I’m partial to rappers who know how to self-deprecate. Lil’ Wayne embraces his stature; Ol’ Dirty Bastard knew he was a creep. In an art form frequently powered by braggadocio, a little real-talk is refreshing.
So I’ve been poised to love Fat Trel from the start. His moniker rings true—Trel’s carrying a few extra, heavily tattooed pounds—and his candor doesn’t end there. On “Too Much,” a Drake remix he released earlier this week, Fat Trel remembers the shooting that almost killed him and mourns the death of one of his kids’ mothers: “I’d give my last breath to bring Taisha’s soul back/Remember my daughter crying, ‘Where’d Mommy go, Dad?’”
But as much as I dig his honesty, after yesterday, I think I need to take a break from the guy. First, Trel dropped a highly anticipated mixtape, Gleesh. I put my headphones on, took a look at the cover art and—
I’m sorry, is that what I think it is, dripping down Lea Michele’s face? Oh, yes. It’s semen! Semen. Fat Trel’s mixtape cover is, in part, a photo of semen.
[UPDATE, April 22: Fat Trel’s record label has requested that we take the original image down and replace it with one that’s entirely devoid of semen or Michele, on the grounds that they “have a good faith belief that the materials identified above are not authorized by the above IP Owner, its agent, or the law and therefore infringe the IP Owner’s rights.” Which isn’t really a surprise. We’re leaving it up because, though Trel’s now passing the mixtape around with a new cover, this was the original release, and it deserves comment.]
Fat Trel has always relied too heavily on bitch and pussy tropes, but it’s one thing to front about using and abusing a woman, and quite another to lay claim to her body with such a vivid, visceral image. The photo hints at violence, or, at the very least, something other than consent—she’s crying, after all— implicating a high-school-aged girl (on Glee, at least) in a tacit assault. A horny video vixen bopping around in thong underwear, she is not—she’s a passive, humiliated mess. It’s possible to brag about sex and make it sexy (see: Fat Trel’s fellow full-figured rappers Biggie and Fat Joe), but Trel hasn’t yet figured out that one-sided jizz jokes won’t further his game with anyone but high school boys.
The cover is a fantastic Photoshop job (which makes it all the more unnerving) and, I have to admit, its play on the Glee logo is cleverer than any recent album art I’ve seen. Re-appropriated pop-culture imagery can be subversive—though I suspect Trel wasn’t making much sophisticated commentary here—and celebrities are always fair game. But turning Michele into a laughable sex object, an unwilling canvas for Trel’s Photoshopped jizz, is a step too far. If the sexual-assault line is going to be crossed for the sake of art, the product should be a hell of a lot better than this.
If Fat Trel hadn’t already fallen out of my good graces with the Gleesh cover, he would have earned a spot on my shit list later in the day, when he posted an Instagram photo of himself posing next to a sleeping man who appears to be homeless. Trel flaunts gold pendants and a flashy timepiece, cutting a cocky figure next to his scruffy, unwitting companion. Real classy.
Some of the commenters on the photo have it right: “I pray that you helped homie out with a hot meal or at least some change to get something Bruh….,” wrote one. “That was once you, remember,” chided another. If his fans balk, will Fat Trel wise up? Probably not. Both photos suggest that Trel’s got an Escalade-sized blind spot when it comes to empathy, and I’m starting to think that’s part of his mainstream appeal.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery