Trigger Warning: Imagery of gun violence
“On April 21st, 1994, New York Times Magazine featured a 7 month old infant struck by stray gunfire. Rapper, Producer, Engineer, College Graduate… I am that infant. 27 years later… this is my story…”
This was how the heading description read for New Jersey-based rapper/producer Trust Tate’s new single, “Real Reasons,” when it was submitted to our SubmitHub inbox. To be transparent, it was the first time I was a bit intimidated by a submission. I felt a twinge of anxiety surrounding my future response – if I disliked the song, how could I possibly form a proper rejection for something so personal and traumatic? If I liked the song, how could I properly cover it and do its backstory justice? By proof of the piece you are reading right now, my response was the latter.
The opening lyrics, laid over a brooding piano and warbling bass-led beat on “Real Reasons” played in my headphones as:
New York Times put me in the archive / seven-month-old shot twice but I still survived /
Two bullets hit a baby in a stroller / one in my bicep, one in the shoulder /
Inches from my heart almost had my life over / Thank Lord Jehovah I was stronger than a trained soldier /
Doctor said I coulda lost my life / Bad enough shot once but I got hit twice.”
As the drums kicked in after those bars and the song proceeded, I was frozen in astoundment. Never had I heard a song that felt like it was filled with such purpose in its storytelling. Many emcees claim to be real in their raps – and to be fair I’m sure some are being fully truthful – but this was on another tier. Over the course of the track, Tate performed a poignant balancing act with the dichotomy of his distress and trauma paired with his faith and clarity. He intertwined classic rap references from KRS-One and 50 Cent with his perspective seamlessly, tap dancing over driving production from Saint Alexvnder, who Tate later told me made the beat around an acapella he sent him.
When the track finished and I exhaled, a thought came: not only did I have to accept this song to be covered on CentralSauce, but a simple Why We Like It discovery piece wouldn’t be sufficient. I consulted with our team and decided I needed to hit Tate up to get the story of his life up until making this song from the source. He graciously agreed to do a Zoom interview, and below is a sectioned compilation of direct quotes from that conversation. The contents have only been slightly edited for clarity.
The Events of April 20, 1994 & The Days Following
(As told to Tate by his Grandmother and others)
Me and my Grandmother were coming from the Bronx Zoo. I was in the stroller and I’m pretty sure in her mind it was just a regular day. We got to the bus stop, she said, and the bus driver looked down. I’m dead silent. Then he’s like, “Ma’am, there’s blood dripping from the stroller.” For blocks now, there was just a trail of blood that was dripping from the stroller. It (the bullet) hit me, and then she, I guess, disregarded the sound because she thought it was distant, which it was, ‘cuz it was a stray. Then everyone started panicking on the bus, which translated to (baby) me panicking, which caused it to be more chaos than it needed to be. Eventually, they got me to the hospital and they came to find out they needed to do about eight surgeries on me. My arm was hanging off when they got me in there.
They said they had a couple local churches, mosques, and synagogues come and pray over me. They were praying’ to make sure I was OK. The news companies came and flooded over to the hospital. Then they made sure I had the best care, cuz at that time the Bronx hospital I was in was for lower-income (patients). So they wanted to make sure whatever needed to happen to protect me would be done. The best medical care.
After that, I wore a cast for a little bit. They weren’t sure if my arm was gonna grow with me, which it has [lifts arms up]. It’s equal in size. I go to the gym and make sure I do a couple more reps with it. But my bicep is severed to some degree. They had to take some muscle out ‘cuz they knew it wasn’t gonna form. But besides that, I have a normal range of motion, at least the usual. This all happened when I was 7 months old.
Physical memory is a thing I wouldn’t underestimate. There’s a certain level of awareness that I would say I have, that I’ve noticed a lot of other people don’t. When things are about to go wrong or when they’re gonna go right. I can read people’s energy a little faster because I had to. I think my brain was like, “I think you may wanna perceive things a little faster because you were attacked when you were supposed to be protected, ‘cuz you were the most vulnerable.” So there’s a certain level of paranoia. A little extra for my lens on life than the average person, which would be the case for most people going through traumatic situations. I don’t happen to have it memorized here [points to temple], but I just know my instincts in my body are always on go.
