In many ways, Atlanta rapper Trinidad Jame$ personifies the American dream. After pursuing hip-hop for less than a year, the rookie rapper signed a multimillion dollar record deal over a mixtape he made while working at Ginza clothing boutique in Underground Atlanta. Soon he was grabbing headlines everywhere from Vibe to Billboard to the Fader, which called him " ... an artist that works on charisma above all else."
Off the top of his head, Jame$, born Nicholas Williams, can't recall how old he was when his family emigrated from Port of Spain, Trinidad, to the United States. To the best of his memory he was "whatever age people are when they in second grade."
After moving from New York to Florida, his family settled in Georgia in the early '90s. Twenty-some years later in July 2012, Jame$ released his first mixtape, Don't Be S.A.F.E. (Sensitive As Fuck Everyday), arrived as a smooth 10-song collection propelled by the anthemic single, "All Gold Everything." When Jame$ declares, "Gold all in my chain/gold all in my ring/gold all in my watch/don't believe me/just watch," he spells out his penchant for decadence with cool confidence. His flashy-casual apparel — generally involving leopard print and clothes that hang like pajamas — projects his breezy, post-crunk style. Drug talk is present, but it's his affinity for the precious metal slathered across his grill that's caught the world's attention.
His mantras of popping Mollies and moneymaking come with a dose of self-deprecation. When barking in-your-face lines such as "I thought when you this high/that you couldn't feel this down," and "... the only soul I fuck with/is my Jordan's and my mama," in "Givin No Fucks," it's clear that proving himself to be a badass isn't a priority.
The "All Gold Everything" video went viral almost immediately when it hit YouTube on Oct. 17. In December, Jame$ found himself in the midst of a bidding war rumored to have involved several labels, but he won't say which. When the dust settled, he and his Gold Gang Records had signed a $2 million deal with Def Jam Records. Such a swift rise to fame and fortune is enough to make anyone's head spin, but Jame$ is rolling with it. "You know, I never made a decision to become a musician," he says. "I had some cousins that made music so I tried it — they said it was good, so I kept with it. I stayed focused, and when I had [Don't Be S.A.F.E.] all mixed down, and listened to it for the first time, I was real proud of what I had accomplished, and I just wanted to keep it going, do it right."
Receiving so much attention so quickly bears the earmarks of a dubious media obsession. But during his breakthrough A3C performance at the Star Bar in November, Jame$ took the stage like a seasoned vet. He's a natural at working the crowd, and the mob that nearly pushed him off the stage. That fans were already mouthing the words to his songs only underscored the current mania surrounding the rapper.
Off stage, Jame$ has aligned himself with the burgeoning local movement/branding campaign #NewAtlanta — so named because it started as a hashtag on Twitter. Simply put, it's a loose collective of like-minded artists, musicians, and creative types advocating for artistic growth within a younger Atlanta scene. Others affiliated with #NewAtlanta include singer/songwriter Spree Wilson, production team the Flush, clothing designer Chilly O, and local hip-hop outfit Two9. It's still a nebulous distinction, but #New Atlanta gives a name to everything from the artists' creative endeavors to some participants' hosting of food drives for the homeless on Sunday afternoons. Perhaps Jame$ says it best: "What #NewAtlanta means to me is that the new guys are in town. New musicians, tattoo artists, and creative people," he says. "We're recycling culture a little, but we're giving it a new format."
Now that he's signed a hefty deal with Def Jam, it's time for Jame$ to live up to the hype. The coming year will be all about playing more shows, hustling, making videos, and letting the songs that have carried him this far keep pushing him along. "This whole thing is obviously about more than one song," he says. "I just want to keep it going." No word yet on when his follow-up will be released. In the meantime, Don't Be S.A.F.E. is less than a year old — there's still plenty of gold to polish on his debut.