Watts has a rich cultural history, nurturing everyone from Charles Mingus to The Watts Prophets to 03 Greedo. The city’s demographics and economic resources have changed over the years, but what’s constantly remained are people who have a deep love for their neighborhood. TruCarr is no exception. Within minutes of beginning the interview, he tells me upfront, without stutter or hesitation, “Watts is the motherland,” a claim that I’d only heard from my parents in reference to the boundless desert of Egypt. There’s power in that statement – in fact, so much power that I had no choice but to sit there and hear him tell me the story of why.
Darren Carr was born with a Southern dialect, but raised with a West Coast mindset. His mother’s side of the family hails from Louisiana and his father is from Michigan, so it’s not unexpected for TruCarr’s voice to carry a Detroit-style aggression and for him to give off swagger like a young Weezy. In Watts, the sun is always harsh, but you’ll always find people outside, hustling and working the block. In fact, TruCarr’s breakout song, “Outside,” is about just that, boosted by two extra versions of the track featuring verses from DaBoii and Blueface — offering an intra-state solidarity.
When TruCarr lost his daughter, Journee, at a young age, he saw just how unforgiving the world could be; but that just pushed him harder. In 2020, he released, Tru Forever (The Journee), a tribute to his most cherished. The tape exhibited a perseverance unlike anything that he had tapped into before. TruCarr groaned as he pushed himself forward, working through his grief, and he roared of immortality, knowing that he had nothing else left to lose. His tragic loss gets him up everyday, it forces him to go farther with his music, and his relentless motivation is painted all over his most personal project to date, Based on a TRU Story.
TruCarr rhymes in cursive and his voice has the grit of a war veteran spilling the details of his days in combat. The 25-year-old’s new mixtape, Based on a TRU Story, showcases his different styles and the meticulous control he has over his voice. On the “Outside – Remix,” you hear this in full effect with his different iterations of the adlib “Ahhh,” switching from a short-and-staccato yelp to a Young Thug-esque, drawn-out squeal. TruCarr’s command over how he accents his syllables is transformative in his storytelling – evoking a sense of longing when he uses vibrato in “Yeah,” allowing his voice to waver as he bellows the self-loathing hook. We get a glimpse of TruCarr thinking to himself and introspecting, asking himself whether or not wealth is going to change him; and if it does, will it be for the better?
For every song on the tape, TruCarr adjusts his vocal techniques accordingly. Where “Watts Up” is frazzled and shaken, reminiscent of bringing the neighborhood together in a call to arms, “Slide” is a grisly attack. TruCarr’s flow is loose and curt – think of a cartoon where the characters are chasing each other around a merry-go-round, with TruCarr dodging and sliding past the porcelain animals, creeping on Sada Baby’s toes, and piano keys spiraling behind him in the beat. There’s a certain dualism to TruCarr’s music. You can listen to the lyrics and be enthralled into his first-hand account of Watts, or you can even treat his music like you would with dream pop – releasing yourself from the lyrics, letting the modulations of his voice impact you just as heavily.
A recent signee to Wack 100’s label, 100 Entertainment, TruCarr has begun to do a number of high-profile collaborations, from South Central’s own Drakeo the Ruler to Baton Rouge’s Kevin Gates. He loves connecting with his peers and building relationships within the industry, but at the end of the day, all TruCarr wants to do is enjoy the present moment. With a stoic demeanor and a heavy heart, TruCarr reminded me again and again, “Don’t take life for granted.” – Yousef Srour
What has been your favorite memory living in Watts?
TruCarr: Really, being with my family. I like being with my family, being on the block. Going to where I used to be at all day, meeting up with all my folks, meeting up having a good time, meeting up with all my loved ones, spending time. Doing stuff like that – spending time with my people, and that’s all in Watts because we’re all from that one spot.
What has growing up and moving through the streets of Watts taught you?
TruCarr: The struggle. Not only that, I learned loyalty. Not only that, you can learn wrongs and rights because you’re going to see stuff, you’re going to go through stuff. Just growing up, looking at the city of Watts, there’s just so much going on in the city, you’re going to see things go on and you don’t even have to be a part of it, but you’re going to learn from it. It’s going to affect you either way.
