Detroit born rapper, producer & vlogger Tray Little has been making waves in 2020, continuing the the movement he started to close out 2019. Catering to many listeners and followers on multiple social media platforms, Tray Little has also made sure he remembers where he came from and wears it proudly.
Facing a vast amount of adversity Tray has had a very busy career and has displayed multiple sounds that can stand the test of time. With tracks like ‘Warzone’ from his EP still carrying their weight in 2020 in plays, it’s clear Tray has something on his mind. Even though Tray holds high lyrical standards it doesn’t mean you will be losing any melodies, drums or bounce from a track. Doing what many have failed to do, Trayhas discovered a formula of gong in with top caliber lyrics while still keeping the wild impact of track!
He closed out 2019 with his track ‘Rage’, which holds the best example of a lyrical party track. While still releasing songs like ‘Never Quit’ where tray can slow it down and get sentimental on a tune! We came across Tray Little when we heard his track ‘Dark Nights’, completely entranced the rabbit hole opened up and his discography spoke for itself. ‘Dark Nights’ was a short visual track, exclusive on YouTube. Tray told us the track was a sign that with his growth he still wanted to show everyone that Detroit was a part of him, that it was a gift to his city.
Having the opportunity to take a deeper look of what coming up in Detroit looked like, I discussed many things with Tray like his social media growth, his presence on Tik-Tok, his music and more importantly his story. Opening my eyes to creativity and adversity Tray showed me and the rest of the team what it means to chase goals and what hard work looks like.
The best part of the interview is his advice at the end for upcoming artists, that translates to any artist new or old.
Talk to me about the come up! What’s Detroit like and why the name Tray Little?!
Tray Little: When I was coming up I was born in an era known as the war on drugs, meaning like guns and drugs were imported to our neighbourhood and inner city neighbourhoods around the country. I was a product of that. My mom got pregnant with me at 15 and the four years later my dad was shot and killed because he was in the street war, to make money and stuff like that. So when I was growing up there were no male role models who would go to school, but early on I was seeing what was going on around me. I started losing friends to gun violence, for me I couldn’t resist it anymore. Then when I was 13/14 I got closer to the age my mom was when she was pregnant with me, that’s when she kinda started letting me go and letting me figure out life. 13/14 that’s when I got into the streets hard and started getting into the whole drug scene, you know making money, bought my first gun and started trappin’ and then I started rapping about that. Talked about everything I was living, everything that I’ve seen, everything that I’ve done, I started putting it into the music. I really didn’t have a rap name at the time, I was just rapping for fun and recording. I would take 5 or 10 dollars go to the trap, start recording at the trap, in a little ghetto studio we had. Then when I got a bit older the name Tray Little came, because my full name is Tray Martin and my last name is Little.
From an outside perspective I can tell you we hear things like “Detroit is coming around”, I do notice more of an art scene and artists emerging. As someone growing up in Detroit, how would you describe the time difference from your come up to now and do you see signs that Detroit coming around?
When I noticed change was when I moved to the suburbs, when I moved to Taylor. That’s when I was out for maybe about 5 years, then I met some people there. Started making music, then they took me on the road, got into a band, started playing festivals. Then when I moved back to Detroit I seen this whole new world in Detroit of people that moved there, real estate market was growing, the whole economy was growing and then there was this whole new scene of hipster rappers.Just party rappers and stuff I’ve never seen before, so a lot of my friends were into that world, they put me on to artists who were partying, the opposite of the music I grew up with in Detroit. The music you were talking about that Tee Grizz makes, that was all I knew, that one sound. Now this new scene like the Danny Browns and the res of the scene, so I jumped in. That’s when I tried to figure out where I fit in since I didn’t make that drill music like Tee Grizzley makes. Seeing all these different worlds, I embraced it as a beautiful thing because now Detroit has a lot of different cultures. When I look at Detroit now I notice kids going to college, any where from 18 to 30 they’re taking over the art scene in Detroit. The young people are running the new scene of art scene in Detroit and I’m thankful to be a part of it. When I came back I didn’t really find my place, but I started creating my own lane. People are starting to notice me now and inviting me to try different sound, whether it’s the Drill scene, I go to the local radio station and do some ciphers where all the top Detroit artists go and then I’ll go to party scene artists and build relationships with them as I do my own thing.
You mentioned Detroit has a lot of scenes, people forget that Detroit was heavily involved with Chicago in growing Techno music, where they would chop up old Hip-Hop, Funk ad Jazz beats on a mixer. With artists like Stacey Pullen and events like Movement how accessible is it for an artist like yourself to experiment in new lanes and what are some difficulties of adapting to a new lane?
