Last month, hip hop stalwarts Starlito and Don Trip released Step Brothers 3, the latest installment in their seminal mixtape/album series. Since the debut of the original Step Brothers in 2011, the Tennessee duo have built a fervent, cult-like following behind the Step Brothers brand, which has been widely-celebrated by fans and critics alike.
Last year, Pitchfork included the original Step Brothers in their "50 Best Rap Mixtapes of the Millennium", and NPR debuted the second installment back in 2013. With the third entry in the Step Brothers franchise officially in the books, a solid case can be made for why Don Trip and Starlito's names belong on the list of classic Southern rap duos, alongside legendary pairs like Andre 3000 and Big Boi, Pimp C and Bun B, and 8Ball & MJG. And did we mention that both rappers are 100% independent?
Lito and Trip are currently on the nationwide "Karate In The Garage" tour, which is booked for over 40 cities so far, with even more dates to come. The pair will be cruising through Nashville this Sunday, April 23 at The Basement East. Tickets are still available for purchase.
We caught up with the duo to discuss the Step Brothers legacy, their family-oriented movement, DIY and creative independence, the state of the industry, and more. Check out selected highlights from our in-depth conversation below.
On The History and Legacy of the Step Brothers Series
So, the original Step Brothers mixtape is turning six in July. That's kinda crazy right? It's been awhile.
Starlito: Yeah, that was July 25th, 2011. It was the same day the movie dropped in 2008. The movie actually aired on FX that night [July 25th], three years after its release. And an hour after it aired, we released the mixtape. That night, #Stepbrothers trended for a few hours on Twitter, and we ended up reaping the benefits of that. Of course, people were partially talking about the movie. But in terms of niche marketing, that was the perfect time for us to release the mixtape.
The second Step Brothers mixtape was promoted for October 17th. And I think a year prior, Gucci Mane had made a big fuss about that being his day to release music. So our thoughts were, 'Hey, let's kind of be pranksters here. And maybe even entice him to have a Twitter beef with us.' [laughs] We actually ended up releasing it two days earlier, on October 15th .
And this one [Stepbrothers 3] was set up for March 15th, the ides of March. That was a reference to our biggest record [together] to date, "Caesar and Brutus", alluding to Shakespeare and the warning that was given: 'beware the ides of March'.
So looking back now on the original Step Brothers, what are your thoughts on it? Did you know that it was going to be as big as it is? Were you expecting it to become such a classic mixtape?
Don Trip: We just went in and created it. I don't think we had any expectations. We just went in and worked. And what came out just happened to be big enough to last til now. Even now, we still get to do those records from Step Brothers. We created something that was bigger than us.
Even Lito will tell you that our combined projects are always bigger than our solo projects. It's almost like a magical followers. If he's got a million fans, and I've got a million fans, somehow when we do the Step Brothers projects, we wind up with three million fans.
When you initially recorded Step Brothers, were you planning to make it a series? Or was it the fan reception that inspired you guys to make a follow up?
Starlito: I personally never imagined it being like this. I don't know if I ever thought or knew that we would even do a show together. We were upstairs in my cousin's house in a bedroom that was turned into a recording studio, with a mic cord running into another bedroom closet. It was minimal. But the drive and work ethic was there. The chemistry was there.
We did Step Brothers in three recording sessions. One in my spot here, one at Trip's spot in Memphis, and the final session that doubled as a mixing and mastering session, in L.A. After the success of it and the response, it was kind of a no-brainer.
It's been like a snowball effect. And right now we're in the driver's seat controlling it. But it's not as if we thought it out this far. I think that's what makes it so special.
On Family And Personal Growth
Both of you guys have achieved a lot of career success since the series began. You're both at different places now than you were at the time of the original. How has life changed as time has progressed?
Don Trip: Well, when we started on the first one, I only had one child. I have four children now. So you know, my whole world's changed. It's gone from only worrying about me as an artist, to focusing on me as a father and artist at the same time. Now, I gotta look at the long run. I gotta plan more. It made me sit down and actually formulate my steps. And now my moves aren't so much what's in the best interests for me, but what's in the best interest for us all.
Kids teach you quite a bit. You would assume that you know more than them, but their perspective is marvelous. And with four kids, that's four different personalities. And I think that's changed me and my music. Like my [current] studio accommodates my kids. In my studio, there's a play room in there for them. There's a room for them to do their homework. So I get to still be a father, even while still creating. So I think that's the biggest change for me from Step Brothers to Step Brothers 3. I've become even more of a father.
