“once you go crap, you can never go back”… trim will never, ever sell out his sound
The E14 MC breaks down his extraordinary new LP.
One of the grime scene's most enduring and esoterically advanced MCs, Trim - neé Taliban Trim, neé Trimbal, neé Trimothy, formerly of Roll Deep Crew - is one of the more visceral of British rappers. He may not be as famous of some of his E14 and E3 counterparts, but Trim's talent and the reverence for said talent reaches far beyond the confines of the scene. Listening to his recent LP, released via James Blake's flourishing 1-800 label, 1-800 Dinosaur Presents… Trim feels more like reading a novel thanks to the Tower Hamlet rhymer's instincts as a storyteller. Featuring production from Airhead, Happa, Bullion and Boothroyd as well as 1-800's Dan Foat, Klaus and Blake himself, Trim's commanding presence on the mic makes for an utterly absorbing experience. The Mercury Prize nomination-worthy work is a real triumph both artistically and personally, as the man who has released over 14 mixtapes and 4 EPs to date, works through internal struggles and explores ideas around isolation and loneliness via sophisticated wordplay that requires repeated listen to fully appreciate. i-D met up with the MC to discover 10 things about the man, the music and his refusal to be anything less than 100% Trim.
1. There's an overriding sense of isolation on the album. It's a feeling Trim has felt keenly over the last few years.
Despite his legacy within the scene, Trim has long been an outsider; sometimes at his own hand, he admits. It's this essence of solitariness that inhabits much of the record. "The LP is pretty much about a chapter in my life where I felt like I was fighting… I don't know… myself, really," he says. "I was fighting against myself to be a better person and a better MC. We've basically captured all of my moaning in one CD," he laughs. "I was at a stage where I was having battles within myself and also struggling to get heard as much as other [people]. I was seeing more knockbacks than anything else. It felt weird. Coming from Roll Deep, I thought everyone would treat me just like they treat the Scratchys, the Wileys... I didn't get that treatment and I didn't realise that I didn't need it. Because I'm a bit of a problem and I have clashes with other people, I kind of put myself in a box where no-one really wanted to help me because they were a friend of a friend of someone I clashed, or a friend of a friend of someone I'd said something about in one of my lyrics. So navigating the scene was kinda hard because as well as putting myself in that box, a lot of people were glad that I was there [in that box]. They wouldn't mention me, there was a sense of no acknowledgement."
2. Over time, Trim realised he had a lot of support outside of the scene, and it's this that eventually led him to working with James Blake and the one 1-800 team.
"We've been really cool for a long time now," says Trim of working with the Limit To Your Love Londoner. "He remixed my song [as Harmonimix], Confidence Boost, around 2007 I think, so a while ago. Then I hosted the 1-800 Bestival two years ago. So we've been in and out of contact for a while. I love music, he loves music - we're all just kids that love music. We have loads of conversations about old-skool hip hop, Wu Tang. James knows about shit. He's educated on all genres of music, it surprises me sometimes. That's how the relationship started. He's played me something and I'd be like, 'Cool, but have you heard this though'? We had a little back and forth with RZA and a few people. He's got a good ear, so he updates me with bits of stuff that's going on. He's in another world though. I always say, James has no chill; there's something about him that everyone loves. The guy is on Beyoncé's album (laughs). We did RPG for the album; I recorded that with Airhead in James' house. It was on this one beat and James got home and restructured the whole thing and made it into something else. I was like, 'It sounds like Chinese grime, futuristic Japanese gaming, sick'. It took me a while to get my heard around it, cos there's no structure. Like, none whatsoever. It goes up, down, to the side, upside down, back again. Nuts."
