Trippie Redd, like the rest of us, found himself with an unexpected amount of time stuck indoors for the past year. Unlike the rest of us, however, he used that time to record two new albums — one of them already topped No.1 on  Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and the other just released today. Titled NEON SHARK vs Pegasus [Deluxe – Presented by Travis Barker], this project serves as a rock deluxe album to Pegasus and is produced with Blink-182’s Travis Barker.

It reminds me of playing Zelda,” the multi-platinum selling rapper says about his new album. “Not just the normal Zelda either, the Wind Waker one that looks like cartoons. When you first start the game it’s fun and then starts getting hard. It has its moments where it sad, you accomplish goals, and you get to the end and it’s just blissful. You got everything you can just go wherever you want.”

Within the first ten seconds of NEON SHARK, Redd sings, “I’ll go insane without you,” and at that moment, he introduces us to a new, not so far away reality without limits, biases, and fear. Here, all are welcome to feel — and feel deeply. Oozing his emotions and feelings into 14 unique songs, the 21-year-old guides us into this new way of being. He calls the album “definitely a vibe” and that it is. Featuring high-profile collaborations with the likes of Machine Gun Kelly and blackbear, the album traverses not only the realms of rock but also rap and punk. 

Photos by Erica Hernandez.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of rappers that can make an actual rock album,” says executive producer Travis Barker. “I think they can make rock-inspired songs, but Trippie is so good with melody and can sing so well. It was really easy for him to do this.”

Travis and Trippie initially linked at the 2018 XXL Freshman Class Freestyle. Among 3.3 million other people, Travis was blown away by Trippie’s ability to perform most of the show with no autotune, no beat, even no…shoes. For two minutes straight, Redd went in and ripped up a flurry of bars. The then, 18-year-old candidly let the audience into the complex mind of Michael Lamar White II as he tackled everything from condemning haters to praising his rap idols, among them Lil Wayne, in a slew of flows and cadences. 

“I was really impressed,” Travis says on a Zoom call, a week before the album dropped. “I was like, ‘Wow, this kid is a real artist.’ He’s really talented and got a great voice.” 

As his fellow 2016-17 class of SoundCloud rappers each had their brief flashes of mainstream success and fizzled out, Redd continues making music and cementing his influence in the industry. Instead of producing tracks similar to his blowout Life’s a Trip (2018), he takes a risky departure. Citing Deftones, Team Sleep, Nirvana, and of course Blink-182 as his main sources of inspiration for this new album, he channels these rock influences into one explosive sound. And the result is unlike we’ve ever seen: a beautiful amalgamation of his rap identity with a fresh punk-emo-rock influence. His cross-genre, cross-discipline work speaks to keeping your joy and spirit alive in a world where things are stacked up against you. 

When asked about the meaning behind the title, Trippie laughs. “I feel like as a person I’m outgoing so, colorful. And then people look at me like I’m a shark, maybe scared, so they keep their distance.” To which Travis adds, “From the first day, he sent records back like he was already referencing shark, like neon shark. He was sending me little gifs of sharks and stuff. ”

NEON SHARK comes hot off the heels of Pegasus, released by Trippie only three months ago in October 2020. In the first week, Pegasus had sold 61,000 units and within a month, flew to the top of Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Pegasus gives Trippie his fifth chart-topper on the ranking, following Life’s A Trip (2018), A Love Letter to You 3 (2018), ! (2019), and A Love Letter to You 4 (2019). Despite this fast pace of producing two full albums a year, Redd seems rejuvenated, not depleted: “I look forward to work,” says Redd. “That’s all I do.” 

Given the pandemic and social distancing guidelines, Redd didn’t go to the studio to record the album, instead, he set up makeshift studios in Airbnbs across four states (Texas, Florida, Ohio and California). Sometimes he would sit in the living room and record, other times he would be in the kitchen cooking and freestyling. This candid, sporadic process manifests itself sonically as the tracks pull from a different chapter of the Canton, Ohio native’s story: “Without You” is a modern-day love song you can sing in the shower, “Dreamer” inspires creatives to keep pushing forward, and “Leaders” tells us all to just take a breath. Willing to mix the softness of his emotions into the hard rock universe, each song encapsulates a different feeling. So much so, that Trippie and Travis couldn’t cut any (they were just that good). “Every song he recorded is on the album,” Travis shares.

Of course, the album features his patented angsty screams, but we also see his playful side with the addition of colossal burps and maternal whale hums. “My friend likes whales and we were watching a video and there were whales and they were making noises. I like whales, too so I put it at the beginning of the song since the songs and everything correlates with being in the water. Shark vibes,” Trippie laughs.

If this anecdote tells you anything about Trippie it’s his approach is extreme and unexpected. Not only does he completely body diverging artists’ into his own ecosystem to create an entirely new sound, but he does that with all inspirations, even those that come in television and popular culture. Throughout our conversation he reiterates he doesn’t want to over-explain his music, instead, leaving it to the listeners to find their own interpretation.

“I try to make music that pertains to my life, but also can just correlate with everybody in the world,” says Trippie. “[They can] interpret it their way and it can mean something to them. Whether they’re dealing with this or that or whatever, they can just vibe with the song and feel the same sh*t.”

Let Trippie take you on an emotional joyride and stream NEON SHARK below.


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