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The fastest growing sound in North
America has superstars, a slew of
hungry, scene-jumping adopters and a
whole host of questionable social
issues to go with it.
Real trap shit?
"Trap is the new dubstep." That's a
phrase I've heard bandied around
more and more lately, and while it's
not an entirely accurate comparison,
it's not off the mark either. Deﬁned by
its rigid formula of frantic 808 worship
and bombastic basslines, it's been
latched onto by largely the same
audiences that have been eating up
American dubstep and moombahton
over the past few years. Put simply,
trap is one of the fastest growing
sounds in North America.
Chances are, whether you know it or
not, you've come across it in some
form. Everyone from underground
heads to mainstream dubstep DJs are
throwing those skittery snares
underneath, well, everything. And, like
any genre that has emerged in the
past few years, it has its bona ﬁde
stars like Baauer and Flosstradamus,
a slew of hungry, scene-jumping
adopters and a whole host of
questionable social issues to go with
"Trap" is hip-hop slang for a crack house, and is often traced back to Atlanta. It certainly
got more popular off the back off American rapper T.I.'s Trap Muzik album in 2003, but
some ascribe its origins even further back to artists like Three 6 Maﬁa and Houston's DJ
Screw. The latter artist pioneered the psychedelic, ultra-slow "chopped and screwed"
effect, in which he slowed down tracks to accentuate trippy time-stretched snares and
hats. Meanwhile, the southern rap that emerged in the wake of the Outkast boom in the
early 2000s was colourful, synth-heavy and bombastic, a tradition that lives on in trap.
But arguably the most direct progenitor to what's at hand in 2012 is young Virginia
producer Lex Luger.
Responsible for Waka Flocka Fame's 2010 rap anthem "Hard in da Paint" and a number
of other hits for prominent rappers in the past two years, particularly Three 6 Maﬁa's
Juicy J, Luger's productions are almost a caricature in their maximalism. The danceable
groundwork for these tracks is laid by enormous bass thuds and cheap, snarling synth
horns, like a satanic Mannie Fresh. Luger's productions fast became a staple in DJ sets
around the world, from innumerable American acts to UK DJs like Rustie, Hudson
Mohawke and Oneman. They were also widely imitated. Clearly Luger had tapped into
something. "This is something like the culmination of years and years of hip-hop... and
dance music came together. It didn't happen because someone had a master plan, it just
happened naturally," claimed Mad Decent associate Dirty South Joe in a recent
documentary called Certiﬁed Trap.
"The ﬁrst real indicator that this was more than just the casual incorporation of a few
drums was when Flosstradamus released their remix of Major Lazer's 'Original Don' early
this year," says Matt Owchar, a DJ and promoter in Vancouver. He runs a night called
#FVDED, a weekly dubstep-cum-trap night that incorporates trap's imagery and
sloganeering in its promotions and has booked a number of bigger trap DJs. "It didn't
really hit home... until SXSW . My whole perception of the SXSW experience was
guided by the idea of ﬁnding the 'next hot shit,' as a DJ and talent buyer. Within a day of
being there I think I heard that remix about ﬁve times in one day. Guys like Salva, Lunice
and LOL Boys dropping it, then Porter Robinson, Skrillex, Kill The Noise..." In Owchar's
list of artists one can already see the overlap between bass music, hip-hop and dubstep
beginning to emerge.
credit for helping to
establish trap as a
force on US dance
hip-hop in their own
they used trap
tropes on their EP
Total Recall to
create a hybrid of
electro, trance and
hip-hop (which they
Their music takes
hold of the most
extreme impulses of US club music—the brutal wallop of dubstep and the blaring chords
of trance and electro house—and solders them onto hip-hop, a blueprint that many have
Other key ﬁgures include popular mixtape host Trap-A-Holics, whose memorable DJ
drops (like "real trap shit") have become slogans sampled by acts like Flosstradamus
and used frequently in tracks as a sort of trap signature, and RL Grime, whose squelchy
"Trap on Acid" places familiar trap clichés in an acid house context and was recently co-
opted by megastar Pitbull. Then there's the mysterious Uz, allegedly a dance music
veteran in disguise. His online communications are spoken almost entirely in Unicode
symbols (example: "ĐЯØPPIИ₲ ϺΫ ИЄШ ZЄǄ ƉЄ∆Ɖ ЯЄϺIX ∆₮ H∆ЯƉ ƧƱϺϺЄЯ")—
another aesthetic preference of trap—and his endless stream of tracks on SoundCloud
are simply numbered parts of a series entitled "Trap Shit." Uz's tracks are essentially
sketches composed of the same bucking basslines, cascading snares and all manner of
silly vocal samples, merely arranged in different combinations. His work illustrates the
potential for rhythmic complexity in trap—the timestretching and other effects on the
drums are close relatives to jungle—but the music utilizes much of the same devices as
the worst of lowest common denominator club music.