3. Blake is just one example of how Trim has touched many musicians outside of the scene from which he was spawned.
Earlier this year, the 1800 team - Blake and Dan Foat and Rob McAndrews aka Airhead - began to put together Trim's LP. "I think producers like James (Blake), Rob (Airhead), Mark Pritchard etc., gravitate towards Trim is because he's a unique voice working outside of the confines of your average UK Grime MC," says Foat. "I worked in Uptown Records in Soho from 2004 for a few years and watched grime evolve through the records and producers that filtered through the shop. It was a smaller world back then but I always felt Trim was held in high regard as an innovative MC by the people involved in the scene at that time and I don't sense that has changed. He's not on stage with Kanye at the Brits or having his Instagram photos liked by Drake and he doesn't care. He's exploring new musical and creative ideas in his own time. As grime became more mainstream Trim became more Trim. He's the other side of the coin and that outsider stance is appealing to some people." Preach!
4. Airhead and Dan Foat also point out Trim likes Guinness Punch and is very, very generous
"The day we recorded Man Like Me Trim introduced me to Guinness Punch, I think that might be responsible for the energy in the tune,' says Airhead, who worked closely alongside 1-800's Foat and Trim on creating the album. "I already knew he was one of the best MCs out there, but the thing that really struck me about Trim was his generosity," adds Dan. "The first thing we did after the Bestival set was go and get food. There were a lot of us, and while we all queued he worked his way down the line handing out £20 notes so everybody could get themselves a Nando's. He's incredibly loyal and a real team player; he won't accept any praise without drawing attention to the work of those around him."
5. But it doesn't look like Trim and Wiley will be exchanging Christmas cards anytime soon
Trim, he's known for a clash or two; it's made him not-so-popular with other MCs and their mates. "A lot of people didn't get me, so when you don't understand something straight away, you don't like it, that's how it is," he points out. "There was a lot of MCs I had clashes with that were more favorable to other people, and doing better than I was, so people would rather support them," Trim reasons of the tenacity its taken to get on within a scene swimming with enemies. "There was a lot of people who didn't get me, who didn't understand me, but who didn't want to understand me because the people they were around were doing better, or they had known them longer, or whatever. People like Wiley, me and him don't get on. We've had loads of real beefs, we proper don't get on. He's done everything in his power to get people to not care or give a shit about me. When your name is Wiley, a lot of people, they're just gonna listen to you. We will never-ever-ever-ever-ever make up. I'll never talk to him, do a tune with him, never support anything he does because I know him (laughs). I know him, that's the difference."
6. He sings on the track Waco - albeit reluctantly.
Produced by Airhead, Waco boasts back-to-back quotable bars including 'Tell them how many shits I haven't given to be a Big Mac to these gherkins,' and 'Most of these MCs are as bad as Miley's twerking'. He also sings for the first time. "I wrote the chorus, sang it, and then told them I couldn't actually sing it cos people will expect me to sing it on the stage," he laughs. "I can't sing, I'm not a singer. Airhead was like, 'It sounds sick.' I was like, 'Can't we get Aidonia or Vybz Kartel or someone to sing it'. They said, 'Sure if we pay them twenty bags!' I wasn't sure, but then James was like 'Chill out, you're singing on a hook, it's ok. Kanye's singing on a hook everyday, you can sing'. I thought, 'Yeah, I have to get over myself'. But they had to convince me to leave the hook as it is."
7. Trim was a voracious reader as a child - which explains his incredible vocabulary today.
"When I was 6, 7, 8-years-old I wasn't really allowed to play out that much," he remembers. "My mum used to make me read and write a lot. I was reading books like 'Napoleon', books that were made for 13, 14-year-old kids. My mum would buy me encyclopedias, 'A' all the way to 'Z', with all these topics in that she would make me write a summery of, and she'd ask me to write stories. 'Write me a story and I'll let you go out'. So I'd quickly go and write a story and she'd say, 'Come on Javan, you've got to write a better story than that!' The majority of the time it wasn't good enough and I'd be in my room, crying. By the time I got to secondary school, I was just fucking about cos I already knew what you was telling me. If I'd listened and carried on, I would have got my As, Bs and Cs. Instead I ended up in a spiral of thinking I knew everything."
