking about those pictures of me in a Benz truck? Nah, those pictures was Saturday [Sept. 23]. I got out on that Fri., Sept. 22.
Are the cases you were locked up for resolved and if not, what's the status of those cases?
All of ’em over with.
So you don't got no probation or parole?
Yeah, I'm on parole.
You were locked up for over a year. How did you pass the time?
Well, you know, I purchased a lot of books, I read a lot of books. We gambled a lot. We gambled on the sports games, basketball and football. We played tonk [card game] for money, spades for money; we played a lot of cards. And of course, we played a lot of basketball and worked out a lot. Worked out and just played basketball and just gambled, and at night I would read books until I fell asleep. That's how I passed my time.
What were some of the books that you read?
Some of ’em were John Grisham books. He wrote the books to the movies A Time to Kill, Pelican Brief with Denzel Washington. I read a lot of his books. I read a lot of autobiography books—The Autobiography Scarface, The Autobiography of Mike Tyson, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And of course urban books, street books. A lot of D.C. artists, they got books and, you know, shit like that.
Is writing books and other material outside of rap something you'd be interested in pursuing in the future?
Oh, absolutely. I definitely wanna write a book about my story, my life, my family, my everything. Yeah, I definitely see myself doing that.
A year is a long time to process things about life. Did you have any spiritual awakenings or were you able to grow and learn more about yourself during this stint?
Yeah, we definitely had religious services there, you know? We had outside preachers come in and speak, so I definitely got closer with God, but I always been a big firm believer in God a huge Christian. So I was always reading the bible and stuff like that, yeah.
Were there any other ways you grew as a person outside of the religious aspects, as far as maturing?
Yeah, just understanding people more. Understanding the mind of criminals and people that caught bad breaks. I grew as a person, I matured a lot. I look at the human species differently now, you know what I'm saying?
You were also active as far as writing raps during your incarceration. Was that a calculated decision to keep your pen sharp, or just a product of you trying to pass time?
A little bit of both. I didn't wanna lose my step far as my lyricism and the topics that I touch on in my music, so I wrote a lot to stay on point with my lyricism and my pen game. And of course, I wrote a lot to pass time. You know, a lot of days, we were locked down, a nigga get stabbed up or somebody knock out a C.O. or something. We'd be locked down and I'd write or I might watch a movie and it inspire me to write.
I might get off the phone with my daughter and it inspire me to write. I might finish talking to my manager and it inspire me to write, get off the phone with Rozay [Rick Ross] and it inspire me to write, you know what I'm saying? Plus that's my only job, the only thing I ever did my whole life was rap, so it was natural for me to write. I brought a lot of books and pens out of commissary.
Were there any artists that reached out to you or came to visit you during your incarceration?
Nah, no artists came to visit me. No artists came to visit me, but for real, unless you're doing three years or better I wouldn't have wanted no artists to come visit me, but lot reached out. Dave East reached out, Troy Ave reached out. Rozay, of course, Wale of course. Shy Glizzy reached out, just to name a few. Raheem DeVaughn reached out, a lot of people reached out.
How has it been adjusting to being a member of society again, transitioning back into your career and day-to-day-grind as an artist?
That's been easy, man. I wouldn't say it's hard, I ain't really miss a step, you know? The only thing I had a problem with was which shoes were new and which shoes were old, other than that, I adapted pretty quickly.
Last we heard, you were down with Maybach Music. What's your current relationship and situation with the label?
Absolutely, we're still down with Maybach Music Group. We're still down with MMG.
You just dropped your song "First Day Out (Fuck 12)." What was the inspiration behind it? Was it written in prison?
No, I actually did that one ["First Day Out (Fuck 12)"] fresh out. Soon as I got out, we went straight to the studio and Yung Lan sent me a batch of beats and I played one of the beats and I recorded that song. I didn't write that one while I was in prison, so that one was just made fresh. The reason why I did that topic, I didn't do it for no specific reason, the beat just made me speak about that. You know, I listen to the beat and I let the beat give me the lyrics and the topic, so that's just what it gave me and that's what I recorded.
Your last project, SDMG 2, came out in 2016. Do you have plans to release another body of work anytime soon?
Yeah, of course. My next tape is gonna be called Finally Free, and then I'm actually headed down to Atlanta to talk about the album. The mixtape is Finally Free; that should be coming in the next couple of weeks.
Are there any guest appearances on this tape that fans can look forward to?
Yeah, but I wanna keep that for a surprise for right now. The streets just gonna have to tune in. Everybody, they gotta tune in, but I got something coming for y'all.