It’s kind of easy, I never really grew up on techno music but I grew up on dance music which is like a form of it. I just only listened to it as a kid at house parties, we would dance to it, but getting older I’ll be in coffee shops and I’ll see these people walk in and hear people mention their names. I don’t really know who these people are, then I go home and watch Netflix, and they say “here is Skrillex, here is Diplo they got their sound from Derrick May“. I’m like to myself, that’s the dude that comes into the coffee shop every other day, so a lot of these legends are just there and they’re super accessible to just be able to talk to and get information from. They’re in their own lane, but it’s usually the younger artists who are connected to them, every kid in Detroit has their own laptop and can produce quality music, so we have access to each other and legends. For me I experimented with dance music a little bit, because of my sound. my concerts are usually high energy, for me I get on a track build strong choruses, simple verses and play it live then it just goes crazy. Like i mentioned earlier the first thing is finding your own lane and then earning the respect because you gotta prove yourself in Detroit first, not necessarily as an artist but as a person and then people will want to work with you. I started off independent, running into these people and the kind of gaining inspiration to getting on these tracks. One of my friends makes amazing quality music on his laptop, we record it play it a show and everybody goes crazy.
With artists like Eminem, Big Sean, Tee Grizzley going global who are some Detroit artists you keep an eye on that you think will grow their sound beyond the city.
There’s a lot man, you got like the east sides… the thing is in Detroit I look up to some of the artists. but I try to focus on the bigger picture. Since there is a lot of scenes in Detroit there is competition as well, we’re all trying to get success outside of Detroit and bring back to Detroit. There’s tons of artists coming up, even in the party scene like my homie Munch, throwing like these “Detroit is spinning parties” bringing hundreds of people out. People like Flint Eastwood, Jax Anderson, they’re doing these huge shows in Detroit, they’re almost underground, but they’re bringing the whole scene out. It’s all cool to see, but the biggest thing we see in Detroit is there are a ton of artists everywhere, if you go LA you see celebrity artists but in Detroit everyone is an artist, and we are all trying to push each other out of Detroit and then bring it back home.
Before we jump into the music, I want to get both perspectives of you as an artist. How did you learn to produce and How did you learn to write lyrics and flow? What difference in mind sets do you have to have?
I recently started producing, probably about two years ago, but I’ve been rapping all my life. I actually just started writing like 3 years ago, 4 years ago, all my life I used to freestyle. i just freestyled everything I never wroteor any of that. I started producing a couple years ago, because I was around it all the time. When I was with Justin or at Store House studios watching everything he’s doing, I’m just watching asking him questions. There were also times where I would pay a producer, a lot of money to get my music produced, but I’m not one of those people who sits back and gets on their phone while the producer works. I ask myself where does this kick go where does this snare go, how does this work. By the time I got my hands on a MIDI controller I knew how to do it and I had amazing producers who were already helping me with my rapping, showing me things to learn like certain EQ’s and certain placements. It’s cool, because I feel they go together because when I make a beat, it’s just coming up with the bounce then placing the sounds I want and rapping. When I’m making a song I already know the sound I want so it’s cool learning producing, because I know I can make the song that’s in my head and lay it down in 10 minutes, the boom I got a nice foundation to build on.
What inspirations do you draw from when you write?
I usually draw from my life story, because I lived a lot of life, I’ve seen a lot, I’ve done a lot at a young age. People tell me I can write a book so I draw from that. I’m currently living through a lot, like seeing my family trying to get off the streets, some of them are still losing their lives to the streets, some are in jail, I have a cousin serving life in jail. Me and my mom are close, I recently lost my step dad to a shooting, so having that relationship with her and helping her go through that as I go through that as well, makes want to tell the story because part of me was ashamed to talk about my life and everything I’ve seen. Then the moment I started talking about these things, its started inspiring the world. A lot of my followers are in middle school, high school and college ages and a lot of them come from privileged backgrounds. When I started sharing my stories, they started connecting and coming together and my fan bases started growing deeper with me. That’s what inspires me, I also get inspired seeing artists like Travis Scott and Kanye tour on youtube videos and vlogs it gives me inspiration. Now to see I’m doing a lot of the same stuff that I watched them do in their earlier days. It shows where I want to be and the people I want to help. Walking around Detroit I see an amazing art scene but I also see kids struggling who can’t find a way out, so I feel like I’m their voice, I’m the person that will give them encouragement and influence to get out, that also inspires me.