Given that you released “Watts Up” as the first single from your new project, what do you think it is about Watts and its culture that makes it so distinct from Compton and every other city in Los Angeles?
TruCarr: Watts is the motherland. Shoutout to Compton and LA and everything and South Central. Up to the dub, dub to the hub. Really, we the motherland though. We had the Watts Riots right there; it’s ‘cause Nipsey and Pac were right there. Stuff that should’ve been still talked about that was relevant back then, we don’t bring that up no more. It’s not relevant no more, like our city not relevant. What I’m really trying to do is stand for our city again.
I know that your dad’s originally from Michigan and your mom and grandma are both from Louisiana. How do you think that’s impacted you as an artist?
TruCarr: As an artist, I could say my sound. My mom’s voice is country, and I might have that sound being from the West Coast. My dad, going through what they go through out there, they like hustling and stuff like that, so it gave me a hustling mentality. He chose a route and I chose a different route.
How do you think it’s impacted you as a person as well?
TruCarr: I could say it impacted me by making me different where I’m at. Where I’m at in the city of LA, there’s not a lot of people that sound like this or went through the same things or have the same story arc and put it in the same words and significance that I put it in – making it sound important or making it as important as it is, coming from me versus coming from the next person. It gave me the reach to be able to be out-of-state without being out-of-state, because they think that I’m out-of-state with my mentality and stuff like that.
As a kid, were your parents playing a lot of music around the house? Was everyone always up and about, or what exactly was it like for you when you were coming up?
TruCarr: In my elementary years, my mom was off all the old-school music; pops loved DMX, Pac, Biggie and stuff like that. I grew up off that stuff, and when I got to middle school – I had an older brother, he was in high school at the moment. He was listening to all the Lil Wayne, Boosie [Badazz] and stuff like that, so that’s really what I grew up on and that’s when I really started learning at that age, when I was in middle school.
I really grew up on the Boosie and the Lil Wayne. My mom being from the South, we like that kind of music too, so I grew up on those types of music. Being when I got older, it wasn’t too much that I wasn’t really into music, like I wasn’t trying to make no music, but I was around some people and I just ended up rapping, saying something while playing around, and it sounded good, just from my voice-type-stuff. They told me to rap and I just started taking part in it.
Was there a particular moment when you realized that you had what it takes to be a rapper?
TruCarr: Yeah, after that day, when I was rapping to my folks and hearing my voice and stuff, I went to the studio the next day. I was young, I went to the studio and I had school the next day. I had a song at school and I showed everybody and they were messing with it.
I did a talent show at the school and I won the talent show. After I won the talent show, I’m like, “Damn, I’m about to do this. I’m about to get on stage anyway,” so that’s when I tried the talent show and I won, so then I realized, “I’m about to do this.” Then, my daughter passed in 2016, I made a commitment to myself too, like, “Man, I’m about to just focus on this.”
What were your favorite albums to listen to when you were younger?
TruCarr: I wasn’t too much into the music where I knew all the albums because I was just getting plays because my brother and my mom was playing music, and whoever I was around in the street, they was playing music. Around that time, I was listening to all Tha Carter‘s Lil Wayne put out, all the tapes he put out. Boosie had some stuff out around that time, YG had something out around that time – I was listening to that.
DMX when I was young young, but I kind of grew up out of it because new people come, but it was never like I disliked him. It was just that new people came and I just got a new ear. But around right now type-age shit, Lil Baby, [NBA] Youngboy, [Lil] Durk, people like that. I listen to that type of stuff right now.
When you’re looking for inspiration, which artists do you turn to? Is it also Lil Baby and them?
TruCarr: Of course, I can look to them and always be motivated, but I also got a little motivation in my mind already from my daughter passing away. That’s my motivation to keep me going. That’s always going to be motivation, to be any artist – even if it’s somebody from my neighborhood, to see them go farther than what they’re doing and achieve something, but the real motivation is from my daughter.
Do you think that making music has helped you heal in a way?
TruCarr: It helps me cope with life when I’m doing music, because if not, I’m going to go back to thinking about that. I don’t want to go back to that mindset, so I just go in the studio and let everything out. On my moms, or else I’d go crazy.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?
