Trey Mullin wears a black ski mask that’s covering everything but his eyes. Next to him are three of his friends and business partners. He pulls down the bottom of his ski mask so he can introduce himself.
Mullin, a digital storytelling junior, is more popularly known by his stage name, Xotrey. He's always wanted to be a rockstar.
“I got caught up in the idea of living a celebrity rock star rapper lifestyle very early,” Mullin said. “I’ve always known I’m meant to be in front of crowds.”
Mullin has been generating an income from his music for four years, and he’s starting to feel like the artist he set out to be.
“It’s been actually pretty hard lately to separate between what’s Trey Mullin and what’s Xotrey. As of lately it’s all been feeling like the same person,” he said. “I don't have to put on this persona of being a rapper, doing all these shows or anything. I just wake up and I'm in that position. It's like a job to me.”
Mullin’s rap career began during the early stages of the 2015-2019 “Soundcloud Rap” era, when several current superstars such as Lil Uzi Vert and Post Malone had just begun to establish themselves. Someone at a party would play a beat, Mullin said, and people would freestyle to it. But people kept telling him he was significantly better than the others.
He started recording music on a Yeti microphone with his brother’s pet bird in the room. Years later, Mullin no longer needs anyone else to tell him how good he is.
“I'm to the point where I'm not questioning the value of my music, I know that it's top shelf,” he said.
Part of this confidence comes from the people Mullin surrounds himself with. Earlier this year, Mullin met East Lansing-based music producer Lincoln Perry and they immediately began making music together. By their third studio session, Mullin was sleeping on Perry’s futon.
“We would just wake up, make music and work on that until we went to bed,” Mullin said.
Perry described his production as “synth-heavy,” and it’s a label that fits – electronic keys and leads sit above distorted 808’s and complement Mullin’s frenzied high-register delivery. Mullin listed ZillaKami, Suicide Boys and Bones as artists with a similar underground sound.
Eventually, their work culminated in Mullin’s debut album, which came out on Oct. 21. Perry and their friend Rosé Loxx, who is featured on the album, pushed Mullin to release the project.
“We put in all this time, and …Trey was kind of skeptical on releasing it,” Loxx said. “We’re like, ‘no dude, listen, you can literally hear our music in other people’s cars, just close your eyes. People are going to love it.'”
Mullin and Perry are now roommates in the Orion Spartan Housing Co-Op, and they’ve built a professional recording studio in their bedroom. Music is still the first thing they see when they wake up and the last thing they see when they go to bed.
Another friend of Mullin's, Sam Haddad, had spent time in real estate and construction management and said the biggest downfall in many business relationships is poor organization. He encouraged the group to get organized.
“I said to the guys, 'Let's do better for ourselves,'” Haddad said.
So, over the summer, the group formed Inner Ring Entertainment LLC, a “jack of all trades” entertainment company. Mullin said the group rents out their studio and books shows for other artists. Mullin is the company’s foremost act, while Loxx serves as manager, Perry as a producer and Haddad as manager and head of security. Haddad also plans to release music under the name “Xohound.”
For now, the group will focus on booking shows for Mullin. Loxx said he’s never seen anyone control a crowd the way Mullin does.
“You see the way that he demands the crowd, just with his presence and his performance and his energy,” Loxx said.
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Mullin, who loves performing more than anything, has developed a trick to block out the crowd: he wears a pair of sunglasses on stage which allows him to see just enough to not fall off the edge.
“Then it's me just chilling with myself up there, rapping my own music, having a good time,” Mullin said. “And because I have good energy that fills the room, people reciprocate that energy.”
Mullin will be embarking on a tour this spring and Inner Ring is aiming to play a set at The Riviera Caf on Jan. 18.
Mullin is also fresh off his biggest performance yet – a Nov. 20 appearance at “Channel 5 Live,” a live show hosted by journalist Andrew Callaghan that Mullin said sold out Royal Oak Music Theater’s 1,700-person capacity. Mullin said he learned about the show the morning of his set.
“We just pulled up and then we were just wandering around the venue,” Mullin said. “I ended up talking to Andrew’s crew at the back. And then they gave us VIP passes.”
The show was encouraging, he said, especially when Callaghan interviewed him and he received cheers while discussing personal challenges.
“It's weird getting up on stage … getting up there and talking about my mental illnesses and stuff like that, depression and self harm and drug abuse and stuff,” Mullin said. “Saying that out loud to a crowd, and everybody cheering felt good, knowing that I am progressing with my life.”
This response lets Mullin know he’s not alone, he said, but it goes both ways.
“I've had two people like tell me like, my music has helped stop thinking suicidal thoughts and stuff,” Mullin said. “It’s crazy to hear …that one night in the studio has that much of an impact on somebody’s personal life.”
And the reason for Mullin's black ski mask? To hide his face in public, he said. As his popularity increases, as that line between Trey Mullin and Xotrey dissolves, it gets harder and harder to blend in. Mullin described experience of being spotted in public as “surreal.”
“One kid yells from across the street, ‘Xotrey, I know it’s you, I can recognize those eyes from anywhere,’” Mullin said. “... What?”
And something strange has been happening at his recent shows, Mullin said, something he can’t block out, something he has to take his glasses off for.
“The past four or five shows we played … I'll be rapping and then the crowd will be louder than I am rapping my own lyrics,” he said. “I literally had to take my sunglasses off because I couldn't believe that I was hearing that. And then the only thing to see at that point … is just a room full of people singing your lyrics.”