You proudly recognized the influence you had on the youth and with the EP ‘From the Ashes’ you also had topics people could relate to and songs like ‘Never Quit’ have a sentimental values to them. When you write deeper songs, do you keep in the back of your mind that you could be speaking to a kid experiencing those things?
There was one song specifically that I wrote, where I tried to write stories that I knew people were going through, now I’m in the season of sharing my personal life, to connect to people. The thing is about me I made it out the streets, I don’t trap anymore I don’t do a lot of things I used to do. Yes we do still have fun we turn up we get lit but my life looks a lot different now, I come from a very dark lifestyle. I’m the only one who made it out of my neighbourhood, a lot of them are either dead or in jail. When I make this music I know it’s not just for me. I used to feel uncomfortable going deep and the pain pain I’m going through, but when I go deep it’s not just for myself, but others that I know. When I share the story of me losing my dad at 4 and my mom having me at 15, seeing people lose their life. The moment I started talking about that, that’s when people started saying this guy is killing it. That’s what made me relatable, I didn’t want to be this cheesy guy at a school saying “don’t do drugs or don’t do that.” I want to be the guy that shows I believe in entrepreneurship, I believe in hard work, you gotta be focused but here is my life and here is my story. I don’t want to be a Kidz Bop rapper just saying what to do, because rap music is turning up a lot of times but I want to use my story to inspire people.
Especially in 2019, I’m gonna go right into that. Out of your newer songs I noticed these 3 had a wave you’d hear at a club, they were ‘Mad Lit’, ‘Great’ & ‘Rage’. Those I can hear at a club, but the difference I can hear in these tracks are the lyrics compared to club hits. How do you translate creating a track like that, where it sounds modern but still lyrically relatable?
The thing I try to do is evolve with time, my old stuff had a lot of lyrics with no real melodies, but then I heard a lot of music and all I heard was mumbling and I was like I can’t get with this. Then someone said you kinda need to so I thought how about I do something I’ve seen Drake doing, which is take modern melodies and still be yourself as an artist, maintaining that brand authenticity. I said man, let me talk about the trenches let me talk about the streets, in one of the lyrics I said in ‘Rage’ was like “Had friends many of them died, many nights I know that I cried. They said that I wouldn’t make it” and I had to keep pushing and just talk about the good it feels actually surviving. On my darker tracks I talk about the sadder parts, but on tracks like ‘Rage’ I talk about the positives and lets celebrate being alive.Lets rage, lets turn up and when I’m at a show I bring that energy jumping of things, so I said lets have a track like ‘Mad Lit’ where I have everybody tunrin’ up in a way where they’re going to celebrate, because I think about the whole show I take you on a journey. I start with a crazy energetic performance and then I slowly go into a moment, where I get serious and end with it going hype. It’s like a full story, so at the end I feel like we had a deep serious moment but lets celebrate. There’s different parts in life where we might be happy or sad and I try to show all of that.
Well the tracks that are more sentimental like ‘Never Quit’ still manage to stack up plays as well, they attract a lot of fans. Do you think that’s relatabilty or just vibes maybe even lyrics?
I think it’s relatability, because high school students are my biggest demographic and a lot of these kids view artists like XXXTentacion like their TuPac. So when you got youth that look up to him or JuiceWRLD and they follow me they look for those songs from me and try to find the relatability. The temptation for me is “ONLY MAKE TURN UP BANGERS!!” that’s the urge, but I tell my self nah I gotta slowdown for me. It was hard for me, it was hard to slow down, but everytime I watch a movie and that scene that makes your cry, that feeling of strong emotions you have to have that to pull people in. I feel like I have that, I have a song called ‘My Mind’, talking about how me and my friend grew up, we were like brothers. We were always together and he goes left I got right, left meaning he stays in the lifestyle. Doing a lot of crazy stuff, I’m not going to talk about and then me on the other hand, I did a lot of stuff but I went my own way, and I wanted him to come with me but he unfortunately died. So I touch on a lot of parallels in our life, but when I shoot the video and in the video I look at pictures of me and him but there is a skit of us as kids finding a gun painting a picture of how we grew up in this life, like I should be dead with him or he should be here with me. From me doing that, it pulled people in and brought out tears, people were texting me “Im crying right now after watching this video”. I think that’s what makes people connect with me.
When you reflect on your past like that in your music, what feeling does it put you in?
