Entrapment: The Story of Hip-Hop’s Saddest Subgenre
Originating in the 90s Deep South, trap is a hip-hop subgenre that has continuing impact and influence on music. Sad boys. Drank. Face tattoos. Don’t let the surface distract from this brilliant time for music and fandom.
2 Chainz (Photo: Paras Griffin / Getty)
Its sound is characterized by a distinct darkness and melancholy plus an abundance of mashups and collaborations. Trap stars now often become celebrities, going from humble beginnings to being discovered online and receiving enormous fandom and wealth. The gateway to stardom was thrust wide open for anyone with sick rhythm, some basic recording equipment and increasingly, a penchant for facial tattoos and outspokenness - and maybe even facial diamonds in Lil Uzi Vert's case.
Often, trap can be a subdued, diluted, slowed down take on more popularized rap BPMs. Some of the sentimentalist attributes and lyricism (high-pitched/auto-tuned vocals and/or heavy sampling) feels dance-derived, whilst the haze (low frequency, and a morphed, repetitive flow) feels specifically dub-influenced. Trap's also been described as southern trance music.
From Atlanta to Baltimore
Like all things great (R.E.M, Andre 3000, Deerhunter and the Real Housewives to name a few), trap comes from the huge southern state famed not just for its hip-hop and rap royalty but also its rock and its reality TV stars. The name comes from the slang ‘trap houses,’ the slur given to a place of heavy drug sales and drug use that many have found themselves badly stuck in the business of.
People got trapped in the system and amongst other things had to create their own language in order to survive. The 1996 Olympics provided a chance for the city of Atlanta to polish up, which led to numerous discriminations. Public housing was torn down, the people spoke. Blog notoriety rose, and the type of rap coming out of places like Atlanta, Detroit and Baltimore started spreading across America and featuring on mainstream shows like Baltimore-set The Wire.
Let’s skip back a moment. Does New York in the 1970s ever miss a beat, never not get a look into the best things that spring from pop culture? What a time. Disco meant the rise of DJ culture, before the likes of DJs Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash paved the way for the hip-hop scene into the 80s, and by the time trap became prominent in the 90s after Dre and N.W.A.’s ‘gangsta rap', it was almost the new jazz: street poetry for social justice across cities and towns in the United States.
Despite the obviously strong and unfiltered lyrical elements of trap, it’s a respected art form. As the internet allowed for less censorship, self-produced and self-released material began to rise to the top of the slush pile and by the 2010s, x-rated songs were making it to the top 10. Trap was less faithful to hip-hop as people knew it with clear choruses and some uplift. There was a lot of debate as to where trap's place was in the hip-hop world. Something more sinister was afoot, audiences dug it, and times were changing. Gucci Mane, Migos and Def Jam’s hottest signee 2 Chainz made it big, fast.
Fetty Wap may have created his 2014 hit 'Trap Queen’ as summons for the real deal to arrive six years later with 2020’s hugest-performing song both online, on the airwaves and on scandalous billboards: that’s right, the groundbreaking, sex-positive ‘WAP’ by OG trap queens Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B. In 2010s Spain, La Zowie and Ms Nina - and even Rosalía in part - made waves on the trap stage. Like the rise of reggaeton, they helped bring trap beats and rhymes in other languages to mainstream ears. These artists also brought a glamour and fabulousness to trap’s culture and image that was missing from the sad boy clan.
Sound has been sampled, spliced, reworked and reimagined more and more as analog equipment advanced and digital equipment and internet communication made the possibilities literally endless. This practice is known as ‘plunderphonia’ and you pretty much won’t hear a trap track that isn’t plunderphonic. ‘WAP’ actually takes a sample of Frank Ski's 1993 Baltimore club single ‘Wh*res in This House’ and reimagines the slant of the song with a modern, feminist take of women seeking pleasure, not providing it.
Back to the future
Trap gave and gives a voice and new hope to youngsters of lower socioeconomic status seeking justice and a life outside of their origins. Songs, videos and branding from trap stars that focus on money, status and wealth are rarely without self-consciousness. Trap, like emo (which many of its rappers crossover into with their themes of despair and chaos) has become a subculture, a way of life. The more successful notes of trap's young history give us something to be happy about.