Starlito & Don Trip Talk Music, Trump and Free Speech

In late February, I had the chance to chop it up with Starlito and Don Trip about their Karate in the Garage mixtape and then-unreleased Step Brothers Three album. A few of the quotes from the convo were included in a music column I wrote for the Memphis Flyer. But due to the column’s word limit, I left out a large portion of the interview. 

Though some time has went by, I thought it would be cool to share several highlights from the interview with readers. Aside from music, the duo touched on everything from politics to the rift between Yo Gotti and Young Dolph.

Peep some of their quotes below.

On their creative process

Trip: You know, we never really plan it out. We sit down. We turn beats on. At some point, we’re going to ask each other, ‘Hey, you got something for this?’ If neither of us have gotten anything, we’re going to move on. We’re not gonna waste any time. If one of us has got an idea, we try to feed off that. More times than none, it turns into a record. And I think the selflessness is what creates the record. We just work. If it works, it works. We don’t have a plan. Before we get in the studio, everything is up in the air. All we say is, ‘Hey, let’s get into the studio on this day and this day’ and that’s it. When we get into the studio, everything just falls into place.
 
Lito: We get in the studio with a free and clear agenda. If we do one song, so be it. If we crank out five songs, so be it. But there’s no A&R. There’s no staff. There’s no label. There’s nobody giving us their two cents on much of anything, I mean, maybe a producer. More times than not, we get a folder of beats from our favorite producer and just work on our own time. I think taking that pressure out of it [helps]. This was something we thought about doing upstairs in my cousin’s house and the rest is history. We’re never going to let someone else cloud that process with their two cents. I think that’s an important part too. We’ve got 15 songs on this project and none of them were spoon-fed to us. None of them were delivered with choruses or somebody saying, ‘Hey, I think this will work for y’all.’

On Step Brothers Three and Karate in the Garage

Lito: It was two years-plus between Step Brothers and Step Brothers Two, and an even longer period between two and three. But I think it allows us to pour more into the music. I think with the way we work, we could crank out a project in a week. A little-known fact, Karate in the Garage was actually recorded after Step Brothers Three was completed, finalized, turned in and what-not. That was done in a few days. Once we decided the album was complete, [we thought] what better way to let people know it’s coming than to release some more raps — get back to our roots, as far as mixtape rappers, if you will. We kind of transcended that, but we wanted to let our core know that we still got that in us. We cut that mixtape in two or three days, versus it being a two to three-year process for the album. And that’s not to say that it required that much time to do it, but it was just us living. It’s a real human element that’s going to come across with Step Brothers Three, and I think that wouldn’t be possible if we just turned into rapping robots and just, ‘Aw, this one is done. Let’s put out another one. Let’s put out another one.’

Trip: If anything, Step Brothers Three shows the growth. It shows the audience how well we work together. I wouldn’t say it’s effortless, but it’s organic. I think it’s portrayed through the music. Once you hear the Step Brothers Three, the same as one and two, I think people see our chemistry is not forced. We weren’t put together by somebody else or no shit like that. I think it started from us both being so in love with the music and us both respecting each other’s craft. When we first did Step Brothers, we were more like step brothers. Now, at this point, we’re more like brothers. Everything’s different. I think when you hear the tape, you get to see that. You get to feel the growth as well. I think it’s the best project we’ve done thus far. I think it’s the best project period, solo and collectively. A lot of experience went into it. We’re in totally different places in our lives now than we’ve ever been with any project. 

On friendly competition

Lito: I don’t really see it as that. If anything, it’s unspoken, or it’s a subconscious thing. I feel it’s an enhancement. Sometimes, you know, competitive energy amongst allies, friends or people on the same team can kind of go awry. I’m always thoughtful and considerate of that. It’s less competitive and more complimentary. I know that Don Trip is going to deliver a superb verse every time, so I deep down know that I can’t bullshit.
 
Trip: That goes both ways. We both are aware that we’re both great lyricists without tooting our own horns, but I think when we go in, we can’t come in subpar. I know he’s going to do his job, so I gotta do my job, not to say I wouldn’t do it any other instance. When we’re working, I think the last thing we’re thinking is, ‘I’ve got to come harder than him.’ I think when we go in, we go in just to create great records. 
 
Lito: There’s no value in doing it without the confidence in the other people you’re working with. Aside from that, if we weren’t going to put our all into it, we may as well be working on a solo project. We weren’t born into this group. We didn’t start our careers here. It’s a choice. I can honestly say, having lived with the album and rode to it, I got out-rapped on this project. That’s just in my humble opinion. I know people will inherently compare us. It happens. But we said on the first project, ‘Don’t compare us; we’re equal.’ 