8. Trim will never, ever be tempted to sell out his sound.
One of the many stand-out rhymes on Before I Lied, is 'Got new money making jokes, be careful who you laugh amongst/Like I didn't make it clear enough, they had me on the edge, looking down, in fear I'd jump/They said the flow seemed as weird as fuck, and I'd need to pretend to be something els, to get this money'. "That's something that's been said to me a million times," Trimbal points out. "My actual friends who I've known for years, nothing to do with music, probably a labourer or they work in a bar or they're an accountant - they see me, and they pull up and say 'Alright pal, how you doing? You still doing the music? Why don't you do like Wiley and them lot there? That's how you get the money. You gotta go and do the pop!' I used to always say to them, 'No, you don't'. You don't. You don't have to do it that way, there's so many other ways. I just want to generate an income to be able to live bruv, I don't care if it's millions, or £500 a month. 'Do the pop and then you can be yourself'. No, you can't. Once you go crap, you can never go back."
9. His favourite lyric on the album is an entire verse.
There's so many great moments on the LP, it's really tough to single out one - and in fact, it's best to enjoy, all at once, in perfect solitude, the same way Trim wrote the LP. While not one to pick favourites, if pushed, there is one verse that Trim is particularly proud of. "This is a funny thing. I didn't think anyone would clock it, only a couple of people have come back to me. On White Room I wrote one entire verse based on courts; basketball court, tennis court, prison/jail court. I used all three and spoke about throwing up deuces, match point, verdict, aces, bail - I put it all in on verse and also spoke about the complications of my life. I wanted to see if anyone heard that, but not many clocked what I'm really doing with that verse. That verse is pretty techie! 'Myself at fault, but I'm still blaming this music/ It's in my court but why ball on these swag MCs that I call excuses that judge me while I pollute these dreams/They claim I'm lucid, they can't bail on these paragraphs I serve up for my own amusement…' It's fucked. It's too deep."
10. Trim's been through a lot, but he keeps on keeping on, at all costs.
"I've sacrificed a lot. A lot of things. I haven't celebrated my birthday in years, I haven't been to a rave in forever. I'm a bit of a recluse. I spend a lot of time on my own, with headphones on, playing .wavs, writing with a pen and paper. I spend a lot of time writing because like anything in life, if you want to master your craft, you have to do it all the time. All this standing on the street corner to pretend I'm repping the manor, going to the rave in a Gucci belt and leaving with a nice girl, I was doing that at 16, 17, 18. Flying to Manhattan, shows with 50 Cent, Snoop. I saw everything young, went to prison young, and I realised there wasn't much in the world that could shock me much or surprise me or even intrigue me that much. The worlds that I create on paper are the most fulfilling, that's the best thing for me, I love that so much. I surprise myself all the time - to me, that's my happiness. So I sacrifice. Even down to not seeing my sister, my son, my mum. I neglect a lot of things; I act like a lot of things aren't happening. I've got an uncle who's got Parkinson's, I've got my son… I am upset about all of these things and one day I will let it out and live a normal life like normal people but I'm so happy in this bubble. If I stop, nothing will get better and we'll be in the same place in ten years and we'll never see that opportunity to live where we want to live. It's all on me, but I love doing it. If I stop working, my son will see me outside the pub or a betting office and he'll be like, 'This is what you've been doing all this time'? I can't have that. I only knew I had a son when he was two years old and I found out on MySpace. I tried to fight to see him and she wouldn't let me. It's very complicated, it's very draining. But I don't let nothing faze me, I stay in and write. Some people think I go too far sometimes, but for me, this is the only way out. There is no Plan B, C, D,E, F, or G. I know I'm good at this; I don't want to risk my liberties doing anything else. You've just got to keep working. I just keep my head down and keep on writing. I'll be ok."
Text Hattie Collins