XMPL Cover Story: Tray Little – Detroit’s Next Breakout Star

Cover Photography by: Sneaker Buddha

Make way for the Motor City newcomer as he aims take on the world, one TikTok at a time.

Moving, a work in progress, industrial, emerging – these are just some of the words that can describe the redeveloping city that is Detroit, Michigan – home to some of hip-hop’s most famed household names – from Eminem to Big Sean – there’s always something to boast about from the “Motor City.” With an immense hip-hop culture, many Detroit-based artists have followed by example and are creating their own success stories. Amongst these artists is rapper and TikTok creator Tray Little, who has been working non-stop, creating content and posting videos on his page to further expand his music. Through his work, he has recently amassed over 1.1 million followers on TikTok over the summer and has gained a fan base online – with the Detroit community quickly catching on.

Within the last year, Tray made himself known and has shared his story with his followers, connecting with them through his music and consistent content. With TikTok currently being one of the most popular mobile apps, Tray takes this to his advantage to get his name on the radar. Growing up in Detroit, Tray was raised by his teenage mother after losing his father to gun violence at only four years old – a story that he’s open to share with his followers. From overcoming living in the streets of Detroit, Tray now aims to uplift and inspire through his music and songwriting.

With 2020’s complete global shift with the pandemic and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement through the unjust loss of George Floyd – Tray continues to uplift and takes to the video-sharing platform, with a following of over a million, to spread awareness. Over the summer, Tray put himself on the forefront alongside other renowned Detroit figures by getting involved in the BLM protests in his local community, standing in-between local authorities and citizens, calling for no destruction – knowing that many of the officers, were locals of Detroit. This, amongst many others who got involved, inspired conversations between police officials and local leaders. Through his music, Tray also dropped a single entitled “I Can’t Breathe (George Floyd)” which he describes as his way to respond and express his feelings on the ongoing climate of things. The single gained several thousands of views on his page as well as was used by nearly 50K TikTok users.

Early September, Tray dropped his new club-hitting single “Pressure” and gave fans a taste of his upcoming heat. “Got all this pressure on me. Making it out of these streets, that’s who I’m destined to be,” he raps on the chorus over a fire trap beat. One of the first of many listens – the Detroit-native hints at an upcoming project this fall that will connect his upbringing and his present. A highly anticipated project with much to offer, the TikTok star lets us know what we can expect within the next coming months. He describes his forthcoming releases as”trap, fun times, about the current times and still venerable in the same time.” With Tray’s swift rise, we’re thrilled to see what the next year will bring to Detroit’s next breakout artist.

XMPL: Who were you listening to growing up? What then inspired you to want to become a rapper?

Tray Little: So when I was about 9 years old, I was introduced to rap music from my aunt, driving around in the car and while we were on the road – taking road trips and stuff like that, they would always play Master P, No Limit Soldiers, Silkk The Shocker, Mystikal. And Mystikal was one of the first rappers that I heard and he’s not really talked about now but he was one of the independent artists who built a fortune selling music out of their trunk. So it was a very organic and homegrown, success story from rapping music – so I started listening to that and then I started repeating the words and then I started free styling and adding words to it. And that’s what introduced me to music.

Then, which really made me want to be a rapper was when 50 Cent came out with “Get Rich Or Die Tryin.” I was probably about 10 years old and that album really shaped my perspective on rap, just a hardcore image. And he was talking about everything I seen growing up in the streets of Detroit and it was just a tough, hardcore image. And it made me want to look up to him cause I didn’t have my father. So looking up to him was like more of a male role model and it made me want to be that, so that’s what really kicked it off when I first got introduced to rap.

I remember when we last spoke, you mentioned that you were producing for a couple of years – are you still producing and do you see yourself producing for other artists?