It doesn’t help that my external environment after that wasn’t that much different. I wasn’t the directly affected person, but throughout my life I’ve been in environments of a similar nature. I’m not even able to differentiate between that trauma affecting me versus the latter. I went to school for psychology so I know what affects me. The human experience is universal.
After that incident as an infant in the Bronx, I moved to Jersey City, New Jersey and was there up until around (age) 12. Being in Jersey City in the early 2000s is not like being in Jersey City now. Having to navigate that as a kid — like walking to school on my own at like 8 and watching my little sister by 10, I was looking at things from a more adult perspective even though I was young. I had to take care of myself and my younger sister. I was in the inner city again.
Then I moved to Atlanta for a little bit and North Carolina. That was the only suburban exposure I got. But that was only for two years because my father wasn’t able to find steady income down there, so we moved back up. He was working at the New York Stock Exchange beforehand. He went from ringing the bell at the stock market to going down south and not being able to find a job due to the recession in 2008. It kind of crushed him so we came back up. Then I went to performing arts high school in East Orange, New Jersey. If you know about East Orange that’s another place that…yeah.
I was there, then finally got accepted to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey where I’m still at currently. It was kind of the oasis from everything else. I was in a place where I could cultivate my own future. I was in college and even though that’s not a guarantee of anything, that’s as close as most people get so I believed and I tried. I figured out what I wanted to do when I was there because freshman year I was just living life for me. Nobody had forced me to go to school and I was paying for school on my own. So whatever I wanted to do I was gonna do it. Then I saw my Dad do the business route and it didn’t work out. The recession hit everyone, even the accountants and stockbrokers. So it was like, clearly in this life there’s no safety net except you doing what you wanna do.
So then I was like what classes should I take? In liberal arts schools, they make you take a general amount of classes. Some people complain about that but freshman and sophomore year you might wanna see what’s out there. Then the books cost (a lot) so you may not be able to afford the major. For my major, I had to look and be like, “I may not be what I wanna be right now. I might have to go to the army first and then go back to this.” I was considering that for a while cuz I wanted to live life optimally and for people of lower economic status the military is an out, but your body and mind might be locked in a contract.
I ended up choosing psychology ‘cuz I felt like I wanted to understand myself more. I wanted to know who I was, and I wanted to know why I had all these complex relationships with my family that I couldn’t work on regardless of what I tried. I just had these weird rifts with people and wanted to be able to read through people’s energy. Then (I wanted to) know how to protect myself better. Then also know why my mood was affected by certain things. Why I woke up with bad days.
Then I minored in Human Resources because it’s basically the psychology of the business world. You deal with all the customer complaints, employee complaints, employee concerns, and shareholders concerns. I put those two together and started working random customer service jobs building character and enthusiasm.
So psychology helped me. It helped me heal myself. Once you heal yourself it heals the relationships on the other end that need healing. They have to deal with it because once you forgive yourself the other person has no responsibility. If you apologize fully and properly, the other person is just gonna reiterate what you’ve already apologized for. I’m not gonna live the rest of my life in guilt or in bitterness for something someone else did wrong to me. I figured out a way to decipher people in a way to protect my energy.
Tate’s Musical Beginnings
I also got signed to an independent record label my sophomore year. An independent label started out of central New Jersey. It was three guys with families and lives goin’ on that believed in me. They took money out of their own pocket and invested in me for three-plus years. I learned a lot about money and other people controlling your destiny and your fate. I didn’t like it. (There was) a lot of power I was giving away that I didn’t even realize I had. Then when I realized I had it I was like, “Why am I giving it away?” So I made a note to myself to not do this again.
So when that contract was up I realized these engineers and these producers that didn’t get my vision were costly. I was like, “Let me see if I can learn the craft and save some money.” Then long term I could do what I actually wanted to do and learn how to put it all together. So then I gathered all the equipment and started treating it like school. Made my first couple beats on FL Studio, grabbed my mic, and started recording people. Started recording myself and here we are.
