Thanks much in part to rap’s new national prominence many new regional destinations have emerged as notable hip-hop strongholds and, to me, one of the most intriguing areas that have surfaced is Birmingham, and there is one artist, in particular, that seems to encapsulate the 205 more than his large group of rap counterparts. TLE Cinco hails from Bessemer, AL, which is a city to Birmingham’s southwest that has been known to the world as a football factory rather than a major outpost for rap talent, but that seems subject-to-change as Truck Load Entertainment begins to unite Bessemer under their banner.
The regional nature of rap has always been one of my favorite aspects to the genre and one of the great things that an art form as open and devoid of limitations like hip-hop is the consequential localization of trends, words, styles, and even sounds have become inextricably linked to different regions and neighborhoods because of different sonic metonymies brought about by that particular area’s local artists who help craft an identity for the place they’re from and broadcast it to the world through their music. For years music has been an outlet for expression that has allowed artists to tell the story of where they come from, but thanks to the all-consuming reach of the internet rappers are now able to rep their neighborhoods on a more personal level than ever before.
From a sonic standpoint, TLE Cinco is one of the most unique rappers I have come across in recent memory and while his influences are easy to recognize he has still managed to put his own spin on the iconic trap sound. While Cinco can be praised for much of this innovation, it is also important to note that much of this can be attributed to the incredible in-house production team behind him, spearheaded by BarryAutoo and Barnotez. Songs like “Check Dis,” “Scratch That,” and “Fix the Mic” are all wonderful examples of this. Their production is stripped back to the bare minimum of what’s necessary to make a beat and the off-kilter nature of their drums and cosmic melodies have provided perfect backdrops for Cinco’s staccato, machine-gun-like flow to land perfectly. Much of southern rap has been written-off by many as being substanceless but this new generation stands to change that pretentious assumption, and Cinco is certainly as underrated a lyricist as he is a singer.
The next year should be interesting, as Alabama’s rap scene only continues to heat up, and while there are many notables names coming out of this state none have quite the versatility possessed by TLE Cinco. His latest album Self Conscious features a variety of sounds that Cinco is capable of creating, from the minimalistic, no-melody single “Fix the Mic,” to more melodic and emotive tracks like “Touched (feat. Rylo Rodriguez)” or “Fastlane” featuring fellow Alabamian Clever. TLE Cinco’s future is blindingly bright and I am unbelievably eager to see what else is in his bag in 2020.
Read our interview with TLE Cinco below.
The following has been lightly edited for clarity.
So I have heard that you were quite the athlete back in your younger years. What made you decide to shift from the court/field to the studio? And how did people who grew up with you react to when you initially started rapping?
What made me shift from the court to the studio was that I didn’t get the big D1 scholarships that I wanted so I realized I wouldn’t make as much money playing sports than I would from rapping. Some people were surprised but some weren’t because the people closest to me always knew I could rap.
What do those people think of you now?
Some people are surprised and shocked but the people closest to me say they knew I could do it but didn’t know it would happen so quickly, but they tell me to just keep going.
You have some of the most interesting production in rap right now and that can almost all be attributed to the talent and creativity of BarryAutoo and Barnotez. How did you first get connected with them and what about their beats makes them so perfect for you?
Me, Barnotez and BarryAutoo got connected because they’re brothers and I met them celebrating an Alabama college football game. I told them to send me a beat pack and they sent it the next morning. They said they listened to every one of my songs before we connected so when they were creating beats they would hear the way I rap in their heads and make beats for my sound.
Do you think people are going to start biting your flow now that the project has performed so well?
Yes, I think so because people were biting me even before the project.
Clever was probably the most interesting feature choice on the album and beyond the Alabama connection what made you want to recruit him for Self Conscious?
There’s a producer and videographer named Karltin Bankz that produced for me and shot a couple of videos for me. He’s Clever’s manager and “Fastlane” matched Clever’s whole style so I thought he would be perfect on it. When I put him on it and his verse was even better than I thought it was going to be.
So exactly how long ago was that video that went viral of you on the bus? Does it bother you at all that a lot of people are characterizing you by that or are you choosing to embrace it?
Five ½ years ago, almost six years ago. It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t embrace it, I just laugh and say yeah that was me.
Between you, NoCap, Rylo Rodriguez, Luh Soldier, Clever, OMB Peezy, and a host of others, Alabama rap is becoming more popular than ever. What do you think of more and more people tuning in to the music from your home state? Who are some Alabama artists that I didn’t list that people should be aware of?
I think it’s good because nobody ever really did it like that from Alabama so I’m happy it’s on the rise. Everyone from Alabama has their own flow. A lot of people are trying to sound like me or trying to sound like Rylo or Clever. I think it’s different, and I think it’s time. TLE Petty is the artist who I signed and he’s right behind me on the come up.
For those unfamiliar what exactly are ‘chitlins’?
Chitlins are a food that stinks really bad, that’s the worst smelling food I know. I didn’t even remember I had a verse about Chitlins in “Check Dis” and “Vixen”.
Which song off Self Conscious is your favorite?
“Fastlane” because it’s a different flow, a different vibe than usual. It shows that I can switch it up. On this album, I combined about 3 different flows to show people that I can be versatile.
What’s next for TLE Cinco? Do you think that touring is in the cards for you soon?
Yes, touring on the way, more singles, more albums and a whole bunch of work and partnerships from different companies.
What else do you want people to know about you?
I’m still a regular human. I’m down to earth and hardworking. I just want to become a better me.
Stream TLE Cinco’s new album “Self Conscious” at the link below.
Photos: Niles Bryant