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KingTrey Is Not Your Average Joe

by Christian Thorsberg


As the up-and-coming Chicago rapper prepares to release his first full-length mixtape, I talked to 20 year-old Trey Harris – better known as KingTrey – about his successes, influences, music, and creative practice. The product of seven months of messaging and music listening, in addition to an in-depth January 2020 interview, this account of KingTrey’s journey is the first of a three part series.


KingTrey is a strategist. He’s a student of the game – a diligent and careful planner. He harnesses a blue-collar mentality and a mantra of efficiency that manifests in rich message-heavy lyrics and undeniable bars. The curator of a meticulously managed Instagram account and the creator of a metaphor-laden discography, he knows a thing or two about growth and the work ethic that precedes it. And now, most importantly, he’s about to take the step that he hopes will catapult his name that much closer to the mainstream: the release of his first full-length mixtape.


I was put onto Trey’s music last May in a similar fashion to how many of his fans are – a personal Instagram DM with his latest release at the time: “bro! if you’re going to listen to anything listen to songs from my tape Germany… let me know which songs from the tape you liked best.” I did Trey one better, and wrote a paragraph or so for each track with my thoughts and feedback – in addition to the versatility of the tape, I respected his clear commitment to growth and grassroots canvassing, an approach to social media we together discussed.


“I do a lot of studying and I’m about efficiency,” he tells me over the phone. “Through the mindset I have, I’ve figured that if I can grow my Instagram consistently, and do the same with my Spotify, everything will take care of itself.”

With nearly 11 thousand Instagram followers and 144 thousand Spotify streams in 2019 (up from 41 thousand streams in 2018), Trey’s fan base is ever-growing, respectably sized, and already includes influential industry names: “Kota the Friend DM’d me personally and told me that Germany was a good tape,” he says.


A Spriteway Artist


So KingTrey is not your average Joe. And it was this song – “Average Joe” off Germany – coupled with this social media presence, that in August gained him perhaps his most important fan to date: Sprite.


“I got tagged in a Sprite post one day by a fan, which basically asked people to tag all the dope unsigned artists they know,” Trey says. “It was unexpected, I didn’t think anything of it, I always get tagged in hella shit. Like a month after, Sprite commented on their post and told me to DM them. They sent the contract, and me and my family and the people I trust, we looked at it, and were like ‘yeah let’s sign it.’ Now I’m a Sprite-sponsored artist.”

Things have been moving in the right direction ever since. In October, presented by Sprite, KingTrey headlined his first-ever show, bringing down the house at The Throne Room, a north side venue not far from where Trey currently lives in Rogers Park. It was also around this time that Trey announced a cryptic, tantalizing announcement: his first album (now called a mixtape) was in the works for 2020.


And this brings us to where we are now: on the cusp of the biggest moment of KingTrey’s career. But as exciting as the past year has been, Trey’s music career has been hitting its stride since long before May. In fact, each of Trey’s previous three projects – The Good Word, Crossroads, and Germany – have cleverly led to this point, comprising both the ups and downs of his budding career, all the while demonstrating his evolution as an artist.


The Evolution of KingTrey


The good word on KingTrey began with The Good Word, his 2017 debut project.


“The title comes from the Bible, and spreading the Good Word,” Trey explains. “That was a coming-out party of sorts. That was me saying, ‘I’m here to give you nothing but my message.’ It was me coming out and doing this music thing, getting people to take me seriously. I’m not here to do any gimmicky industry stuff.”


A seven-song, two-feature joint, his “good word” was heard loud and clear. Just a senior in high school at the time, the EP earned KingTrey a radio interview on Power 92.3 Chicago, as well as a Lyrical Lemonade feature.


“People saw me on Lyrical Lemonade, and some were starting to care,” he recounts. But combining the slow trickle of publicity, along with high school graduation, and Trey was faced with uncertainty and decisions.


“I was at a crossroads in terms of adulthood, in terms of music. I was deciding if I was going to go to college, focus on music. I felt like this next move was very important to lay the foundation for my future.”


As such, he dropped Crossroads in 2018 – the project showed marked improvement sonically and lyrically, and still contains some of his most streamed songs to date. Still, the ever-pensive Trey was left wondering if he had “chosen the right path,” and began thinking philosophically about his music career. He found unlikely inspiration in the 1800s German writer Anne Louise Germaine de Staël, citing one of her quotes (often misattributed to Friedrich Nietzsche) as the namesake for his next project, Germany.


“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music,” paraphrases Trey. “She wrote this in a book, and the title translates to ‘Germany’. [During The Good Word and Crossroads] I dealt with a lot of doubters. People thought I was stupid for doing this. They probably still do. In 2019, not gonna lie, even I thought I’d be a lot further along in my career.”

But if Trey felt misunderstood in his pre-Germany career trajectory, he is now anything but. After the achievements that came from the six song EP – Sprite, shows, his first 100 thousand streams – in his own words, “you have to see clearly now, there’s no misunderstandings.”


He is hesitant to reveal much else about his upcoming mixtape, but this mantra remains its guiding theme. “It’s gonna be my best work,” he assures. “Even though I’m not where I want to be, or even where I thought I’d be by now, now is the time that you’re gonna see clearly what I’m all about. If you look in this direction, you won’t have any other option but to see what is actually going on.”


With an impressive set of features and a greater creative focus than ever before, the anticipation for KingTrey’s debut mixtape is filled with expectation and excitement. For musical analysis of KingTrey’s discography to date, creative influences, shifting focus from lyrics to sonics, and mixtape hints, stay tuned for part two of this three-part article series.


(photos courtesy of KingTrey)

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