Starlito: I didn't have any children on Step Brothers, and I still don't have any children. But I'm a homeowner now. I own a couple of properties. My business has grown. With touring, our schedules are far more demanding. And being independent and very self-contained and self-sufficient, it just means that there's more i's to dot and t's to cross.
But conversely, there's more opportunities and more jobs. I'm able to provide for others by delegating responsibilities and tasks, which in turn means revenue for others. Now it's a lot bigger than me getting stable. I've stabilized the lives and careers of others, even outside of music.
I think the catalyst of all this is that we've grown this thing on a family-oriented tip. Trip's people are my people, and vice versa. Although we are two solo artists who came together, there are staff members who work on both of our behalf. We have the same engineer. We have the same hypeman, when it makes sense scheduling-wise.
On The Evolving Industry and Independent Success
How do you think the industry has changed since the first Step Brothers?
Don Trip: The internet runs the world. Nowadays, it's not so much about the physical content or even a backstory. Just put something on the internet and you're good.
Starlito: Everything's faker. The industry at large is a facade. In business, and in the recording industry, people are intimidated by people that have it together. Because in large part, in music business, the name of the game is other people applying what you don't know. And advantaging themselves because of that.
There's marketing agendas and things. It just feels and looks like pro wrestling sometimes. On a lot of levels. And just being mindful of that keeps me in a pretty stable head space. And I always want to be the exception and not the rule. I think in every stage in my career, I've been a rebel. It's never made sense to me to do what everyone else is doing. And that's probably what's kept me here as long as I've been here.
Nowadays, doing your own thing is starting to become more common. The independent route is almost becoming mainstream.
Starlito: Because all the tools are there. If you're smart enough and resourceful enough, why would you let someone do something for you that you could do for yourself? It's gonna be at a higher return, and honestly it's going to be more fulfilling.
Whatever this album sells, I think it will mean more to me than if I put it in someone else's hands and let them do it. For a host of reasons. This album sounds like I want it to sound. The way it feels. I'm talking about things that I wanted to speak on. And the presentation of it is 1000% the way I saw fit. So whatever becomes of it is a success.
There was a time when independence didn't have those resources. Part of the reason I signed a record deal in 2005 was because I didn't have the means to shoot a music video, based on what was out there. Like that shit was incredibly expensive.
[Today] Trip owns like four cameras. I own a couple cameras. I just bought some new lenses. For what I don't own, I just rent. We just shot a movie. We didn't have that access 10 or 15 years ago.
I come from pressing vinyl records at United Record Pressing up the street and mailing off the records to DJs. That's an expensive, time-consuming process. I could leave this interview, go record a song, and blast it out to a thousand DJs in minutes. For nothing. That's a huge difference. It's just evolution.
You drop a lot of knowledge on Step Brothers 3. Some sociopolitical. Some dealing with your own personal experiences. Do you feel a certain obligation to teach younger artists about stuff you didn't know yourself that you maybe wish someone would have told you coming up?
Don Trip: Of course. I think that comes from nobody giving us any guidance or advice. So of course, I try to drop as many jewels as possible.
Starlito: That's exactly what I was going to say. I didn't have many teachers. Even the people that I looked to or that mentored me from afar, I didn't even know them personally. It was more just watching them move or even watching their mistakes. I think throughout my career, even when I was a younger artist, I've always been willing to share.
When Scotty ATL was on tour with us, we talked nearly every day. And honestly I've learned things from him. Being a slightly younger, newer artist, his push is more refined. He came up in the digital age. So his perspective is vastly different from mine. Sometimes, it's very inspiring stuff and something for me to learn from. But also me coming from the era where we had to do twice as much to get half as far, my approach is also more refined. Because this is easier, relatively-speaking. Certain parts of it.
On Album Single "Good Cop / Bad Cop"
So can you guys talk about the inspiration behind "Good Cop / Bad Cop"?
Don Trip: It's just life. What's going on right now. [Police brutality] almost happens so often, that it's not even surprising. It's that common that it occurs. And I think that we are two of the few artists that kind of blend reality into the entertainment. I think a lot of artists get drawn into the entertainment.
But that's one of the things that draws people to us, that we know how to speak on what's going on at this very moment. We're not in a bubble. We're not just stuck in a studio. We see things going on in the world just as much as everybody else. And we got the moxy to say pretty much whatever we feel like saying.
And we felt that was a story that hadn't really been told, if that makes sense.
Yea. You told it in a very powerful way.