Barcelona's Sinjin Hawke is another interesting case study. Already a headlining artist off
the back of one strong EP on Belgian label Pelican Fly, Hawke's impressive live set is
near-virtuosic, welding R&B melodies and triumphant builds to trap structures. Bolstered
with ﬂamboyant and decisive melodies inspired by ﬁlm scores and '80s synth music, his
reinterpretation of hip-hop feels personal and idiosyncratic. When I met him earlier this
year, he expressed enthusiasm but unfamiliarity with the world of dance music after
spending years immersed in hip-hop, a fascinating angle for a rising star playing at
festivals alongside acts like Scuba and Claude VonStroke.
And of course, there's Baauer. Though
in my review of "Harlem Shake" earlier
this year I questioned the track's
substance and worthiness as an
anthem, there's no denying that the
young producer has a formidable grip
on dynamics, tension and sound
design. Others have noticed—even
Hyperdub boss Kode9 has been heard
playing his tracks lately. In addition to
"Harlem Shake" on Jeffree's (a Mad
Decent sublabel that has become a
trap outpost of sorts), he's recently
released a 12-inch on LuckyMe with
tracks that see him exploring the
buffed textures of Hudson Mohawke
and Lunice to powerful effect.
"I don't think you can credibly have a
discussion about this whole 'trap' thing
without talking about 'Harlem Shake,'"
says Owchar. He's right. It became
one of the year's most ubiquitous
tracks shortly after appearing on
Rustie's Essential Mix in April. Its
appeal is simple: a cartoonish horn riff
honks over pooling quakes of low-end,
seizing on the hypnotically repetitive
basslines that make Lex Luger's tracks so ﬂoor-friendly. In its wake, mainstream-baiting
DJs like Dillon Francis, Mimosa and others have all started incorporating trap originals,
as well as countless bootleg remixes (highlights this writer has heard so far: Darude's
"Sandstorm" and Pink Floyd's "Money") which underline the formulaic and gimmick-
driven underbelly of the sound. The glut of trap edits mirrors the wave of unofﬁcial
"dubstep remixes" that were ubiquitous two years ago.
I recently made the pilgrimage to #FVDED for one of their biggest nights yet, a double-
header of Baauer and Uz that had a nightclub near-capacity on a Wednesday night.
That's not always an easy thing to do in Vancouver. Waiting in the extremely long line put
me privy to a number of conversations in the vicinity, college-age kids discussing their
favourite dubstep tracks; who belonged in the trap sphere; who was dubstep and so
forth. The opening DJs, Expendable Youth (a duo that includes Owchar) played a
blistering set of trap beats mixed seamlessly with the harshest, squelchiest of dubstep,
and Uz mixed his jackhammer throb in with deafening electro house. The aggressive
audience moshed and jumped to the music in much the same fashion as I've witnessed
at mainstream dubstep shows, signaling that the mentality behind trap is much the same:
mindless, physically punishing dance music.
Trap exists in the UK as well, though it's often taken on a different form. UK artists seem
more content to fold in elements of hip-hop into their productions while retaining their
own distinct personalities. This creates a parallel wave of music that's not quite trap but
shares its stylistic and rhythmic signiﬁers. Rustie's Glass Swords was labeled UK bass by
many, but listen closely to a track like "City Star" and it's essentially southern hip-hop,
snares jiggling like gelatinous blobs with loud, obnoxious horns. Meanwhile, former Vex'd
member Kuedo released his ﬁrst full-length Severant, an elegiac and contemplative synth
album heavily informed by John Carpenter and Vangelis, but draped with hyperactive
trap-rap snares throughout. While neither of these records are trap, both are sonically
sympathetic with the movement.
