Trama: Viet-Tram (K.E.P. Inc.)

One thing about Trama, he got his name out there: Before announcing a genuine, non-Jay-Z-style retirement this year, the chunky-voiced Minneapolis rapper from Queens independently released four albums of progressively greater promise starting in 2001—Ménage à Tram, Träma Sutra, Trämagnum, and Träma Dusa: The Ugly Album—followed by four mixtapes, including Barack OTrama and The Unaträma. The accomplished video editor and painter explained his departure from rap on the latter by describing himself as an "educated black man with a Plan B/And rapping wasn't even my Plan Z."

It probably hadn't occurred to a local rapper before Trama to publicly retire, as he did with a hip-hop party on June 3 in the 7th St. Entry, but that was just part of Trama's showbiz verve—a playfulness that juiced even more serious tracks such as "Numbers Game" (from a mixtape titled Mr. T). Viet-Tram, his new and final album, contains only nine songs including intro and outro, but is framed as a rap opera about making war on "the record industry" (played as a POW prison dominatrix character by Divinia Dubois) and subtitled The Audio Movie. "If you are listening to this recording," Trama begins in monologue against the M*A*S*H theme, "it means I, Trama, am no longer." What, you expected "Thanks for the Memory?"

What follows is enough to make his exit seem hasty—even as he cleverly justifies formula subjects by having "the record industry" make him do it ("I need this one to be about money," she says). "Blow the Horns" has war sounding more like tough negotiating ("You looking for a hit, I'm looking for a home/We can make it an even exchange or leave it alone"), while "Run" turns his status as a day-job holder into boasting fodder: "Let's break down the haves and the have-nots/I gots lots of bonds and stocks while you hood-fab with some brand new socks." "Southside" is international enough to claim every South from the Dirty one to the South of France, while "Hood Supastar" has a keen enough eye for local culture to capture Minneapolis clubland in winter: "Girls running across the street with no jackets on/If you think they paying for coat check, you're dead wrong."

At the heart of it all is the luxuriating quality of Trama's flow, the way he drags off each syllable even when doubled by local rapper Katana on sing-song. Credit his Caribbean heritage or contemporary rap's syrupiness, but the laughing ease is all Trama's, and all the more potent amid the cream of Twin Cities street production from Rock City and T-Lace (with international beat-providers including Donatan). His last album and best demo: C'est la guerre.

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