Starlito: We're both young and black. And I know I deal with it whenever I get pulled over, being almost paralyzed with fear. And I'm a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen at this point. But we deal with it. That's our reality. But we still didn't want to deal with only that perspective or that side. N.W.A. did that with "Fuck The Police" and Lil Boosie kind of modernized it a few years back. The rage, the angst that comes with it.
We didn't want to take that approach, even though that might be closer to our culture or our nature. It was more about forcing people to look at both perspectives, no matter which side you're on. We wanted to blur those lines and start the coversation. Force people to talk about it. Get them to look at it differently.
This kid is a Vanderbilt student. But because of the car that he drives, because of his hairstyle. Because of the color of his skin, he's still stigmitized. And [Officer Bart] is a third-generation police officer that grew up with a Confederate flag in the front yard. And he's subconsciously afraid of this kid that he's pulling over. Because of lack of insight or knowledge. Then on the other side, the victim's dad is a cop. And [Officer Craig] is not exactly walking the straight and narrow. And look at the fall out of it. I don't know. It's human. The focus is kind of like, 'Now look at what happens when we're afraid of each other'.
Someone was killed by a police officer in my old neighborhood a month ago. That was like a week before we recorded this video. This happened right off Shelby Avenue
I have a personal relationship with Mike Brown Sr. And I lent some of my time and energy to their cause. I filmed a music video for "Theories" in Ferguson, MO and St. Louis. Don Trip's in that video. He was there. We're not posturing ourselves behind an issue for the sake of attention. This is real. It affects us. Regardless of how big we get as artists, I'm still young and black and drive a really nice car. I run the risk of being profiled when I leave here today. That's my reality. No one's speaking on it. So we're the voice of the voiceless.
On Rising Expectations and Pressure
After the first two Step Brothers projects, and how crazy the fan reception was, did you feel any pressure going into this latest installment? I'm sure there were outside expectations. The fans kept asking about it. Did you feel that you had to deliver in a certain way?
Starlito: I think that on a very practical and human level, 'Hell yeah'. I mean we're not deaf. We're not oblivious to our peers or the chatter or whatever. And it wasn't really pronounced, but at some point, I think that we realized that this is what we're doing and it'll be received best when we can do it at the highest level.
We could drop Step Brothers 4 next week if we really wanted to. But in order for it to be what it needs to be, we gotta live. Step Brothers 3 is drastically different from Step Brothers 2 because of what we've been through. If Donald Trump doesn't get elected president, if my homie Red Dot doesn't get approved for parole, there are songs that probably wouldn't be on this project.
The pressure is not like an anxiety. It's more like a good kind of pressure. It's like a playoff game. This is what we worked all the way up to this point for, so we gotta deliver. [The pressure] is almost self-imposed. We just gotta do it our way. Do it on our own terms. There's certainly pressure. But there's also a supreme sense of accomplishment like 'Yea, yea, yea. We know you guys have been waiting. But we delivered.'
On Favorite Song From SB3 / Favorite Step Brothers Installment
Don Trip: My favorite would be "My Girl Find Out". It was a fun record for me to do. It was one of those times that I got to involve my real life [on wax]. And it's so blurry that you wouldn't know what's real and what's not.
Out of the three, do you have a favorite installment?
Don Trip: Gotta be 3. I've never been in a better space than I am right now. Maybe when we wrap 4 up it'll be 4. But for now, it's gotta be 3.
Starlito: My favorite record is "Do What I Gotta Do". The lyrics and content is Trip being on record the super dad that I know him to be. From day one of me meeting him, if someone asked me what I thought about him, that'd be one of the first things I'd say. So for him to put that on record and detail it ... that's also what I like about him as a rapper, is his detail.
Out of the three projects, Step Brothers 3 is by far my favorite project. We've already made more money off of Step Brothers 3 than we made off the first two combined.
Don Trip: Yeah. That'll do it! [laughs]
Damn. Congrats on that.
Starlito: That's just me being real. I mean we're not doing this for nothing. And even artistically, I think it supersedes the first two projects as well. The first one was raw, and I don't think anything could ever take away from that. I probably like 1 more than 2, for that reason, among others.
But I think with this one, we've found that space. And I don't think anyone could take us out of the zone we're in. Even with the equity that we have in the brand at this point. It's really great and inspiring that two solo artists could take it this far and are primed to take it even further. Like bro said, I've never been in a better space. I've never had this much leverage, this much control, or this much support.
Step Brothers 3 is now available on all digital music and streaming services.