On potentially affecting the Step Brothers legacy by releasing numerous volumes

Trip: I think that’s why we never take the integrity out of ‘em — making a two and three and however far it goes. We look at this as a group. It’s kind of like an Outkast that came from two solo artists instead of vice versa. Outkast was a group, and then they became two solo artists. The same as, at some point, [8]Ball and [MJ]G and UGK. Our thing was, you know, we came together to create a group, and when we do the Step Brothers projects, that’s what it is. We work as a group. We take the solo
artist out of the equation. I think tainting the brand would be when we start doing Step Brothers featuring so and so, and now it’s three Step Brothers, or ‘Step Cousins.’ I think that would be tainting the brand or altering the legacy.
 
Lito: I agree. I just think, as far as making sequels and part threes and etcetras, I never saw it as tainting a legacy. Personally, I know a big part of my plight is establishing a legacy, or making sure that I leave one behind. I think this project would go a long way. We are building our legacy together. I never concern myself with tainting it because I don’t feel like I have one to taint.

On fatherhood and worldly issues

Trip: I’m not so focused on the world, how it’s changing and how it works. I’m more focused on my offspring, how I build them, and the morals and principles and standards I instill in them. I’m not really concerned about what’s going on on the TV because, for the most part, the shit’s just going on on the TV. I’m just involved with my family. Everything else doesn’t really matter to me. A lot of what goes on, obviously, doesn’t even affect me. I think a lot of people get too caught up on what’s going on on CNN and not so much of what’s going on in their house. I think people need to be more in touch with their own kin. Not to say that you shouldn’t care about what’s going on in the mass public. I’m just saying, my focus is my children and not all of that. That’s the last thing I’ma care about. A lot of people assume that when [Lito and I] work together, we almost have to be each other. I think that’s why it works. It works because we’re two totally different people, and we still meet in the middle. We’ve got two totally different viewpoints on that, and that’s one of the greatest things about our bond, that we can respect each other’s differences. We’re not sitting in the studio trying to convince each other otherwise. He’s not trying to tell me, ‘Hey, Trip, you need to vote,’ and I ain’t trying to tell him, ‘Hey, you don’t need to vote.’ He lives how he lives, I live how I live, and we meet in the middle.

On freedom of speech and Trump

Lito: To me, for how [Trump] exercises free speech, if anything, I may have grown more outspoken and more driven to speak out about certain things. And I can’t say I feel too different from Trip. Moment to moment, it don’t really matter. I’ve got bills to pay. I gotta pay the government off. They get a pretty penny in income tax. So, do yall want this income tax money, or yall want me to bite my tongue? I don’t really give a fuck about that or [Trump]. With the new project, I feel like we speak our mind, and we speak our peace on a few crucial socially relevant issues. Our first single is called “Good Cop, Bad Cop.” We just finished shooting a short film to accompany it. With that, it’s edgy. We’re not redoing NWA’s blueprint. It’s not a ‘Fuck the Police’ record, but we’re speaking from an area where…we’re trying to humanize the idea of law enforcement. Where we’re from, we don’t always look at them as humans. Sometimes we look at them as monsters. On the other end, we want to humanize the victims of police brutality. We ain’t afraid to say that the system is fucked up or it’s warped, that it’s kind of skewed against people that look like us and come from where we come from. If we don’t say that shit, who’s gonna say it? I’m not gonna hold my tongue, especially for no powers that be shit.

On Yo Gotti and Young Dolph Rift

Lito: I don’t really get into the indifferences of other people. I don’t wanna speak on it. I don’t want to do nothing or say nothing that would add to it. I fuck with both of them, and I don’t have no opinion about none of the rest of it.
 
Trip: We’re both mutually friends with both Dolph and Gotti. We don’t want to add nothing to what’s going on. I wish both of them the best. I’m sure Star feels the same way. Other than that, they’re grown men. Ain’t nothing we can do to get involved in that. Whatever’s going on, our name isn’t in it already, so, hey, that’s not our business.
 
Lito: We’re not going to pretend like we don’t see or know what everybody does, but it ain’t our job to add to some shit. If we can’t take away from something or diffuse it or make better of it, the last thing I think either of us want to do is make some shit worse. I definitely don’t pick sides and do all of that shit. And I ain’t got many friends in rap.
 
Trip: They both our friends, and we don’t have many friends in rap. To go back to Step Brothers, that’s one of the things that brought us together, the respect level. We share that same respect for all of our peers, especially the ones that we really do click with, and that’s only a handful of people. And I don’t think we would have survived this long in music or in life if we involved ourselves in other people’s business.

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