The chart-topping Ohio rapper talks Marilyn Manson, a new project with Travis Barker and losing friends Juice Wrld and XXXTentacion

Recently, while reviewing upcoming shows with students in my hip-hop class, the excitement for Trippie Redd was cause for alarm. I try my best to keep up, but Redd was beyond my radar. With Trippie, I finally felt old. He’s the kind of post-everything superstar who could last a week or a decade.

My students were quick to point out that he “wasn’t hip-hop.” We watched a few videos — one where he counts his “guap” (aka money) and shoots zombies, and one where he wobbles in a trap house with a blunt obscured with trippy after-effects — and I was convinced: He’s an artist who bucks trends and melds acoustic guitars with triflin’ shout-outs and guttural guffaws. Trippie Redd is some kind of nihilist rebellion that would’ve attracted me at 15. But who exactly is he?

Billboard proves that Trippie Redd is a major artist — and from Canton, Ohio, to boot. Since his start in 2018, the 20- year-old has had four albums in the top 10, and his latest, A Love Letter to You 4, took the top spot in December. No doubt riding the coattails of his predecessors, he’s shared the mic with Travis Scott, Young Thug and Quavo. He’s feuded in public with other rappers, keeping his stature intact. He’s been the source of controversy, but also the source of innovation. You can hate all you want, but the guy is making moves in an industry that fluctuates by the day. 

Internet sites define him as emo-rap, cloud-rap or strictly “trap,” a denotation that implies Trippie is concerned with drugs and sex. His lyrics would suggest the latter to be true, but as I delved further into Trippie’s world, I saw that he is intently bending genre, as he suggests, beyond hip-hop. In our interview, he was proud to boast several times of his upcoming project with Travis Barker of Blink-182, which he likens to “Deftones, Nirvana and Dance Gavin Dance.” It’s hard to fault a kid from Ohio for choosing the less-traveled path when surely all of his handlers want him to keep with the star-studded features.

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Regardless of the lucid artistry that I began to find in Trippie Redd’s music, I thought it disingenuous to ask him the rote questions of a local journalist previewing the flavor of the month’s hometown show (Trippie spent time in Groveport, calling Independence High one of his alma maters). So instead I tasked my students with asking their favorite hip-hop star quandaries, and in my 12 minutes on the phone with Trippie before his Wednesday show at Express Live, I offered them up.

What is it that makes an Ohio rapper different from everyone else?

I feel like when it comes to Ohio, we’ve got more of a bone to pick. There’s not really a lot of talent from here; there’s nowhere to get exposure. People don’t know who actually is from here. We’ve got Dave Chappelle, we’ve got Marilyn Manson — he’s actually from Canton, where I’m from. We’re just different. It’s hard to explain.

So you’re a Marilyn Manson fan?

Yes. I love rock music. I actually just made a rock album with Travis Barker. It’s dope.

My students really want to know how your view of the world has changed since you’ve become rich and famous.

This is where it gets tricky. The money hasn’t changed too much, but the experiences I’ve been through at 20 years old — the things I’ve seen — are things that people much older than me have experienced. My mind is super elevated. My music has evolved because of those experiences. Don’t get me wrong; the money is great. But the money makes more problems.

You’ve lost some close friends and collaborators this year, in XXXTentacion and Juice Wrld. How has that shaped your habits and routines?

To see it happen has been rough. I remember riding with XX and telling him, “Bro, you need more security,” and he would always say that we were just normal people and didn’t need to live like that. It’s tragic what happened. It fucks me up for real. It’s ruined a lot of things, but helped me as well. It’s made me want to work even harder and accomplish more goals. I lived 10 minutes down the road from Juice, and we were just about to do a lot more together. He was my brother, so that one hurt. But I got to deal with it. It’s life.

I asked my students what sets you apart from other current artists, and the response was that your lyrics don’t hold back. They want to know why you focus so much on death in your music.

It’s all a feel. I get in the studio and I vibe. I make like five to 10 songs a night. The ultimate goal is to never make just one genre of music. I talk about love, I talk about death, I talk about heartbreak. I try to be versatile and show all parts of my life.

Who’s your favorite person to collaborate with?

Young Thug. We literally sit in front of a computer and vibe together. He doesn’t make you go in the booth away from the board and do your part. We sit and record at the same time. Nobody records like that. Nobody.

What’s your favorite tattoo on your face and what does it represent?

The number 14 and the significance of 14 sums up my life. Look up “angel fourteen.” It’s my whole get down. It’s the balance of negative and positive energy. It’s weird, I see it everywhere. I even grew up on 14th Street. I can’t explain it. You just have to look it up.

Have you ever met LeBron James? Were you a Cavs fan growing up?

Of course I was a Cavs fan. I’ve never met LeBron, but I know his son. I’ve pulled up to a few of Bronny’s games.

I have a number of students who make their own music and think that they have what it takes to be the next Trippie Redd. What kind of advice do you have for a 16- or 17-year-old who wants to be an artist like you?

I don’t really give too much advice. I’m not like that. But when you’re meeting CEOs from these record labels, take a look at the surroundings. If you pull up and there are seven security guards, I don’t want to work with that man. But if you walk in and they are by themselves, and they just want to talk about the music and not about bad blood, that’s good. You just have to be aware of what’s going on and open your eyes.

What’s the ultimate goal?

My ultimate goal is to survive and be in this game for a long time. I want to be a household name for Ohio.