But for up-and-coming rhymer Translee, this fact isn’t disheartening. It’s more like motivation. He embraces being one of the game's exceptions with open arms.
Equipped with a distinct sound and delivery, a solid arsenal of punchlines, and a strong desire to exhibit more honesty and education than deception and sensationalism, the Huntsville, Alabama-bred lyricist is poised to bring something refreshing to hip-hop.
In May, Translee released Cultur3 Junky, an impressive installment littered with rewind-worthy, thought-provoking (and humorous at times) rhymes complimented by organic production, entertaining voicemails, and excerpts of statements from influential figures.
Translee talked about what prompted such an unparalleled mixtape, some of his musical motivations, college/street life, the origin of his name, and he explained what it means to be a culture junky.
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Visit knowtranslee.com to get more familiar with his movement.
I was highly impressed by Cultur3 Junky. I thought it was well put-together and had a refreshing sound. Tell me about your mental process and method behind creating the mixtape?
It’s really a whole lot of different angles that I take when I’m creating music. It’s not always just one process. I might have been sitting in my drawers in my bed writing a lot of that shit, or I might be out somewhere and a line comes to me and I’ll just jot it down. I just kind of get it from life. If I’m out somewhere and something comes to me, I’ll just jot it down.
I write in the most awkward places or will piece a song together in the most awkward places. It hasn’t been just one certain thing that I do. And then the occasional herbal refreshment helps with the situation sometimes, too. Other than that, it’s just life.
Prior to dropping Cultur3 Junky, you released a couple of solo mixtapes along with some collaborative installments. In your opinion, would you say your latest project is better than all of the previous efforts you’ve delivered?
Yes, and I say that because I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more vivid with what I try to get across. On a lot of my last projects, to a certain extent, some songs, I may have gotten lazy on bars. It’s certain things with my flow that I feel like I wasn’t all the way in pocket with. I’m always trying to get better. With this project, I felt like I fell in pocket with a lot of stuff I wanted to do. I’m definitely looking to get better and bring more stories and crazy things to the music, to make people be like, ‘Wow.’
I wanted the cover to kind of be an eye-catcher. I wanted you to see this white girl and me just sitting there like…I feel like the white woman is the ultimate prize. In any race, everybody likes a good, wholesome white woman. I just wanted to put that there to show I’m still here, but I’m in my own zone. And I think that captures people’s attention. The dead look on my face really gets people. We were trying to be visually appealing.
I hear elements of Andre 3000, Nas, Eminem, and several other exceptional lyricists in your style. But you still manage to distinguish yourself. In a time where the majority of artists try to emulate the style of whoever is commercially dominating, how are you able to stand out?
I was raised in Alabama. It’s not too many artists like me. Well, really, it’s never been an artist like me to come out of Alabama. Growing up in Alabama is a different experience, so I think that sets me a part from 99.9 percent of the industry. I can talk about things that are going on in my life. It just comes off different. I think I have a different way of relaying my reality in a way that nobody has ever seen before. I think that’s why people are really taking to it.
Alabama is a major inspiration. You don’t have anybody really to look at. If I was from Atlanta I’d have a host of people I could look at and say, ‘I need to get how they got.’ There’s nobody to look up to in Alabama. Rich Boi did it. And Doe B was well on his way. Rest in peace, Doe B. That was the homie. But as far as Alabama artists, nobody’s gotten to that point, and I feel like it’s because nobody has really grabbed the people and got people’s attention. Nobody’s really thought about what people really want to hear, and that’s what we’re bringing. That’s why I think the response has been like that.
The production on Cultur3 Junky isn’t necessarily trendy. It has its own sound for the most part. What do you look for in a beat when you’re selecting tracks to write to?
The beat’s just got to talk to me. That’s my most stressful part of it, man. Finding the beats that talk to me. If it doesn’t talk to me in the first five seconds, I can’t get inspired to write to it. That’s the only thing that I have in my beat selection process. When that beat first comes on and it talks to me or it’s kind of talking to me then I’ll rock with it. It’s some beats that’ll come on and I’ll already know within 10 seconds, this is not my vibe. Not saying it’s a bad beat, but I pick certain beats that compliment my voice. I don’t pick beats that I’ve got to be screaming and yelling on and doing all that to just fit the beat.
I think it’s just something different. Sometimes, the stuff that you need to hear is better for you if somebody is just saying it versus me trying to figure out a way to rap what they’re saying. Sometimes, you can’t get it no better than right out the horse’s mouth. We wanted to add a lot of commentary…placing them in spots where I rapped enough, like, ‘Now let this vibe and let’s let them talk, because they’re saying great stuff that I enjoy hearing, so I know people are going to enjoy hearing the stuff. And they need to hear it.’ Nothing makes me happier than when they’re playing it at teenage parties, banging my mixtape, but these kids are getting that message, too. That’s the whole goal.
What makes you label yourself a Culture Junky?
I indulge in all of culture. I’m not just a conscious, nigga. I don’t just sit around and be like, ‘Oh, my gosh, let’s go out and feed the hungry.’ I go out, and I smoke weed and drink. I indulge in all of that. I may be in the strip club Saturday night, but then I get up and go to church Sunday morning. That’s being a culture junky, and I think it’s a lot of people like that, so why not talk to them.
You’re representing Huntsville, AL. For those unaware, tell readers about your upbringing.
We weren’t privileged, but we weren’t poor. We were good. We were taken care of. But Huntsville’s like one of those cities where you’ll be exposed to so much, and you’ll see life from a different angle. You’ll be from a certain neighborhood, but your best friend could be from the worst neighborhood and vice versa. If you saw the group of friends that I grew up around, you would never put them with me.