When I listen back it does remind me of stuff, I have a song I’m working on now touches on some of the dreams I have. I’m going deeper on this stuff now, every year I feel like a new artist I discover new depths I can unlock and new heights I can grow. Back to the song, I have dreams of people I lost and I have dreams where I see them in front of me and wake up to realize they’re not here. Listening to those types of songs I listen to them to get comforted. I know other people will feel the same way.
You mentioned doing this for years, but like I mentioned when we met, there is no specific style I can attach to you. For example ‘Live it up’ and ‘Light It up’ you have harmonies in the song but it’s almost like they’re EDM tracks more than anything. With those tracks you prove there are no boundaries to you, how important is it to be able to do different genres?
Like I said earlier, I’m still trying to find myself and what my sound is. That’s something I’m going through now, I haven’t done an album yet so I want to see where I evolve. I feel like it could be a life long journey, but I have the freedom to just create create create and learn from what worked in the past. I’m still independent, I’m still young, now is the time where I can figure out who I am as my followers grow rapidly, see what I want to do. That said I don’t feel it’s necessary to only make BOOM-BAP or to only make Trap. I’ll make what every, because I listen to everything, I was traveling with a POP band going to festivals of 20000 people, and it showed me what I can do because I had to get into writing sessions to write for this POP band. Making those songs made me wonder can I make that song for myself, it made me want to be able to reach anyone. If you know me as a person, you know people I grew up with only listen to Drill music, we don’t listen to country, we don’t listen to EDM, where I love listening to Sam Hunt, Diplo and POP music. I’m willing to experiment as long as my fans are willing to go on the journey with me and they’ll say they don’t like this, or it’s not their favorite but they see it. I’ve seen a lot of artists do interviews where the interviewer will recommend trying something new and they say oh naw and they fall off and get dated real quick. When I look at Eminem some of the biggest crossovers were like The Monster with Rhianna. When you looked at artists crossing over, tapping a mainstream market and keeping their brand intact, that’s when they got the biggest. ‘Live It up’ has been my biggest song, no it’s not the most lyrical but that song created a movement that hasn’t died ever since, it’s my most talked about song. ‘Light it Up’ I wanna play bigger festivals with that song.
There were a lot of tracks that you were featured on, they were all different sounds and styles. What about those artists made you want to work with those artists?
I have a liking to help developing an artists and I really like to work with people. If you look at all my features from like Heather McCorkle to anyone else I’ve worked with, they’re all artists I helped develop instead of just and artist who is poppin’. These are artists that I helped how to write songs, how to get to the next level. That’s like my heart to always grab an artist and see where they’re at and help them develop their potential and show them their growth. So all the artists I have are usually young and talented and I try to help them, we go from there show them how to pursue a career on their own. This year since my stuff is growing a lot more, my goal is to work with artists who have their own followings.
That being said, as diverse as your catalog was, those songs you were featured on blew my mind, like ‘Chest Nut Tree’, ‘Alien’ and ‘Everyday’. I couldn’t even label the genres, but what do you learn from working on tracks like that?
The funny thing is, what I’m learning right now. There are a lot of artists who get big and then they get scared to transition, like the ones who stick to that Detroit Drill sound. Sometimes when they do crossover they lose their foundation of fans. For me I had a small fan base, and this is why branding is so important, people know me, they know my music they’re going to follow me where ever I go. So I’m able to touch different sounds, like the song with Half Light, that was actually a song I did when I was a lot younger but they just recently released it. I was a different journey, I was a young teenager kind of in a bubble and told my self let just write. I still had a moment where I got to self reflect and was a little more transparent on the song and it was really spiritual. If you look at ‘Chestnut Tree’, I was listening to a song by Alan Walker called ‘Faded’, it was a really slow trance song. Then I heard Heather McCorckle, I think she was like 14, her parents said my daughter is a singer can you help her out and I thought she had an amazing voice that sounds like the girl on ‘Faded’. So I thought let me try to produce something like that, I produced and recorded the whole song, but it wasn’t my song so I was able to get on it and experiment and hit it with a melodic flow.
First song I heard by you was ‘Dark Nights’ that drew me in, that track is exclusive to Youtube. Is that something you want to work on in the future?
The thought was like, okay I live in Detroit, but if you go an ask anyone, “name artist from Detroit?” They only name like Sada Babies, the Tee Grizzleys, the Drill rappers with that raw gritty sound. They don’t always mention the artists like the Eminems the Big Seans or the Danny Browns. I told myself you know what this is a huge sound, a lot of People in Detroit don’t listen to Eminem, the listen to Drill music, the listen to music that describes the lifestyle hat people in poverty on the streets are going through. I told myself my following in Detroit was also growing, I was getting tagged in one of Tee Grizzlys posts when he asked who should he work with. So I said let me give my city something, so I gave them a snippet of Drill music they can enjoy specifically for the city. That’s not really my sound, a lot of people in Detroit were getting stagnant because they were making that sound, like I said Tee Grizz was the one who blew that sound up. So I made it as something to feed Detroit, but if that’s something people want to hear from me, I’m willing to extend that track.