Yeah – I actually have some music coming out that I recently released that I produced, like “Mask On” which is becoming one of my most successful songs because of the amount of views and attention that it got within the first of couple weeks – the views shot up on YouTube and the streams, people loved it. I produced that song. I produced a song called “Rage,” a song called “Madlit.” And I’ve also been training up younger artists, by the name of Jason Kolbusz. I’ve worked with another young artist, Heather McCorkle and some of these artists I would take from scratch and help them record their first song, produce it, mix and master it, help them do the cover art and oversee it and get it to where it needs to be. So I do a lot of artist development and train younger artists, but my goal would also be getting placements with well-known artists as well, you know, as I continue to grow.

If you had the opportunity to work with any artist, who would it be?

One of the first people to come to mind would be like Young Thug, just because he’s one of my biggest influences today. I would love to do a track for Tee Grizzley because he comes from Detroit and his story is very similar to mine. For Young Thug, for the melodies, it’d be cool to see how he gets on it. NF, Scxrlxrd, Polo G, Pontiac Made DDG and some of the younger artists like Lil Mosey, Roddy Ricch and some of the younger artists that’s like the new wave, the new generation I would love to work with.

There’s a lot of rising artists from Detroit, a lot of big names like you mentioned Tee Grizzley and we got big names like Big Sean and Eminem but right now, since you’re currently in the scene – what Detroit artists are currently standing out to you that may not be mainstream?

There are a few of them. I know Drego & Beno was really starting to get mainstream attention when they got on Adam22 and No Jumper. When they both got on there, they’re like kind of the next wave coming up. They have a huge following, millions of views on everything that they drop, 10-20 million views.  So, I think they’re kind of next up. They’ve been kind of quiet this summer when it comes to music, but I do believe that if they decide to take it to the next level, they can at the push of a button. I know Sada Baby is an artist that I believe has the potential to be a superstar. And you got other artists like Cash Kidd and BabyFaceRay, but they seem more underground and want to focus more on their lives in Detroit instead of being a big face in pop culture. But I feel like the artist who will might really skyrocket is Sada Baby, I think him for sure if he continues to be as consistent as he is, he’s gonna be the next big artist. Cause in Detroit, you got a lot of top tier artists just in a local rap scene, kind of like how Chicago has this drill scene – Detroit has a scene that is very similar. It’s like the street rapping, guys are like celebrities in Detroit but they haven’t got to that mainstream level yet. But I think Sada Baby might be the next one to get to that.

I know you’ve been releasing several singles, I heard you released a track called “The Corona” and you mentioned “Mask On.” So you’re taking advantage of the pandemic and not letting it get in the way of your releases – what made you want to jump on the trend to make music related to the pandemic?

It’s funny because “The Corona” song was supposed to be fun and just like a dance song and when I first made it, I made the beat and I was like “Oh my gosh, this beat is so fire. I can’t wait to make a song out of this.” I mix songs on TikTok all the time and I think that one started getting some traction on TikTok, so I was like “ No, I don’t want to use the beat to make a funny, parody song but man if it works, it works”. So, I made it into a full song and with TikTok – I’ve seen some of my peers go from being a local artist in Detroit to getting Tyra Banks shouting them out. To getting Chance The Rapper shouting them out. To getting features with Tyga and even getting massive recognition, to where like Chris Brown might be like “I love this” on TikTok. A lot of well-known celebrities comment, I’ve had a lot of celebrities comment of my stuff as well, but with TikTok, I was just kind of experimenting. The fear was this could make my brand look a little cheesy because I’m more known for beat music or more serious music so I was willing to take that risk because I knew my TikTok audience could take it to that next level overnight if it happened.

With “The Corona” that was more of a fun song that I wanted to throw out there. “Mask On” is funny because it wasn’t really intended to be a song about the pandemic, but I read in a headline on the news somewhere that that’s how they took it, that I was promoting safety. So I was like, I could kind of run with it cause at the same time I do believe in being safe and protecting yourself and other people during the pandemic. So one of the lines in the song said  “Jim Carey, you ain’t wanna see me with the mask on.” So in the movie The Mask, when Jim Carey turns into a character and I’m saying when I was in the streets, you didn’t want to see me with my mask on because that meant that I was coming to rob you. But it was also a play on the words, put yo mask on. It’s like a double meaning. I was actually using that song on TikTok to promote being safe during COVID and stuff like that. I used that line to promote protesting safely, being protected and it just worked as a double meaning.

I wanted to congratulate you on achieving 1 millions followers on TikTok, a huge milestone for any social media personality. What does this achievement mean to you?

Man that’s huge. A million followers on TikTok has been so much leverage, to where like its gotten me into so many places, so many doors that I probably wouldn’t have got in before I had a million followers. Before, when I had 900 thousand, it was like “oh that’s cool,” but with a million – anytime I get introduced to somebody, people always introduce me as the guy with a million followers on social media. And I have almost 40k subscribers on Youtube, almost 30k on Instragram but people are “like yea, a million followers.” People’s reaction to that is “let’s get this guy into the office as soon as we can.” So it’s that hard work that I put in to get stamped as like “man you’ve put in a lot of work to get a million people following you,” that’s a huge accomplishment. It’s almost like an introduction for me to get people’s attention. So if I’m reaching out to a big artist that I want to work with and I’m trying to offer them leverage, I’ll say “hey I got a million followers on TikTok – the #1 app in the world. Maybe I can offer you some value.” It’s my way to offer people value.

Going forward, what does it mean to you as an artist outside of TikTok?

As an artist, I don’t got a million of those people listening to my music right now because TikTok is a very kind of in-house app. People like to stay on the app but usually if I post something on TikTok and I get a good reaction to it – a lot of those people will go spike my numbers up on my other social medias. So TikTok has become the single most app that has changed so people’s lives overnight. It changed my life and I believe that a million followers for me is just the beginning of what everyone’s gonna see out of my life now. If TikTok doesn’t get banned or when they do sell it, if the algorithm stays the same, I do believe by the next year, you’ll see me interacting with more celebrities, well-known names and a lot of in-house names. You’ll see me go from where I’m at to maybe 5 million followers, or 3 million. And interacting with – I don’t know who its gonna be, but I do believe I’ll be endorsed by a lot more famous people. I’ve already been getting a lot of love from different well-known faces and stuff but I believe its going to go to a whole other level next year.

I don’t know if you remember this application Vine – a lot of the influencers or people who made it on the platform are now known as established actors or artists. So, let’s hypothetically say TikTok gets banned in the US – what direction might you see yourself taking?

So me, I believe I’m in a good position because I’m not known for just for one video or one viral moment – I’m known for my story being built up over the course of a year. I think I’ve established my brand, so I believe that if TikTok stays around it’s only going to launch me even further even faster and I believe that’s going to be the better option for me. I believe if it does get banned that a lot of my audience over there, a good percent of those million followers will be forced to find me on other social media any my name is very simple, straight to the point @TrayLittle. It forces my followers to go find me on other platforms if they can’t access me no more on there.

I believe the biggest thing that people do when these situations happen, where an app gets banned or shut down is building your brand up, your story. If you have 20 million followers just because you like did a back flip and landed on your elbow or something, then 9/10 you really won’t get a strong following because people just know you for one moment. But if go I ask my followers to summarize my story in 5 to 10 seconds, they’ll say “Born in Detroit, lost his dad at 4, mom had him as a teenager and he grew up in the streets but now he’s becoming a successful artist.” A lot of people know my story, I tell it a lot and then a lot of people connect with that story so I believe that no matter where I go, I’m gonna have my followers and they’re gonna support me because I’ve established my brand and who I am as a person, as well as an artist.

Let’s say I’m about to join TikTok, what advice would you give me if I’m trying to build a brand?

