It was barely over a year ago that the Nashville hip-hop collective Six One Trïbe released its first album as a group and put on its first real show. But that was merely a prelude to the group’s incredibly productive 2023.
On my first visit to Trïbe’s Inglewood headquarters, Eastside Manor, since interviewing them for a Nashville Artist of the Month feature back in the spring, the fortress of bamboo flanking the driveway has partially turned brown in the cold. Inside the studio, a wooden flute laying on the coffee table suggests that the crew might be thinking of following André 3000 into New Age woodwind territory.
Gee Slab, one of Trïbe’s two founders, admits that he’s been messing around on the instrument when no one else was in the room. I ask him to show us what he can do. When he forces air through the flute, he can’t get a single note out.
Slab and his fellow leader, Aaron Dethrage, have also been contemplating André’s stature as an immensely influential and popular Southern rapper, and what it means for a figure like that to deprive his fans of new verses and give them drifting instrumental meditations instead.
It’s not surprising that they’d be discussing widely watched happenings in hip-hop. Their ambition is to catapult their own crew into that conversation some day. “The goal from my perspective is always to make us international stars,” Slab spells out from a computer chair.
He asked the 16 members of Trïbe to look at their collective efforts as a five-year project: “If I’ve done nothing for you in five years, nothing has come to fruition, you don’t feel better about where you’re at, go, because I don’t want to hold you back.”
According to Slab’s timeline, 2023 “felt like year one, for real.”
The strategizing started back in 2021. Slab and Dethrage had meetings upon meetings about how to lead a crew of rappers, singers and producers who’d written off music careers to a level of success that few hip-hop music-makers have achieved from Nashville. This year, it was time for action.
“You can only plan so much,” says Slab. “You’ve got to put feet to ground: ‘If you’ve got an idea, Just do it, bro. Just go.’”
I reminded them that they’d told me they were going to drop new music every single week of 2023.
“That’s cute,” Slab deadpans. “That was a cute aspiration for us. We had the plan. We had it written down. We had the dates. It’s feasible to do, but it’s not fair to each body of work.”
They abandoned the plan, Dethrage notes, after they had to scramble to get an album by Trïbe member Corduroy Clemons to the finish line. “He and I were still in here working on it,” Dethrage remembers, “and we finished it and uploaded it that night. I still think it’s a good record. But I came to Slab right after, and I was like, ‘I didn’t like how that felt.”
They agreed that, from then on, they should clear more room in the schedule for giving each release the attention it deserves. Still, they managed to put out a stunning amount of music in 2023, especially for a self-sufficient outfit.
Slab and Dethrage try to list all of the loosies, EPs and albums off the top of their heads. When they get stuck, Dethrage opens a computer folder and starts searching. “And this is why we need admin,” Slab laughs.
(Later on, Dethrage emails me with a comprehensive count of all of the group and solo tracks they’ve dropped this year: 80. Videos are a whole other matter; they’ve rolled out a new one even since we spoke.)
“We’ve learned a lot about the business,” Dethrage reflects. “I think we’ve stopped expecting anyone else to help. We were kind of courted by some distribution companies and some industry partners early on that didn’t really lead to anything. And I think in the last year, we have really owned that this is our thing to do and to build.”
Dethrage and Slab had to figure out how to showcase their crew with performances in town and also get them on stage at SXSW, at a Bonnaroo after-party and at clubs in Milwaukee and Atlanta. The production and travel logistics for a group of Trïbe’s size would be a massive undertaking even for a dedicated team.
Along the way, everyone in the collective has pitched in with filming their shows, sessions and parties. When they had hard drive issues, Slab couldn’t bear the thought of losing twelve months of documentation. “Before they got fixed, I definitely had the nervous face for a while,” says Slab. “Everything’s at the highest level of importance to me. I don’t want to lose 30 seconds of something.”
They don’t want to miss out on what each individual member of Trïbe brings to the table either. “I know that there was a certain barrier of, ‘Am I allowed to do this?’” says Dethrage. “When people were first coming in, their brain had to adjust to not thinking that way.”
But now, he goes on, “when we have sessions, no one asks, ‘Can I get on this?’ They’re just like, ‘Hey, I have an idea for this.’ Like, ‘Let me show you what I can bring to this, and then we can decide if it’s right.’ Everyone understands that their unique perspective is what we’re after.”