Growing up, we saw so much stuff, and we started viewing the world from a totally different angle. I’ve got to talk about everything that I feel like needs to be talked about or things I feel like I’m not getting through music that I hear. I want to fill that gap. Growing up in Huntsville definitely gave me what I needed to have shit to talk about for a long time.
I been out there. I’ve been in the streets a lot. My best friends were the ones that were trappin’—still are. That’s just one of them things. I picked up a whole lot of knowledge about that culture, just because I was in it. I done been on the late night road trips. I done had the shit sitting in my car. I done unpacked it and broke it down, had my homeboy’s momma’s house smelling like a weed barn. We done all that shit. We done had guns pulled on us. All that shit done happened, so it’s like, I’m gonna talk about it.
My momma, who passed away back in ’01, she always wanted me to go to school, and I always wanted to go to college. My first year, I went to Alabama A&M, but I transferred to North Alabama. We did the school thing, graduated, and then we moved [to Atlanta] in ’09. We’ve been working ever since, and we’re finally getting to where everywhere we go people know our name.
On your track “Cultur3 Junky,” you mention helping kids concentrate on college, even though your degree, you probably could have did without it. I find it interesting that you’re open and honest about that, because truth is, a degree doesn’t guarantee you a job or success.
If you get out here with enough drive, determination, knowledge, and experience…those are key, too. If you get out here with enough of that, man, you don’t need that shit. Nine times out of ten the person that you’re working for don’t have one or the person who owns who you’re working for don’t have one.
A lot of people tell me, ‘I listen to your music while I’m studying.’ That’s why I put that line in there. 'Maybe help a couple college kids concentrate on college, even though my damn degree I probably could have done without it.’ I just wanted to throw that out there. If you’re inspired enough, you can do it without that.
Where does the moniker Translee originate from?
That’s my name, bro. That’s my real name, and I’m the third. My first name is Translee.
I’ve never heard that name before.
Believe you, me, I feel like it ain’t nobody else in the world with a name that nobody has ever heard of. I done searched. It’s like some company somewhere in China or somewhere with the name Translee. That’s the only thing that I’ve ever seen.
Andre 3000. T.I. was a real big influence, because when he was first coming out, and was really, really poppin’ that’s when I started rapping. I was like, ‘T.I., that’s that guy right there. ‘ I listened to a lot of his music. I remember when I first started rapping. My style was kind of like his, because I really didn’t have anything else to kind of pull from. But through growing and everything, you kind of realize that you get nowhere with somebody else’s style, because that’s their style. Definitely Tip. Kanye [West]. Kanye changed my life. Kanye made it okay for me to talk about my life and from my angle. Before [him], if you wasn’t an all-the-way street nigga, super gangsta, lived that life, that’s what you had to be. Kanye came in, and he changed everybody’s whole mindset on rap music. It made other type of people get big in rap and not have to be a fuckin’ gangsta. And then Michael Jackson. I listen to a lot of Michael Jackson. That really clears my mind.
Before I heard Cultur3 Junky, I downloaded the Takers 3 project you delivered with Zip Kennedy last year. Where did the motivation come from to create an entire project rapping over other artists’ beats, which isn’t as common these days as it was years ago?
Me, as an artist, and Zip, too, we’ve got a lot of pressure to release. If you listen to my project, you’ll hear that it’s really focused. I don’t really wave too much. The project is the project, and I want it to be one cohesive unit. Takers is the place where we get to go and talk that shit.
Do you guys plan on delivering more installments of Takers?
Me and Zip, we’re actually putting together a few more records. One thing that I don’t think we’re gonna keep doing is beat-jacking mixtapes. Now, one thing that we talked about doing is an old school beat-jacking mixtapes. Getting on some old A Tribe Called Quest beats, some De La Soul beats, Eric B. and Rakim-type beats…we’ve actually talked about that, but we’ve got some strong, original records that we’ve got done, and some strong concepts that we’re working on right now. I would much rather, if we put out another project, for it to be original work. It doesn’t always need to be beat-jacking, because that has a glass ceiling, as far as what you can do with it.
What’s next for Translee?
We just dropped the “Losers” video. We’re expecting that to hit Revolt in the next month. And we’ve already shot “The Return” video for the outro with the Alabama State band. We’re planning a big release with that one—MTV Jams, Revolt, and all that. Really, man, just expansion. And I’m working on new music. I don’t have a title or anything, but I’m pretty sure my next project will be an actual album. If that doesn’t drop the end of the year then definitely next year. We’re just working on that. I’m definitely going to be dropping records and thinking of new things that I can do to kind of shake the game up a lil’ bit, because it’s kind of getting a lil’ mundane. People just do mixtapes, promote, and then they die down, and then you’ve got to do another mixtape, promote, and then die down. It’s like we’re really trying to change the game with the promo. And that’s why we’ve got the promo bags that we’re giving out with the cigarillo, condom, and gum. It’s killing Atlanta right now. We’ve got the Ziploc sandwich bags…we put the CD in it, but it also has a cigarillo for the weed smokers, a condom for everybody who has sex, and a pack of gum. It’s like the after-the-club kit that you can’t not take. Even if it’s just for the gum, you’re gonna take it. That’s my whole goal, man, because I feel like this project is too good to have a bunch of CDs lying on the ground after the club when we try to hand them out. We’ve got the online promo, but you ain’t nothing, if you’re not in the streets, too. It’s a good thing, man. I’m in the studio right now stepping over boxes. We’ve got hordes of Ziploc bags, condoms, cigarillos, and packs of gum. It looks like a factory over here right now. We’re just in grind mode, trying to figure new ways to make people fuck with it.
By Louis Goggans (@Lou4President)