When TrigNO started work on a new album early in the pandemic, the first songs to arrive tended to be more upbeat, R&B-leaning jams.
And then, as he put it, life started to happen.
One of the rapper’s cousins died by suicide, and a second from a drug overdose. His aunt died of old age, and two other family members passed away due to health complications. On top of these mounting losses, a romantic relationship ended, capping a series of events that left TrigNO reeling. He started to question his faith and debated giving up his artistic pursuits in favor of a nine-to-five that would require him to do little more than go through the motions, hoping that maybe a tenuous comfort could be found in routine.
Instead, TrigNO started writing, turning again to a creative side that had already served as a ballast in the early days of COVID. “I started deejaying during the pandemic, and I’ve been dancing for a long time, so I leaned on those outlets to help me out,” he said of those stay-at-home months. “So, I was like, alright, cool, let’s see how this writing makes me feel. And some days it didn’t make me feel good, like, man, I just want to quit. And other days it made me feel remarkable, and it was everything I needed.”
On occasion, songs would emerge seemingly fully formed. Other days were more of a struggle, with TrigNO writing and discarding verses that didn’t hit right, or that felt like sketches of tracks he needed to purge in order to get to that next song – the deeper, more impactful one waiting just beneath the surface. From these intensive sessions, the rapper gradually excavated raw-nerve cuts such as “Tiers to Tears” and “Grace of God.” “Thought I couldn’t cry until I actually did,” he raps on the latter, a few bars later adding, “I’m supposed to be the strong friend.”
These more revealing turns form the emotional backbone of TrigNO’s staggering new album, Tiers, out Saturday, Feb. 25, which paints a complex portrait of the rapper steadily inching his way back into the light following a stretch when he was nearly consumed by grief. (The musician will host a listening party for the record tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 22, at Art of Republic in the Short North.)
Album opener “Tiers to Tiers” sets the tone, with TrigNO rapping about navigating the deaths of myriad friends and family members, as well as the reality that the life he’s currently living doesn’t square with the one he once envisioned for himself. “Sucks I didn’t put my parents in a mansion off the grid,” he spits, his voice raw and cracking with emotion. “Sucks I’m inching 30 and I still ain’t married with some kids.”
Elsewhere, the musician, working largely alongside producer Dev Draper, traces a romance from its first blush (“Alone In My Room”) to its shattered conclusion (“Ricochet”); unpacks his relationship with the Highest Power (“Grace of God”); and, on “Crocodile Tiers,” takes a self-lacerating look inward, rapping, “I might be the toxic one.”
In the past, TrigNO said he’s attempted to maintain more of a mystique with his music, but this time around he opted to present his truth in more unvarnished form, following the advice of a friend who had recovered from a 2020 seizure. “And I asked him, is he okay to talk about what happened? And he was like, ‘My therapist told me I need to talk about it,’” TrigNo said. “Ever since then, I’ve kept that with me. And if I know somebody is going through something, I’ll tell them, if you need to talk about it, you definitely can, and it might help you.”
TrigNO took further inspiration from Everything’s Personal, and in particular the rapper’s willingness to tackle “grown man issues” such as navigating grief, going to therapy, and finding comfort in faith.
“When we’re going in to make music, usually it’s to have fun and make something we feel good about, so it wasn’t always comfortable, having him literally bare his soul,” Draper said. “It will stand as one of his more transparent pieces, and I think every artist needs that kind of piece, where maybe it’s even just for them.”
TrigNO said creating this album doubled as an act of healing, in many ways. “I hit my head, fell, got some scars and bruises,” he said. “But I done peeled off a lot of layers. And I’m moving different now.”
This idea is reflected most cleanly in “Symphonic,” a bonus track at the end of the album, which centers on the line “I’m in harmony with myself.”
“A nice harmony is beautiful, man,” TrigNO said. Have you ever heard someone do Mongolian [throat harmonies], which are similar to what Lalah Hathaway does? She’ll do two different notes at the same time, which is crazy, and every time she does it people go wild, and it’s beautiful. And I can be a one-man army, as well, if I need to be. I’m not saying that’s all I need, but I’m learning I can make that work.”