When Tronee Threat started his prison sentence, he stopped making music. Or at least he tried to, anyway.
At the time, Tronee believed the sentence ended any chance he might have had to make it as a rapper. He was then 26 years old and looking at a 14-year sentence. Hip-hop, he thought, was a young man’s game. And staring down release at the age of 40, the odds of acquiring the fame and fortune he envisioned coming from a career in music appeared to be virtually nil, so why bother?
But even as he fought against it, the music he described as entwined with his DNA – Tronee recalled watching videos filmed by his aunt in which he rapped songs by LL Cool J and Kool Moe Dee at age 3 – kept forcing its way to the surface.
“I realized it was out of my control. I got tired of hearing it and trying to fight against it,” said Tronee, born Guy Banks, who served more than 11 years of his prison sentence and settled in Yellow Springs following his release 18 months ago. “I would go to sleep, and I literally couldn’t dream about anything but songs. I would wake up and people would be having conversations with me, and all of these new, original, beautiful songs – some of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard – were being created in my psyche. And I was like, ‘All right, God. I get it.’”
Almost as soon as it began, Tronee ended his self-induced boycott and started writing and performing, earning the nickname Tronee Threat from his fellow inmates. The moniker combines a childhood nickname given to the artist by his grandmother (Tronee) and a word he said not only fit the view the larger world had of him as an incarcerated Black man (Threat) but also how he intends to flip the script moving forward.
“I’m looking at the worldview of people who say, ‘You can only be this because of those days. You can only achieve this much. You can only reach this far because you’re Black and because you’ve been a prisoner,” Tronee said. “And I’ve been breaking all of those worldviews and all of those misconceptions, so I’m a threat to that social construct.”
Following his release, Tronee began to crystallize some of these larger ideas in a vulnerable, still-evolving stage show dubbed “Finally Made It,” the first iteration of which took place at Wild Goose Creative. Initially intended as a way to tell his own story through a combination of music, spoken word and audience Q&A, the concept has continued to expand and intensify in sometimes unintended ways. In the first staging, for instance, the focus lingered on Tronee’s own experiences navigating the prison system. But in subsequent performances, the artist has introduced a more wide-screen view, exploring the larger traumas enacted on the Black community by our society.
“The more that I discover about why and how I ended up in prison, it gets more to the root of trauma and racism and discrimination ... in the American soil,” said Tronee, who will bring “Finally Made It: Part Four” . “So, you have all these micro and macro stressors that I’m under at all times.”
The show also explores the personal evolution that took place within the artist while in prison – a change reflected in his recent embrace of the name Tronee. As a child, the nickname was bestowed on him by his grandmother, but as he got older, he blanched at it, recalling how before she passed the elder expressed disappointment in her grandson and his ill-mannered ways. “One of the things she said to me before she passed was that I was her favorite grandchild, but that I was bad,” said Tronee, who finally leaned into the nickname once he accepted that he had become the type of man his grandmother would have embraced.
Exploring these issues onstage can be an exhausting process. Tronee said that following the third staging, which took place at Otterbein University, he walked away from the production feeling mentally and physically spent in the wake of the public bloodletting. As a result, the artist hopes to gradually open the stage up to other voices, taking steps in that direction by framing “Part Four” as a talk show, of sorts.
“I realize I can’t do this much longer, and that I need to create a space where other people can tell their stories, too,” Tronee said. “And that was the first part of the idea. And then I started to build off of that thought, and we decided we were going to turn it into a talk show called ‘Finally Made It,’ where it’s theater and music but you still get the interaction with the audience.”
While Tronee will still take center stage this weekend, the hope is that in time his story can fill less and less space within the show, opening up the room to a wider range of voices. Until then, however, he’ll continue to share his experiences with enviable candor and vulnerability, describing the process as draining but necessary.
“People have spoken to me and said, ‘This must be some kind of therapy for you,’ and there’s some truth to that,” Tronee said. “But ... it’s also a way for me to talk about these issues. It’s a way for me to never forget. I could be out here these 18 months and feel all this freedom, all this luxury, and I could forget I did more than 11 years in prison. I could forget the people still suffering in there. … This is a way to remind me at all times of the work I need to be doing.”