Trav Black discusses his upbringing and hopes for the future, within and outside the music industry in his interview with WBRU.
It’s difficult to find words to describe the sheer talent that is Trav Black. The musician doesn’t self-identify as a rapper or artist, even though he has two rap albums under his belt the most recent, Blessings, released in February of this year. “Honestly,” he says, “I just tell my life over beats, and it just so happens people like listening.” The reason why is clear; Black’s creativity is evident in his written and freestyled lyrics. He’s open and honest in a way many, including himself, are unable to be in day-to-day conversation. He considers the studio and the stage as places for him to vent. “I hear the beat, it’s kind of like the beat just asking me what’s wrong? What’s right? How do you feel? Why are you happy? Why are you sad? And I just talk back to the beat.” The need to have a space to express yourself freely is essential for everyone, but especially for Black, who had to recreate that space in each place he moved throughout his life. He grew up in Providence, but has made extended stays in Florida, Germany, and soon (he hopes) Antarctica.
Trav has always been into music, citing his uncle, grandfather, and father as some of his earliest musical influences. He grew up listening to a variety of genres, including rap, hip hop, and blues, but his desire to get involved in the music industry himself didn’t appear right away. He started writing poetry in elementary school and developed his craft throughout high school—“went from roses are red, violets are blue to, like, Tupac.” While much of his poetic development came with age, his transition into rapping didn’t come as easily as some may expect. He challenges the common misconception that rap is simply poetry set to music. “I mean it’s the same setup and schemes I guess, but when you set up a poem over a beat versus actual lyrics to a song; it’s way different.” While it took practice, Black sounds like a natural on tape. Humble in every way, he credits his success and artistic progress to everyone except for himself. He emphasizes the importance of his network, which includes other big names in the local industry: Chip Doug, Merc, Big Walt, Franchise, and so many more. This support system has influenced his production and recording and given their unwavering support. In addition to all of his local mentors, he credits J. Cole. Unable to find a sound or rapper that suited his crafty poetics and wit while understanding the movement of the music, he stumbled upon J. Cole, who reflected exactly what he wanted to represent, and with this vision continued to shape his musical style.
But to undermine Black as merely a mimic of Cole is to sell him short. Black’s work is raw, honest, and relatable. Words and emotions that tend to find themselves clogged in him come pouring out when he steps in front of the mic. He struggles with talking about his emotions and internal battles that stem from past harms. “I’ve been through shootings, all kinds of stuff, you know,” he shares, “[and] I never talked to somebody.” His emotions, though, seem clear as he performs his song “Lady.” “It takes a lot out of me, this song,” he mentions, and the fervor with which he raps is clear. Nonetheless, he glides over his lyrics with an ease that makes it seem like he could rap in his sleep. And in a way, he almost does. He does his best writing while most of us are still in bed, at 6 am. His permanent pose with a pen in his hand comes from his years in the military when he would wake up early in the morning, just when most of his friends were getting back from nights out. “I don’t really party like that… when my friends was going out overseas or whatever, I would just be cooling. I feel like I write my best in the morning, you know 6 am ’cause I’m always up.” This practice gave him the idea for the title of his first big album, 6AM in Germany, which he recorded with the help of his crew at The Boiling Room, a studio here in Providence.
Trav Black also says his time in the military is a large reason why he started freestyling, which is his claim to fame. “I couldn’t write all the time. It allowed me to work on freestyling…because you can’t write, so you just have to be able to do it on the fly.” He knows that his freestyling hits hard, but he tries not to raise expectations too high. “If you freestyle and it’s fire, every time you freestyle people are gonna expect it to be fire. So, you don’t wanna overdo it. I’ve done shows where people love my music, but they would dead just be waiting for the freestyle.” Despite these concerns, Trav never fails to disappoint. He freestyles as though he’s practiced the bars numerous times over.
The comfort and ease with which he raps do not reflect a desire to spend time in the limelight. Though a solo act, his ideal performance includes other artists performing alongside him; it’s a “studio kinda setup and people are sitting, listening, and they’re just performing with talking in between.” At every chance, he credits the Providence community, friends, family, and other local artists with giving him the support that has propelled him to local stardom. “I also have a lot of friends here… a lot of people that support me. We could be in Cali right now and I could do everything good, and then I come back to Prov, and everyone is gonna be like, yo I seen you, yo I heard you, yo I watched a video. I shared your stuff.” For this reason, in spite of all the traveling he’s done, he still considers Providence home. His love for the city runs deep, and he highlights the best qualities of Providence whenever the opportunity presents itself. Imagining him starting his career anywhere else is nearly impossible. “Providence as a city is really supportive of the arts and even the whole dance, music, the whole culture is really supportive in Prov in different communities.”
Black isn’t sure what comes next for him. He’s considered going back to the military, but he really likes where he’s at with his music at the moment. While he doesn’t ever go to the studio with explicit intentions or deadlines, he frequently churns out “like eight, nine songs in two hours.” He also mentioned to BRU that he’s hoping to do a show this summer (fingers crossed for July). His dream: “One day, God willing, I keep pushing and stay focused, I might have a big old arena and I’ll just fly my pops and everybody out.” With two albums under his belt and a strong fan base in his backyard, this hope doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. For now, you can catch Trav Black’s live session with WBRU on YouTube and IGTV later this week.
Photos Courtesy of Seth Israel