You will be performing your first show in Canada, what should we expect and what do you expect from Canadian Hip-Hop fans?
I didn’t even expect that, I never really thought about it. I’m thinking because the scene maybe isn’t as saturated like Detroit, They might be into it, when I play shows outside of Detroit, the kids usually get hype because they’re not used to getting a lot of bigger artists from bigger cities, or better yet up and coming artists. My feeling is they’re going to be excited because a lot fans can be spoiled in bigger cities, but me coming from Detroit I’m expecting them to be excited, especially because of my Tik-Tok. I’ve had people from Toronto run up on m at Whole Foods, asking to take pictures and I think some of the kids coming to the show might be familiar with me and will be excited!
Tell us about Tik-Tok, You have a release specifically for Tik-Tok, tell us more about it and why is it only for Tik-Tok?
It’s interesting because this song is the first song I’m releasing since I’ve had over night success, I say overnight success because 5 months ago my numbers quadrupled on social media. I dropped a video on Tik-Tok saying why my music is clean, that video hit 7 million views and all my music platforms went crazy. Then I talked about NF and here is why NF music is clean and he had a number one album last year. I talked about how me and him did some shows and festivals at the same time and how we met a couple times before he blew up. NF fans saw that and jumped into my comments, and my numbers went crazy. There was a lot of pressure trying to decide what to drop, because of my numbers, I usually do a lot of fun songs and clips on Tik-Tok of me being funny. So i dropped a snippet and came up with a dance called the Skate Dance, I had about a hundred people use the sound and people started associating me to this dance that I made having fun. I said I’m about to do the official song on Spotify and use their clips as the visual on Spotify and capitalize off my Tik-Tok success and then I’ll bring it back to Tik-Tok to have more fun with it. I was a little hesitant because I didn’t want to be known as that dance rapper, but since we’re talking about me being flexible let me just go ahead and this.
I like how you opened up to Tik-Tok, with the whole new platform stigma Tik-Tok has been facing how important is it to be open minded and experiment with a new platform to grow your brand?
It’s super important because, TIk-Tok single handedly leveled the playing field for me as an artist, I get phone calls, I get text messages and I notice my life changing because that platform. I also get a lot of excuses, people saying, “IDK I’d rather make music”. Bro you’re going to make a 20 song album and 20 people might listen to it vs. me hoping on Tik-Tok and experimenting, I had to stretch myself, I was making cringey videos that I wouldn’t post on my IG because the brand I built. It took me 10 years to get 6K followers on IG including a couple K in promotions but it took me 5 months to get half a million on Tik-Tok. Now people notice me in public because of Tik-Tok, it’s really important because every time something new comes you gotta jump on it see if it works. The more you wait the more the algorithm gets saturated, I was too late on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. I jumped right into Tik-Tok now I’m eating off of it. Even if it dies down my number already grew on Spotify, Youtube and other platforms.
What can we expect from you this year, 2020 tell us!
What we’re doing in 2020 is about to be the hardest I ever went with music, I’m planning to drop singles back to back to back. We’re also trying to drop a couple of projects, probably not an album but EP’s. I’m about to flood the market with music. It’s not going to be microwave music It’s going to be music from a catalog that I worked up to about 100 songs and we’re just going to roll it out through out the year. You’ll see a lot of videos, a lot of shows and I’m going to try to get a million followers on Tik-Tok. I’m expecting my fan base to grow and create a whole movement this year.
Any advice for up coming artists?
The advice I would give to artists is to grind and work hard. The biggest thing is to know that if you don’t do it for yourself, people couldn’t care less. You have to do it for yourself no on is going to give it to you. This is a business, you gotta grind, you gotta work hard and don’t make music for other artists. Don’t make music thinking someone will come here you an sign you, make it for your followers, build up a following. Be humble, don’t be arrogant, talk to everyone who inboxes you everyone who comments, be selfless in your music, help anyone that you can and if you make yourself likeable, other people will like you. Don’t focus on the bigger people, focus on people in your town, at your school, work with the people on your level. You’ll grow together and just stay hungry if this is what you want to do, go hard, sacrifice, invest your own money and it will work, period.