Trick or Trina?

For a lady best known as the "baddest bitch," Miami hip-hop star Trina seems surprisingly demure as she sits down for an interview at the New Times office. Sure, she's a little grumpy at first — her publicist had given her the wrong address and had not informed her of the photo shoot, leaving the rapper in street clothes — but the Liberty City native quickly reasserts her grace, and after pulling out what must be $50,000 worth of diamonds from her Louis Vuitton purse, she's ready to have her picture taken.

Throughout, there's little hint of the potty-mouth ex-stripper who became a sensation after a guest spot on Trick Daddy's "Nann Nigga" — a song that found the petite, feminine Trina standing toe-to-toe with the über-masculine thug bravado of Trick Daddy. And there's no indication of the hypersexualized rapper who pondered the dick size of hip-hop luminaries on "Big Ole Dick." Instead, Trina is subdued, thoughtful, and almost reticent. And when she refers to her former persona as the baddest bitch, Trina can't even bring herself to use the word bitch.

"That's still me. I am the baddest chick, I am that person. That's a strong female," Trina comments. "But I can't be the baddest female and still talk about the same things I did in 1998.... It's different being 28 than it was when you were 21. That's a long gap in life, and I've been through so many different things, so many different emotions — from relationships to breakups, from ups and downs to whatever — and to sit about and talk about what I was talking about would be silly."

Although her recently released album Glamorest Life still has enough harsh language and vivid sexual images to make Henry Miller blush, it does convey a more rounded portrait of the singer (and we're not just talking about her behind, guys). But what Trina considers a healthy personal and artistic evolution, one of her oldest friends and collaborators interprets as a betrayal.

"When I first met Trina, she was the baddest bitch, but now she the diamond princess. I ain't too much into the diamond princess thing," Trick Daddy confesses. "She toned it down a bit; she need to tone it up. She got the looks, she got the ass, she got the followers, and she got the know-how. She come from Liberty City — she need to come back to the hood. A lot of women look at her now and think, Ain't no way I can be like that Trina."

This is more than just another all-too-common verbal spat between two hip-hop stars. Trina and Trick have a long history together that predates their rap careers. The two ran in the same circles when they attended Miami Northwestern High School — where Trina was a majorette and was voted "Best Dressed" during her senior year, while Trick was a thug who graduated to prison on a cocaine trafficking charge. But while they had slightly different priorities, both were bound by a love for Derek Harris (a.k.a. Hollywood) — Trick's half-brother and Trina's long-time boyfriend.

That love would turn to sorrow in 1994 when Hollywood was shot as he sat in the front seat of a parked Buick on NW 25th Avenue and 152nd Street in Miami. Trick sadly notes that Hollywood was "a powerful man in this community"; Trina is a little more verbose about her grief: "[Hollywood's death] was depressing. I was young and didn't understand why it had happened. To lose someone so close, you don't want to believe that they're gone. But it made me realize that you shouldn't take anything in life for granted. Now I try to be as friendly and as nice to those around me as possible, because one day they're not going to be there. It was one of the hardest things I've had to deal with. Hollywood was a great guy, and he didn't deserve that."

After Hollywood's death, the teenage Trina bounced around before finally landing a gig as a stripper at Fort Lauderdale's Club Extasy. Still torn up about Hollywood's death and feeling increasingly uncomfortable with her new occupation, Trina picked up pen and paper and began writing rhymes for the first time. "Those things influenced me," she says of Hollywood's death and her stint at the strip club. "And especially on the first and second album, I was still very much in the middle of dealing with those things."

She wouldn't last long at Extasy, and shortly after quitting, she re-established contact with Trick, who had recently made the transition from a back-up rapper in Uncle Luke's booty brigade to a star in his own right.

Trick was preparing his 1998 Looking for a female counterpart to balance out his own testosterone-laced rhymes, Trick approached Trina about appearing on "Nann Nigga." The two had a chemistry on the single. Over a loud and dirty precrunk club-banger, Trick and Trina shared their credentials: Trick would "Run through yo whole lil' crew" and "Put the gun off in yo mouth/Blow yo motherfucking brains out"; while Trina was willing to "Fuck 'bout five or six best friends" and was "Quick to deep-throat the dick/And let another bitch straight lick the clit."

The collaboration was a success — garnering Trick his biggest single to date and jettisoning Trina into the national hip-hop spotlight. Her 2000 debut album, Da Baddest Bitch, was a continuation of the aggressive, powerful, and highly sexualized female archetype. The album featured a couple of Trick Daddy collaborations as well as songs such as "The Big Lick," "Off Glass," and "69 Ways."

Trina would follow up that album with 2002's Diamond Princess. Though comfortable in her hard-core persona — her X-rated cover of N.W.A.'s "No More Questions" entitled "Hustling" proves as much — Trina had begun to branch out. The album featured guest spots by Missy Elliott, Tweet, Eve, and Fabolous and blended her Miami street sound with a more accessible, national flavor.

In many ways, Glamorest Life is a continuation of the maturation that began on Diamond Princess. For this album, she enlisted the help of Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland on the lead single "Here We Go" and Cash Money producer Mannie Fresh on two of the album's standout tracks, "Da Club" and the street hit "Don't Trip."

"['Here We Go'] is the sort of record that was never given to me in the past," Trina says. "And I've never done a record like 'Da Club' with Mannie Fresh either. I wasn't exposed to those type of producers. You can't just do the Miami sound. It's not international. You have to do different stuff."

But by broadening her horizons, she has run the risk of losing her base. And while the pop nation has accepted Trina with open arms, not all are so happy about her success.

"I like the Trina that fucked five or six best friends," Trick comments wistfully. "She need to go get her original clique.... She needs some more T-Double-D in her life. She needs to start associating herself with my type of niggas."

When told of Trick's comments, Trina replies, "I don't know if Trick knows what it means to evolve or not, but I do. He's street and that's all he's going to ever be. I came out being street, I came out being sexy, and now I've moved on to still being street but also being more mature and more classy. You have to grow. You see how Jay-Z has evolved from Reasonable Doubt to now being Shawn Carter. You have to grow to be a superstar and not just a rap artist. Jay-Z is a superstar, Trick is a rap artist. Trina went from a rap artist and is on the verge of being a superstar."

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Sam Chennault
Contact: Sam Chennault