Hip-hop is more than the world’s most dominant musical genre — it’s a culture that spans across colors, creeds, and several generations.
For every moment, there are people in front that are the voices and faces that lead it, and then there are people behind who support, encourage, and sometimes even finance it.
Several of the figures behind the scenes in hip-hop music and culture are telling their stories in the new FX series Hip Hop Uncovered, which premieres Friday, Feb. 12.
The six-part series dives deep into the street culture that was and is the foundation of hip-hop, and how many of urban America’s untold street stories are instrumental in some of your favorite rappers' songs and success.
Eugene Henley, known as Big U, a street enforcer turned artist manager from Los Angeles, is an executive producer of the series and came up with the original concept. He then called out to his network of behind-the-scenes heavy hitters across the country: James Antney from New York’s Supreme Team crime family, better known as Bimmy; Jacques Agnant, also from New York, infamously known as Haitian Jack; the only woman to participate, Debra Antney, a New York-native turned Atlanta power broker.
And Detroit’s own, Christian Mathis — best known around here as rapper Trick Trick.
In the very first episode, Trick Trick says, “I’ve done a lot of horrible shit. But I did it with love.”
Known as the leader of the Goon Sqwad, a rap group (and sometimes team of street enforcers), Trick Trick is the only cast member who is also a music artist himself. But it isn’t just his hit songs like “Booty Bounce” and “Welcome 2 Detroit” that he’s known for.
It is his towering height, cool demeanor, deep no-nonsense voice, and his leadership in Detroit’s hip-hop community — and, occasionally, controversy.
“I can be a very destructive person when I want to be,” Trick Trick tells Metro Times in an exclusive interview. “I love very hard. I love my family. I was brought in a family where I was taught to love my family, we don’t have the normal family quarrels. My brothers and sisters and I were extremely tight, and when one had a problem, we all had a problem. My father was a Marine… his father, his father was a monster. (Laughs) I guess you can say, I have the genes of a monster Marine.”
I have great memories of Trick Trick. He’s Unk to me, a term of endearment for a person who is like an uncle, but who isn’t really your uncle.
I remember my 30th birthday party, where he had a Goon Sqwad member drop me off in my own car because I was too tipsy to drive. “I’m not leaving until I know who is taking her home,” he said.
That’s the Trick Trick I know: A man who above all things, always wanted to make sure that the people he cared about were straight.
“I was taught that if someone goes against that which you love, you defend it with everything you got,” he says. “A leader leads by example. The example that I happen to set (in Detroit hip-hop) was one of loving hard, one of unity, and family.”
And there were moments when, as Detroit’s primary hip-hop enforcer, his mission wasn’t always aligned with what others wanted to see.
Like in 2014, when Rick Ross wouldn’t take the stage at then-Chene Park, because… well, because Trick Trick said he couldn’t — due to what he claims is a “No Fly Zone” in Detroit for those that don't support him and other local artists, that saw Trick and a crowd forming a human blockade that resulted in Ross canceling his show. Or the infamous chain that belonged to a young rapper known then as Yung Berg that made its rounds on social media after being snatched off his neck in Detroit by “somebody.” Embarrassed, Yung Berg eventually changed his name to Hitmaka, and is now a music producer and currently a VP at Atlantic Records.
“I don’t regret shit,” Trick Trick says. “I don’t regret not a fucking thing on this earth that ever happened to me or for me. As far as No Fly Zone is concerned, hell naw… I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I felt like I had to or I needed to address that kind of energy.”
He argues that his No Fly Zone message of national artists not coming into Detroit without booking Detroit acts as openers and putting intense pressure on local radio stations was successful.
“Detroit artists are doing well now,” he says. “Detroit artists were playing events like Summer Jam… Detroit artists are on the radio now. As far as I’m concerned… it worked. My intentions were pure, though sometimes violent. But, if you spare the rod, you spoil the child. If somebody had a problem about the way I said shit was gon go where I’m from… it was gon go my way. Whether the city like it, the police like it, the music industry like it, or not.”
Trick Trick's not a fan of doing press. In fact, he wasn’t super excited to do this interview with Metro Times. I had to chase him down with the help of my own street connections. But, Unk has love for those who have love for him.
We talked about Big Proof, who he talked about in Hip Hop Uncovered. His brief segment on the Detroit rap legend’s death is moving. I saw him the day after P died. The close-knit hip-hop community gathered in mourning at Northern Lights, and he held me close. He said, “Beeb… you can chill here with me.”
Despite his gangster persona, Trick's always been incredibly empathetic.
As we end our interview, I tell him that I lost my mom to the coronavirus pandemic. He lost his own mother in 2019. He advises me to pull close to my family, share her memory with others who knew her, that’s how he got through.
“God gave you everything you need, Biba. A mind to make decisions and talent, and time,” he says. “Take your thoughts and control them. Don’t allow who you are to be defined by what other people think about you in their head. That’s their problem, not yours. And remember that, you can’t fix yesterday, because the only thing you have right now is today, and it’s a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”
Say hello to the (not-so) bad guy.
Hip Hop Uncovered also features appearances by Detroit’s Royce Da 5’9” and Metro Times contributor Kahn Santori Davison. It debuts on Friday, Feb. 12 on FX.
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Biba Adams is a Detroit-based national freelance writer. Her work has been featured in Visit Detroit, Model D, VIBE, and more. She is currently working on her debut book, Scenes From a Renaissance: Detroit Hip-Hop 1996-2006.