06.23.2017People

Tre Da Kid: Journey from struggle to stage

By: Jason Small
Tre da Kid

Gridlocked cars block our way as the lead police escort vehicle blares its siren. The officer gets out of his car and walks back to our blacked-out van. “We can’t get through here. We have to take you guys that way.” He nods his head towards the other side of the road: we will be driving head on into oncoming traffic.

I’m in a van with Tre Da Kid at the sold out Summer Jam 2017 at MetLife Stadium. Our police escort is trying to get Tre over to the stage for his premier performance on the Summer Jam festival stage. Tailgaters in gridlock are out of their cars. Killer stereos thump with hip-hop in the 90 degree heat as the sun beats down. 

Police car

Our police escort leads the way in to oncoming traffic as hip-hop fans stand outside of their cars on the opposite side staring hard trying to see into our van. Tre has headphones in – he’s not fazed by any of this. But once you get to know him, you’ll understand why it’s not surprising to see him unshakable and focused in any setting.

…once you get to know him, you’ll understand why it’s not surprising to see him unshakable and focused in any setting.

We arrive at the stage and Tre waits as the DJ gets the crowd hyped and the MC steps on stage to introduce him. The MC tells the crowd how Tre’s talent led to winning Verizon’s Freestyle50 challenge among thousands of entrants…Tre grabs the microphone and I watch him walk up the stairs as he gives me a nod and a grin…we’ll come back to this moment later.

Tre da Kid arriving at the stage

The path leading up to this is a story of loss, struggle, conviction and talent. Tre’s life in the past seven months has included a national record deal, releasing his first song “Run It” in April, and the sudden loss of both supportive parents.

200 songs and rap battles in the projects

First, it’s important to understand Tre is not a product of luck. This opportunity is the result of years of hard work. He’s fallen asleep, pen in hand, writing lyrics. He’s spent his last dime on gas to make it to a local rap battle – leaving him no choice but to run the toll booth because he couldn’t pay the toll. He’s slept in his car when necessary, just to make travel work.

He even risked missing his son’s birth, sitting by the phone in his hotel room in New York City because he had an opportunity too big to miss. He prayed the phone didn’t ring and that he could make it back in time to be there -- he did.

“I like basketball – there are a lot of things that I really like. But I had to give up what I like for what I love,” Tre shares with me when I visit his hometown in Annapolis to hear his story. He knew when he quit basketball that he was in love with music.

I like basketball – there are a lot of things that I really like. But I had to give up what I like for what I love.

Tre has been shutting down local rap battles since he was a kid, starting in the projects. But despite his parents moving him out at a young age, he went back as an early teen because that’s where his friends were. He takes me to the projects on my recent visit and shows me exactly where he stood as the rap battles played out: the crowd making bets and money exchanging hands.

But as he grows in to his 20’s, and despite years of effort and recording hundreds of songs on his own -- at one point he feels like he is losing hope. Both of his parents go in to a nursing home and he splits with his son’s mother.

Nothing seems to be working. Both parents are in a home. He moves in with his sister to help make ends meet and he’s putting too much time in to everything but recording music. “I couldn’t believe this is what I was doing with my day,” Tre says as he recalls how little time he had for music.

He doesn’t give up, eventually making some changes to get back more time for music. Performing at the local American legion and Annapolis spots like The Metropolitan, he keeps working his craft.

They say opportunity favors the prepared and Tre is in a constant state of readiness.

Verizon’s Freestyle50 Challenge

It’s November 2016 and Tre doesn’t even know Verizon’s Freestyle50 Challenge exists. You could say the challenge finds him.

The contest, inspired by Verizon’s 7GB for $50 prepaid offer exclusively at Walmart for a limited time, is a national talent competition in search of the best freestyler in the nation and a partnership between Verizon and 300 Entertainment. The winner walks away with $10,000 and a recording contract for a single with 300 Entertainment. 

Tre’s friend mentions the contest through text, after hearing about it on the radio. He almost dismisses it until a second friend, in the same day, tells him, “Verizon is having this contest – you’ve got to check it out.” 

Having recently lost his mother, Tre remembers her words just a week before passing away, “You’re worrying about me too much. You just need to learn to fly on your own.” These words echo in his mind after the second message from his friend. He leaves work early at the Subaru dealership, a place he repeatedly praises for the support they give him. He heads straight home.

At home, Tre starts cranking out video after video since there is no entry limit. The next thing he knows he’s on WERQ-FM (92Q) in Baltimore and he’s a semi-finalist, competing on the radio in the regional contest. Now he waits for the results.

Atlanta

A few days later he’s working at Subaru detailing cars in the shop when he gets the message: he’s going to Atlanta for the finals. The first thing he does? Tre heads home to write more music.

In Atlanta, Tre finds himself on stage with only two other finalists out of thousands of entries across multiple radio stations and endless social media submissions.

Tre finds himself on stage with only two other finalists out of thousands of entries across multiple radio stations and endless social media submissions.  

“Once it got down to the three of us I knew it was over. Not because they weren’t good, but because I just felt more mentally prepared than everyone else. I’m not saying that to sound harsh or like I have an ego. It’s just that I knew I had the mindset,” Tre says.

Tre hears his name come over the speakers: he’s the winner.  He feels alone on stage. Like no one else was around. “It was about me and my mom. I raised my arms up, but not because I thought I was so much better than everyone else. I felt my mom raising my arms up saying, ‘You did it.’ Everything was happening so fast, I really didn’t even have the time to grieve after she passed.”

Tre Da Kid on stage

Tre impressed the crowd and the judges walking away with $10,000 and a recording contract for a single with 300 Entertainment.

After he wins, he keeps going to visit his dad at the nursing home. Suffering from Alzheimer’s, his dad doesn’t even know his mom has passed away. 

I would show him pictures of me with the Verizon check. I’d tell him we’re going to make this thing happen. I prayed he would live to see my song come out in April.

“I would show him pictures of me with the Verizon check. I’d tell him we’re going to make this thing happen. I prayed he would live to see my song come out in April,” Tre shares.

Tre-da-kid wins the contest

From left to right: J. Nicks from Hot 107.9 in Atlanta, London on da Track, Tre Da Kid, Travis Toliver (Verizon)

One week before the single releases Tre’s father passes away.

“Losing my parents really helped me with my attitude. It made other things less important – it made the small things, small. You only have one chance to live so now I know: don’t waste those precious moments,” says Tre.

Tre’s song, “Run It” releases, recently hitting number 15 on Billboards Spotify Viral 50 and racking up more than 500,000 streams

Tre wanted “Run It” to be a soundtrack to his life. He’s always running things – he never stops pushing no matter what stands in his way. “Working with London on Da Track – wow – you just can’t fake that energy. He told me there were no boundaries, just do it the way I feel.”

Growing up in Annapolis, Maryland he’s passionate about his roots and staying grounded to where he comes from. He gives back by visiting his neighborhood and speaking to kids, most recently at a local Boys and Girls club. He also happens to do a killer impression of Jay Z.

“I’m actually only serious when it comes to my music. Outside of that, I’m one of the biggest jokers here and just like to have fun,” he shares.

As I watch him walk up the stairs on to stage at the sold out Summer Jam 2017 at MetLife Stadium he gives me a nod and a grin, which quickly disappears as he drops right into performance mode.

He raises the mic…

The contest kicked off again on July 19 and the deadline for entries is Friday, August 4th.

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About the author(s): 

Jason Small leads storytelling for the Verizon communications team. His background includes online and offline roles in digital marketing and communications within corporate, agency and startup environments across more than 20 brands. You can connect with Jason on Twitter @JasonSmallChats.