The effortless wisdom of CEO Trayle
The Atlanta-based rapper talks YSL Records, his career trajectory, and moving beyond his hit “OK Cool.”
By Brandon Callender
December 23, 2021
CEO Trayle. Photo via publicist.
If you told CEO Trayle that “OK Cool” would be the song that got people to pay attention to him, he wouldn’t believe you. The 27-year-old rapper always thought that he had better songs. A coldhearted break-up anthem in the vein of Future’s “Throwaway,” “OK Cool” casts CEO Trayle as a spurned lover intent on burning the relationship down and salting the earth. While Trayle says he was just messing around when he made the song, it blew up during summer 2020; first in Chicago, then spreading elsewhere. It’s the biggest song of his career so far, but when you ask Trayle about “OK Cool” a year later, he calls it a “gift and a curse.”
“I guess [people] feel like since that one song has been created, it’ll create a category of rap where you just say ‘bitch’ a million times,” Trayle explains. “ If I was to feed into that how they want me to, then I’ll fuck up rap. I don’t want to be the reason why motherfuckers get to doing weird shit on songs.” That unwillingness to be boxed in has colored CEO Trayle’s 2021 output. On the string of loosies he’s released this year along with the mixtapes Stay Dangerous and Happy Halloween C4, the hunger in his rapping turns every song into a boxing ring to prove himself victorious.
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Trayle was born in the Bronx, living there for 13 years until he moved to Alabama, settling in Atlanta a few years later. His moving patterns are mirrored in his biggest influences: 50 Cent’s rugged, bully-like persona and Gucci Mane’s rolodex of flows, as well as his brutal sense of humor, are encoded into Trayle’s DNA. Though the artist that I hear most when listening to Trayle is Chief Keef—they share an impulse to constantly add new tools to their respective arsenals. It’s as if Trayle forces himself to try out new flows, use different voices, or experiment with styles of production to keep the music from becoming stale.
That constant evolution makes Trayle unpredictable as an artist. You’ll hear him rapping over a sparse and unsettling mechanical production on one song before turning around to hop on deep-grooving, No Limit-inspired production on another. After linking with Taurus, Gunna’s DJ, Trayle was introduced to the rest of the YSL camp, which led to Gunna remixing “OK Cool” earlier this year. In our interview, CEO Trayle opened up about being motivated by Chicago drill, navigating the industry as an independent artist, and his relationship with the YSL camp.
THE FADER: What about Gucci Mane made him one of your biggest inspirations?
I always fuck with the underdog. It’s more than just music. He was exactly what he was rapping. I respect that a lot. I see myself as an underdog. People usually fade out after some time if they don’t take no deal or no shit like that, but I feel like I’ve been maneuvering good enough on my own. The fact that I’ve been maneuvering so well has allowed me to be able to take larger steps when I do shit.
You dropped “OK Cool” because fans got a hold of the leak and they were just like, like, “oh what’s this song? Who’s this?” Do you think that’s how artists should move now?
I feel like it’s for the fans anyways. I don’t feel like people in a board room should be telling you what songs to drop. I preview a lot of songs, but when I preview certain songs, they just go crazy. That’s the fans letting me know that that’s the song they want to drop. Somebody’ll tell me like, “hold the song. Don’t feed ’em so much.” It’s cool to hold off when you got a lot of music out, but somebody in the position that I’m in it’s like, I’m trying to find my song that’s going to take me out of there.
Once you got one song, you have to find the next to keep them interested.
You can’t do it as fast, but you definitely gotta keep feeding them. So they’ll know he not trying to be a one hit. Like, you see how Lil Nas X dropped the album after his song went 15 times platinum. He didn’t have to do none of that shit he did after that song. He already getting paid for the rest of his life. He could have had everybody know him as the “Old Town Road” person.
You just gotta make them understand that it’s more to you than that one song. Cause people think when they hear one song, that song is you. They’ll think like just because I made “OK Cool” and I’m saying bitch all those times, “oh, [CEO Trayle] don’t respect women.” Any small thing that can be made big, people gonna do that. You just gotta keep going.
If you the one that’s being talked about all the time, you really don’t gotta worry about much. You just gotta live up to expectations. Nowadays, the expectations is not even that high. So if you are a person that likes to exceed expectations, then you always gonna look better than lot of other people. The bar is set so low for a lot of shit. If you a person like a Drake or a Kanye or a person that likes to compete with yourself to be better than what you was yesterday, you always going to supersede everybody else because everybody else is just doing the bare minimum.
Sometimes you remind me a lot of Chief Keef’s been on recently: recording full songs with no hook, straight bars.
