“Why throw a pebble in the ocean when you can throw a whole boulder?” That’s the metaphor Latrell James used to describe his “all in” approach to music, a mentality by which he simply creates as much and as often as he can, whether as a rapper or as a producer, for an original record or for a collaboration with a peer, on projects big or small.
James made ripples in the local music scene after dropping his debut album in 2015. But the Dorchester native began making waves globally two years later when he was chosen to voice the jingle for “Good Goes Round,” a widely broadcast Cheerios ad that went viral, racking up nearly two million views on YouTube.
That success provided a platform from which he dived head first into his career. In the past few years, James, 28, has opened for Kendrick Lamar, participated in a creative session with J Cole’s Dreamville label, and produced tracks for other Boston-based rising stars like Cousin Stizz and Michael Christmas.
“I just let each thing feed off of itself,” said James as he looked out the window of home.stead bakery on Dorchester Avenue. It all started just blocks away. He grew up on Charles Street and Dakota Street and spent his time between Fields Corner and Bowdoin/Geneva.
“No joke, I was just walking up this way and saw my best friend in his car, like, just sitting in traffic,” he said with a laugh.
James describes himself as a product of his environment, for good or for bad. He sees beauty in Dorchester being “a melting pot of diversity” that taught him different cultures and perspectives, but also knows he could have easily gone down a dangerous path. He has seen friends and cousins lured into the drug game and the life of crime that entails.
While his Cheerios jingle radiates positivity, much of his other music is steeped in real life cynicism. The opening line of his hit single “Okay” offers a credo: “Rule number one, don’t trust no politicians.”
“I think we’ve learned to just take care of your own. Politicians don’t always have the people’s best interests in mind,” he said. “Even around here, in Massachusetts, I’ve seen politicians cruise through just to get reelected.”
Still, he said, he was hopeful, pointing to a local harbinger of change in describing former City Councillor Ayanna Pressley’s election to Congress as “beautiful.”
“She’s a person that really cares about the people that live here,” he said. “If you’re in that position you have to understand the issues that are happening here...I think we all just want people that care.”
As for the Dorchester music scene, James acknowledged that the wealth of talent coming out of neighborhoods like his own does not necessarily reflect the community’s art resources.
“In general, there are no venues to support the artists [in Dorchester],” he said. “Someone has to take the initiative.”
While options like the Strand Theatre offer creative spaces, they aren’t necessarily as accessible to hip-hop artists as fledgling venues like the Dorchester Art Project in Fields Corner, James said.
“I hope [DAP] grows into something amazing because it needs it here. You shouldn’t always have to travel to Cambridge to watch a live show; we have to get better at using our own spaces.”
While James’s creative output seems endless, he hasn’t released a full project since his debut effort. That is about to change. He plans to release a new EP “very soon,” and he hinted at performing new material at an upcoming performance on March 28, when he will open for the internationally acclaimed vocalist Jazzmeia Horn at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as part of its RISE music series.
The show will be a change of pace from James’s usual performances and venues, but it’s one he’s looking forward to. “To be on stage with a Grammy-nominated artist will be amazing,” he said. “I actually prefer to play a cross-genre show. It gets people exposed to your music that might not have known about it otherwise...who knows? It could be the beginning of a new musical direction for me, too.”
To purchase tickets for RISE, visit gardnermuseum.org or call 617-278-5156.