The biggest thing you can do is #1 – don’t over think. And then find 5-10 people that you look up to on the app, and find people that interest you and watch those videos. And after some time of consuming, you start creating and when you create, put yourself in a safe environment to where nobody’s following you. You’re not showing your friends, you’re not showing your peers. That’s especially if you have an established brand elsewhere like other social media platforms or even if you’re just a new person. Get yourself to where you create, create, create and post, post, post. Don’t overthink and then you get inspired from what you follow, re-create stuff and watch the page, the For You page and the discover page. Get inspired and re-create videos and post as much as you can and don’t worry about the views. You could post 50 videos, and you post the 51st video and that gets 100 thousand views – all the other 50 videos are going to blow up and boom you’re in the door. It took me 600 videos I think before my first one got like 100 thousand views or something like that. I’ve met other people where, I’ve helped them get on the platform, they blew up, became the top video under Kanye West’s song and stuff like that – and they instantly got 100 thousand followers with their first post. It happens a lot but not as much, so I think the best thing you can do is stay consistent and then you’re gonna get that one post go viral – all your other videos blow up and start going viral as well.

Would you be able to talk about you have planned in terms of music for the next few months?

We’re finishing up a project and if all goes well, we’re going to be releasing a really big project at the end of August and this project is significant because it plays on the idea and the theme of my recent projects, with “From The Ashes,” “Out The Mud” and talking about the grind and the trenches of my life but I think a lot of people are getting familiar but even working hard, you have money saved up, you’ve been working on stocks, you’ve been on almost all the news stations in Detroit, you’re getting a little money now, you’re starting to buy stuff you like, you got a custom necklace. Now can you talk about what its like having a fan base now, having a million followers? So this project is the connection between the guy who grew up in the hood, on government assistance to now, having a fan base – to selling tickets and traveling, going to the mall and everywhere I go now, usually somebody’s recognizing me and wanting to take pictures with me.

I’m talking about that stuff now on this project and it’s an inspiring project that’s going to really motivate people, cause you’re getting both. You’re getting the man I was, down and out in the trenches and now you’re getting the man who’s starting to get somewhere as an independent artist all off the hard work and investing in myself, so I think this is gonna be a very inspiring and fun project. It should be out by the end of August, and we’ve done everything in-house, from the artwork to the production from the mixing and mastering, and everything sounds amazing. I think its going to compete with everybody’s favourite artist that we hear on the radio, I’m confident that’s this is going to compete and take me to the next level.

Do you have any collaborations or features on this upcoming project?

There’s production collaborations, so we got one producer named Bird, he’s like kind of new and branding himself when it comes to producing for artists. I have a friend named Ruslan, he’s a well-established artist out of California. He runs an independent label and he helped me come up with one of the concepts for one of the songs on the project, “Pressure” that people will hear. So, we collaborated creatively but when it comes to features and stuff, we didn’t do any features right now; we just kind of made the music and put it together but I believe that hopefully with this project along with my work on TikTok is gonna allow me to get in the door to get bigger artists. My goal would be, by this project being out – artists like Lil Mosey and all the new wave of artists will start kind of noticing and want to work. Like 24kGoldn and a lot of these dudes who see me on TikTok. So the hope is that this project gets me to where I’m doing big and mainstream features for the new wave of artists. Right now, this is more the business card to get me into the door and then I believe from here, I’ll have more opportunities to collab with mainstream artists.

I’m sure you’ll be able to get there and who knows, next year we might see you with Lil Mosey. Opportunities are always coming up.

Thank you – and one more thing that make this even more real is that I do this music review on my YouTube channel every Saturday, 6PM Eastern/Standard time – and I review my followers’ music. I got a subscribe from a guy named Shark Puppet; he got like 4 million followers on TikTok, he’s verified. A million on Instagram, couple million on YouTube and he submitted a song and was like “hey Tray, as an artist do you think this is dope?” and it said “featuring YBN Nahmir” and I was like “yo, is this real?” and he was like yeah and then I heard it and was like wow, this is my first glimpse, I was the first person to review this song. He [YBN Nahmir] works with YBN Cordae and they’re like really well-known rappers and they’re mainstream, heavy hitters so when I got to review that song and it was unreleased, it made me feel like it was a taste to that becoming the norm. To like, maybe I can be the next guy to get the YBN Nahmir feature or Cordae feature. It felt really good having that opportunity to review that song for my audience and step closer to that.

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