I feel like a lot of people been doing that for a long time, especially niggas like Chief Keef. He been doing that for a minute. When the Chicago wave first popped off, that’s all it was at first. Chief Keef had hella songs, but they really didn’t have hooks. And then when he dropped songs with hooks, that’s when he started going crazy. I used to think that was the hardest thing to come up with was a hook. If you start the song by trying to come up with a hook, you damn near dead. Soon as the beat play, I have to get the melody in my head and then I know, “oh yeah, that’s the hook.”
Back then when I first started rapping, it was hard as fuck for me to make hooks. It was shit that I thought I would want to hear twice. I couldn’t find four bars out the freestyle. I never made hooks, really. I used to just rap and then whoever was rapping on the song with me, if it was somebody for the feature, they’ll just come behind me rapping, or I’ll just come behind them rapping or we’ll do four bars apiece until the song go off. I done got better with that now of course.
What got you listening to Chicago drill?
When I seen Chief Keef doing what he was doing at his age, it made me feel like it’s a way for like niggas me. Niggas that don’t have the resources that other people had, cuz all his videos was shot at his Grandma’s house on house arrest. The shit that people took for granted, he took that shit and made millions, made a big name for that shit, and opened the door for a lot of other people.
I don’t even know how I stumbled on Keef. I think it was a girl. I think she was from Detroit. She used to always get the aux in the car and she used to play songs I never heard. Next thing you know, he dropped “3Hunna.” When I seen that video, I’m like, “yeah, that nigga ass up outta here.” I probably played that song a million times. And then Young Chop being his producer, but being his homie [too,] everything was so close-knit. They homie down the street shoot videos, he make beats, he rap, and he got the studio. I just liked the vibe that they gave, the family vibe—all for one and one for all.
What made you want to have features on Happy Halloween C4?
Me being the person that I am and already having the “OK Cool” remix with Gunna, I was just showing people that I work well with others. I feel like when you get in the studio with different people, they bring out different vibes and you make different songs. Just showing like, “oh he could do that too. He sound good on other people’s songs.” When people listen to me, they be saying stuff like, “oh, you don’t sound like nobody else.” It be hard for them to imagine me on a song with somebody like Babyface Ray, Gunna or even Jean Deaux.
What has linking up with the YSL camp shown you about the music industry?
Nowadays I look at music like it’s a job. It’s all business now. When I linked with them, they put some fun back into it. A lot of what they got, I’m working towards and they help me understand that you gotta be patient in some instances; you gotta go for it in some instances; you gotta analyze in some instances. They give me a lot of keys of the game without oversaturating it. They got a greater good that they working towards. It’s a good feeling to see people actually embrace you and mean it. That’s hard to find in the music industry. People embrace you cuz you got some hot shit going on and then once that shit’s over with, they’ll fall back. It was lot of people telling me when I first got with YSL, “oh you shouldn’t sign no deal with them. You shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t do that.” But they approached me a certain way and we chopped it up about what I would be open to. It was never no pressure.
A lot of people would be on some, “he can’t be around unless he signed a deal.” They not like that, and I respect that. Even just being on the fan point of view, you will see a lot of people that go through those YSL channels. You see some people that go through those channels and they don’t do right and not good shit happens. Then you see people who do right and the good shit happens. And you see people that went through the YSL channels that never had to sign a deal with YSL to be embraced. Even though it’s a good thing to sign to them because they gonna make sure you straight, they’re not pushing the agenda of signing you in order for them to embrace you.
Do you value being independent over signing to a label?
I wouldn’t say I value it over being with YSL. I just feel like it’s better for me to say I’m independent and doing the things that I’m doing. Being independent is cool because it helps you realize the ins and outs before you gotta realize them. It’s a lot of shit that goes wrong in the industry with people not paying attention to certain things. It’s like you’re in school. It’s on you to pick up what they putting down. If you can’t pick it up, then that means that this shit is just not for you.
A lot of people wanna make music and they wanna be around certain people because they got this perception of this person. But you gotta be comfortable with yourself. When I talk to Gunna, Young Thug, or anybody from the YSL camp or in that vicinity who aligns themselves as family, they want to see me succeed just as well as they would their real younger brother or they real siblings. It’s good have that mindframe on shit because you gotta know you not the biggest. It’s always gonna be somebody better. I don’t feel like I gotta compete with Thug or Gunna or anybody from YSL. No matter what size my chain is, or how much money I got, it’s a family vibe. The more I do what I’m doing, the more I’m gonna get what I’m working for.