Meanwhile, Warp signee Hudson Mohawke has teamed up with Montreal's Lunice (a
fellow member of Glasgow's colourful LuckyMe crew) to begin the TNGHT project, which
this year released an EP of larger-than-life anthems with a self-proclaimed goal to make
beats for actual rappers. The release was easily one of 2012's most hotly anticipated,
and its tracks have been in heavy rotation for all manner of DJs. Its genre-crossing
reception has pushed trap even further into the spotlight. And so did their "Mission
Statement" mix earlier this year. Labelled "trap-rave," it featured plenty of their own
productions mixed with like-minded tracks from Chief Keef, Waka Flocka Flame and
several other artists whose styles of hip-hop have contributed to the rise of trap.
Any emergent genre is full of inevitable bandwagoners, yet trap seems deﬁned by it
rather than merely affected by it. This is even more of an "internet genre" than dubstep or
moombahton, music popularized through Twitter and SoundCloud. As a result, most of
the people making and enjoying it have no real connection with the original trap-rap
scene—even though they gladly utilize its violent tropes. "A lot of these kids genuinely
love straight-up trap music, they're just expressing that enthusiasm for it in a way that
relates to them—a joyful, partying, affectionately ironic way... the appropriation issues
can be viewed more like unfortunate byproducts of meta-modern kids being inspired by
something outside of their direct world, the same impulse which drives this generation's
identity-deﬁning tools such as Tumblr," explains Jamie Teasdale, who produces as
Irony is as big a
part of trap at this
point as the snares.
It's hard to tell
what's supposed to
be serious and
been beginning his
sets with the
FUNERAL," a track
that intones "trap"
repeatedly to a
melody. He also
recently uploaded a
"trap remix" of the Batman theme, a 2-second track consisting of a single Trapaholics
sample. The jokes are made all the more confusing by the fact that you're bound to hear
stuff you could conceivably call trap in his DJ sets anyway.
Part of what makes trap so objectionable in the eyes of some is its appropriation for
populist ends. What made the original trap so gripping was its gritty drama, its "realness."
"[Trap now is] largely a middle class movement that has borrowed not only the musical
devices of that form, but also taken the cultural symbols, including the name itself...
[which is] intensely problematic," explains Teasdale. "They're appropriating social
references totally alien to them, sampling lyrics about crack houses, machine gun ﬁre,
and most of all, the name of the music itself. Crack house music. That's the thing that's
The proliferation of artists and entities operating under the trap banner means that some
are already quick to distance themselves. "I'm not communicating with this EDM-trap
scene at all," says Teasdale, "yet people are beginning to assume I'm a part of it. That's
jeopardizing my ability to play the rap music I love, as to do so would be seen as
participating in this self-organizing EDM-trap scene. I'm never going to be a consensual
member of it. It now refers to a college party soundtrack, one that's very close to being a
successor to brostep."
The sudden ubiquity of trap mirrors the appearance of wobble-heavy, tear-out dubstep a
few years ago. And, with it, the building up of barriers between the "good" and the "bad,"
the "original" and the "new" has been equally as quick. It's impossible to say whether the
rapidly-swelling bubble will burst or maintain, but the growing backlash by both fans and
artists alike is telling. "A great deal of this music is very good, and the best tracks totally
deserve all the plays and celebration they've received," Teasdale begins, "and people like
TNGHT have good and fully informed artistic intentions. They're not trying to create this
scene. It's just unfortunate that those who are wishing to create a genre [around trap]
haven't been more sensitive to the social issues nested around it."
Thu, 1 Nov 2012
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From a genre synthesis perspective I don't think there's much wrong with the
blend. I feel kind of queasy though about real hip hop and rap being "re-
contextualized" into party music for mostly white dudes. You can call it musical
inspiration, but it's bigger than that...cherry-picking elements of a gangsta rap
culture that you think are chill without paying any notice to their larger cultural
framework or where it came from is appropriation...which isn't "sampling"...it's
what's wrong with new, sub and interrelating genres of music? surely like art, it is
in constant developement and reinvention.some people need to chill and broaden
social issues subject is stupid. Why do some people get so touchy and
pretentious? Inspiration and roots can come from anything. A lot of good stuff
comes from dark and unpleasant backgrounds.
Also, there seems to be a lot of hypocrisy around the alikness and repetitiveness
within trap music. House music is so repetitive, and sometimes throughout a set
the rhythms/beats barely shift. yet I don't see people being so anti house.
great article, also the graﬁx looks hot and unique, thanks for the effort!
I did a 15 minutes Trap Video Mix,
maybe you guys can check it and let me know how you like it :-)
the route from which trap was realised should be recognised by those who wish to
question it's substance and sustainability
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