Tommy Wright III

The OG Trap Lord Is So Trill

Words Matt Lubansky Illustration Adnauseum

Honestly, if you asked me today what trap music is, I wouldn’t know. From millions of white college students filming dance videos to “trap” producer Bauer’s “Harlem Shake,” to New Yorkers talking about “sippin’ purple through gold grills” while wearing Jeremy Scott Adidas, it seems as if trap has been bastardized by the same viral fuckery that helped create terms like YOLO. Fuck off, Drake. Although I’m unable to describe what “real” trap is, I can definitely point to the person that embodies the word in every essence — Tommy Wright III. 

Emerging out of Memphis in 1993, rapper Tommy Wright III delivered lyrics that could be mistaken for a narration to a Grand Theft Auto killing spree. Consistently violent in tone, Tommy’s rhymes portray a dark and murderous psyche. On tracks like “Meet Yo Maker,” after a cliché “Say hello to my little friend!” sample, he raps,

“Me and my partner Tipso ‘bout make a homicide / crankn’ up the ride fin’ to go out on the East side / first I roll a blunt, cus rappers like us — we get high / off them spliffs, so when we gets the gats we don’t have no pity when we kill.”

Wright wasn’t hitting us with double-time flows or five-syllable words. Instead, he was using a skill absent among many of today’s rappers: authenticity. Between the low-fi production value and the violent lyrics, there’s such a powerful atmospheric quality that can make you feel like you’re actually driving around in a beaten-up classic caddy in North Memphis smoking blunts and committing drive-bys.

Musically, it sounds like the vocals were recorded through a soda can and the beats were made on a child’s Casio keyboard. Practically sampling scores from Nintendo cartridges, tracks like “Hit List,” “Caught You Slippin’,” “Time to Rob,” “Hog Killin’” and “Drive By” set the tone for the foundation of Memphis rap. At the same time, Wright’s music laid down the groundwork for both the Lil’ Jon crunk phase as well as the present (and hopefully passing) fad dubbed “trap-house” by ravers and rappers like Riff Raff. Let’s be more real, there’s a reason why Tity Boi, Kreayshawn, and Diplo all follow Tommy Wright III on the Twitterverse. His last Tweet to date…“Politely buy a CD & nobody will get HURT!!”— With a link to his Facebook page. Gangster.

Although Tommy doesn’t own 40 acres of land next to Kobe’s mansion, he’s still found a way to make his way into modern pop culture. Though Tommy’s footprint in the game isn’t one you’ll learn about on VH1’s Behind the Music or any cheat-sheet shit like that. Truthfully, It’s almost as if his unique lane is minor when compared to the public knowledge about him. Despite this, his demeanor has still managed to implement itself into the DNA of the music world and (surprisingly) skateboarding.

That’s right, along with helping lay the foundation for arguably the most popular sound in hip hop today (a whole 20 years after his first release), Wright’s also adored in the skate community. If you’ve stepped foot inside the store with the large red box logo more than once, chances are you’ve probably heard your boy Tommy playing. If you’ve watched the most popular skate videos of the last few years, i.e. Palace’s Tres Trill and jawns like multiple Baker/Shake Junt scores — you’ve absolutely heard Tommy Wright III. The problem is you probably didn’t even know it was him. Shame. In fact, the skate company Skate Junt used the outro to his track “Killa By Nature” as their whole ad campaign and video title “Chicken Bone Nowison.” Kudos to them. Shit was hilarious. Chicken grease as skate wax…Tommy-inspired genius!

And if infiltrating the skate industry and influencing the modern state of rap isn’t enough, Tommy’s authentic gangster demeanor and music has influenced other sectors of pop culture as well. Harmony Korine and James Franco both admitted to using Tommy as a reference character for Spring Breakers. And some of us here at the office like to think that Terrence Howard is really playing Tommy Wright III in Hustle and Flow. Between the similar setting, lyrics, beat selection, lifestyle and perfectly groomed perm, it’s hard to argue the theory.

So here’s to Tommy. Just wanted to give an OG with a little shine a lot of love. Where is he now, you might be asking? We don’t know…we tried to track him down, but he’s just too down to be tracked. The last place we caught him was on a YouTube video where he filmed a fake episode of MTV’sCribs. So Tommy, this is for you, The One Man Gang, holding it down for unity among the four corners of Memphis and setting the tone for real Southern trap since the early ‘90s.

Editors note:  Tommy Wright III isn’t afraid of beef either. He has a diss track against Bone Thugs-N-Harmony called “Thuggish Ruggish Bustaz” which was sparked by a Vibe Magazine article in 1995 penned by none other than our very own Sacha Jenkins SHR. Tommy with our Editorial Director on sight! The Universe has aligned. Listen to that track below.

This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 54. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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