TruCarr: Don’t take life for granted. I learned that from my daughter. Not only that too, but I done had a couple ill experiences. Being in those situations to where, “Damn, a nigga not trying to be here.” Every time you step out, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing something productive. You’ve got to be respectful, productive – the same respect that you’d want to get in return.
Were there any people that were older than you, or any big homies, that took you under their wing and kind of showed you the ropes?
TruCarr: No. I ain’t really have that kind of guidance. I ain’t from no gang or nothing like that neither, but my brother was in jail most of the time, my uncle was always hustling around, I ain’t have my pops. It was just me and my homies; just who I was with. We was just doing what we was doing, and it wasn’t even too much them, it was an “up to me” thing. Nobody’s going to make me get up and move but me.
With “Outside” being your biggest hit, is there a story of how that song came into fruition?
TruCarr: Just being outside. Not going to lie, that was just a fun track, I didn’t even think it would be that. That’s what the Cali vibe is – we outside, Coronavirus over, we back outside, the city going up when we go back outside, it’s going to go back up, everybody wants to be outside.
It was the right time to drop that song. I made it because – how was I feeling that day? Everything I do, I freestyle. I go off the feeling of how I felt; I must have been outside the day before. I live that lifestyle, I don’t know. I just know I was outside, I did something, and that’s how that came about.
You’re now signed to Wack 100’s label, 100 Entertainment. What has it been like to be on the same label as The Game and Blueface?
TruCarr: It’s been dope. I done did stuff that I ain’t did before, taking trips – I done been out of state a couple of times with the label and stuff and it’s been dope. I ain’t gon’ lie, after some time, it felt more like home. It’s ‘cause there ain’t nobody tripping over here, everybody get along, got our own studio, making our own moves.
We make music, everybody gets along, all the hits. It’s all love right there; I like it. I’m working on something that’s going to be bigger than ever, so hopefully everybody’s paying attention because it’s going to be bigger than what it gets, and when it do, we’re going to double back on everybody else. Fo sho, everybody’s still working.
What have you learned from being on the label, and how has it helped you grow overall as an artist?
TruCarr: Networking – I learned how to network more, just how to do the business part of this, how not to just be letting stuff go without no plan behind it. Structure, more structure, we disciplined. That’s basically the moral of it. It’s more structure; you’ve got to have a plan, instead of you just going into something not knowing what to do next.
Can you walk me through the genesis of your new project, Based on a TRU Story. It’s your first mixtape in over a year, and it sounds like you’re rapping is more personal and introspective than ever.
TruCarr: Based on a TRU Story is really based on truth, which is me. I’m really just trying to let the people know who I am, let them figure out how I’m coming, what I’ve been through and stuff like that so they can be able to feel me and not just like me. They’ve got to feel me and understand where I’m coming from, put myself in other people’s shoes so they can understand.
I’m looking at stuff from their perspective, and I did it so that on this tape, I switched up the flavor so that I can go to different states and link with these types of people, link with those types of people because I be in different lanes-type of stuff.
What was your mental state when you were working on the tape?
TruCarr: It was Coronavirus. Really, I just get in my mindset of work; anytime I be in the studio, I be the man to be like, “I’m trying to make something out of nothing.” Every time, I’m up in there jabbing. It’s the same mindset every time; I’m not going there with negative thoughts or nothing like that.
You have a song coming out called, “The Block,” where you talk about being under investigation by the police. Can you talk a little bit about what that situation was like for you?
TruCarr: Police just been watching a nigga. Even before that, once you’re doing flashy stuff in the city – I ain’t going to say it was too flashy, but we was doing stuff in the city like putting on and the police are just watching, trying to see what’s going on.
Hitting us up, pulling us over for no reason, trying to figure stuff out trying to make an investigation, taking us to jail for no reason and having us sit, just waiting so they can figure out stuff that ain’t there. They was causing big situations like doing a funeral with my uncle and my grandma; there were a bunch of situations. I done got pulled over on the freeway, stopped the whole freeway on the 110 in LA, man, it got crazy.