Tate’s External Motivation to Make “Real Reasons”
What’s happening in the market now is one-sided. Guns in the camera, and how do I get on? How do I make you believe I’m this person? There are people that go against that, but not a lot. If anybody were to listen to somebody (doing something different) it could be me. The kid who’s a byproduct of you thinking you can just shoot shoot bang bang. I am that kid, and now that person taking this back. I’m here, and still standing in the studio right now. I went to college. I’m not perpetuating a cycle. The current market is self-hatred. America has a hyper concentration of a shoot shoot bang bang (label) on one group of people and the whole world celebrates it. It’s desensitizing our lives by doing that. It’s one-sided.
How do I take it and just be complacent with the culture as it is? How do I just take this surrounding of hyper-violence around me and just be like, “It’s cool bro?” How do I do it knowing what I experienced? When I’m the byproduct of it, how?
We all have a real reason to be here. On the song, I talk about people living soulless. I’m comparing myself to them because they’re choosing to live like they don’t have these blessings. We can do better. Put yourself in my shoes, my baby shoes. I say, “How the hell I bite the bullet, I was still teething?” How do you bite the bullet when you can’t? If he has the target on his back as an infant what does he have now? He has the same thing I have.
Tate’s Internal Motivation to Make “Real Reasons”
My music is me going through how I’m feeling with you. It’s cathartic for me. Once I’m done with it I don’t feel that way anymore, so I don’t listen to my music after I’m done with it honestly. It was cathartic so it’s out of me now.
Knowing that the present doesn’t dictate my future, like it hasn’t done in the past, gave me patience. My condition at times was mentally distressing and I didn’t want to be where I was. So I was like let me focus on optimizing my natural resources. Not worrying about what I’m getting later but what do I have now. We have a period in our teen years where we feel like somebody should come save us. That to me died very early. I had to figure out how to save myself. Then see how I could save the people around me. Then I had to not hold any bitterness to those people who I expected to save me.
By optimizing my habits I got my environment to change and even my friend group to change. Now I’m looking at everything as a journey instead of worrying about a finish line. When I ran track my coach always told me, “Enjoy the journey. The finish line is gonna come whether you run or not. The finish line is gonna move to you.” If you’ve seen any Olympic race even if the person collapses, the coach will come pick them up and make them walk across the line. Some people try to rush it. Some people try to take their time. Living in your own lane or in your own shoes is the best shoes you could wear. There’s so much discovery in you. I got tired of looking for my exterior environment to save me because I realized I could save myself.
I grew up listening to KRS One. My dad always had it on in the house. When I graduated from high school I already had it on my Walkman, iPhone, iPod or whatever. I also always had Rakim and the classics. My dad grew up in Long Island around that time. He saw it all and transferred it over to my ears.
I was listening to 50 Cent since the 5th grade. I had a Get Rich or Die Tryin’ poster on my wall. My first CD was Tupac All Eyez On Me and my second was 50 Cent Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I have great admiration for those two guys.
“Feel like destiny be changin’ like the damn seasons / they got hit like I got hit but they ain’t fuckin’ breathing” – Trust Tate referencing “Many Men” on “Real Reasons”
Many people were shot and killed even in this last week. I was doing it from the standpoint of, how am I still here? There must be something either by chance or divine design. We have to give praise to it.
Tate’s Music & Outlook Moving Forward
I have another album to be dropped June 21st called Walk In The Park. It’ll be a summer album, upbeat, and happier. College party type vibes and fun.
Now [that I made a song about it], I’m not gonna talk about that anymore. It was a catharsis so I don’t need to reiterate on it. Now the feeling is done and I can work on better feelings as I’m shaping my environment even better. The music should reflect a better lifestyle. I really want to live a regular life. Make music, have a family, and just chill. My main message is humility, understanding, and respect. Hopefully that spreads. I just wanna make the world a playground again.