What can we expect from the tape as far as production?
Right now, man, me and Yung Lan just been recording with each other heavy, man. I like his vibe, he like my vibe, we make great music together, so me and Yung Lan. Nard&B might pop out on there a little bit and a couple hometown producers from D.C. gonna be on there, but for the most part, it's Yung Lan right now.
When can fans expect a major label solo album from you?
Man, once I have this meeting with Rozay, I can have more for you on that. Right now we don't have a specific date or nothing like that.
Have you started recording songs for the album and if so, how far along in the process are you?
For the album, yeah, I started a few records for the album. I'd say I'm about 35 percent into the album, but right now, I'm focusing on this tape Finally Free. I just wanna get a bunch of shit off my chest before I move on to the album part of my life.
In what ways would you say the past year motivated you?
It motivated me in a lot of ways, man. You know, it motivated me to go harder, it motivated to reach out and fuck with a lot of different artists, too, you know what I'm saying? I wasn't always the type of guy that was willing to pull up on any type of artist, you know what I'm saying, that just wasn't my swag. But now I just wanna reach out, I just wanna make different type of music, I wanna work with a lot of different artists. I just wanna elevate myself, man, I wanna go to that next level.
What would you say is the next level for you in your career now with all you've been through and experienced this past year now that you're a free man?
I'ma take over the charts, man. I wanna take over the charts. I wanna do those festivals you see A$AP Rocky's, and the Chance The Rapper's, and the Machine Gun Kelly's do. I wanna do those big shows, you know what I'm saying, I just wanna be great. I wanna be big, you know what I'm saying?
Is there anything else that you'd like to say to the fans or get off your chest?
I just wanna tell the fans, I just wanna tell the whole rap community, man, I'm sorry for everybody I disappointed, you know? I wanna tell my label I'm sorry for disappointing them, too. I'm back, I'm better, I'm sober, I haven't touched a drug since I been home. I'm clear-headed and I'm a new person. I'm a new artist, man, but I'm still the voice of the streets, I'm still the voice of the nobodies. I'm still the voice of the hustlers and the drug dealers and the robbers and the killers, but it's just on a whole other different level. That's all.
You mention that you're sober. Why is it important for you to stay away from the drugs and alcohol now?
As far as me being sober, I think it’s important just because of parole, man. But not only parole, just my decision-making, too, you know? When you got a clear mind state, you make better decisions I feel, personally. And it might be different for other people. Some people feel like they record better music when they smoke. Some people feel they record better music when they’re off a Perc or Xan. It’s different for everybody.
I feel as though it’s important for me because I’m trying to stay out of trouble, and unfortunately, doing drugs or being under the influence of drugs is considered being in trouble in the eyes of the law. So that’s why it’s important for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not no "against gettin’ high" ass nigga; I love drinking lean and popping pills and shit. I love that, that’s what I do. That’s my type of high, you know, versus muthafuckin snortin’ coke, and smoking crack, and shooting heroin. Yeah, I would like to drink some lean, pop some Percs and chill, you know, smoke a little weed. So that’s why it’s important to me, though, you know, ’cause when a nigga tryna stay out of trouble, you feel me?
Why do you think many of the artists in the current rap landscape celebrate the use of drugs, lean and Xanax, to name a few, more than ever before?
I think artists talk about doing all these drugs on their songs because it’s the lifestyle right now. It’s what’s popular, it’s what going on in the streets. I always felt like music reflects real life, whatever’s going on in the streets. So they talk about lean and drugs because that’s what everybody’s doing now. Smoking weed is hella casual. Smoking weed is like smoking a cigarette now.
If you really wanna get high you pop some bars or some Percs, and you drink some lean. That’s what’s popular, that’s what everybody’s doing. Those are the drugs that everybody’s chasin’. So I feel like that’s why everybody rapping about it right now more than ever before.
Now that you're free, what are the life lessons you learned or took away from your arrests?
The life lessons that I learned and took away from both my arrests is to take it slow, man. Make better decisions, you know what I’m sayin’? I feel like you gotta protect yourself no matter what, though, and you’d be crazy not to wanna protect yourself out in these streets, man. But you know, you just gotta make better decisions. I was wrong for what I did.
I should have had my firearms registered. It wasn’t no excuse why I couldn’t have had them registered, so I was wrong for that. But everything’s a learning lesson, I just learned to move smarter. I’m [gonna] have to roll with high security now who [are] licensed to carry weapons, instead of carrying it on myself. So it is what it is, man.
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