Trap is the most explosive, and also the most short-lived genre of the year, mixing danceable rap productions from the South of the United States with sounds from rave music and dubstep, with lyrics about drugs, money and “bitches”. But some people say it is dead already. This is the story of the rise and fall of trap in 2012.
1. Soundcloud killed a hip hop star
As I am writing these lines, I am connected to the Boiler Room. Notting Hill is having a carnival and Lunice is opening a set with “ Trap Funeral” (you can listen to it just above this). “RIP TRAP 2012 – 2012” is what the description of this track on Soundcloud says, which has barely been posted a week. Nevertheless, there have been more than a few mentions on Twitter of hashtag #trapfuneral over the last two months. “Who’s died?” some people will be wondering. They don’t know what’s up because they haven’t even had time to find out that what’s hot in certain rap electronic circles, is trap. Or, to clarify, that by taking elements of Southern rap and mixing them with brushstrokes of modern European club music, voilà, you have an instant banger. This is the story of the most fleeting fashion that we can remember: the new age of trap.
2. What is trap?
Both insiders and outsiders have declared the end of one of the most shining musical hypes in history. No one recalls another genre (or subgenre, depending on the relevance you want to give it) that has perished in less than a full year. From 2012 to 2012. But was this thing that everyone labels as trap on Soundcloud really born this year? Not at all. What came this year was the exploiting of this sound by a horde of bedroom producers who were following in the footsteps of a few names, who have already come out as the representatives of a new style. It has even been mentioned as the new dubstep. And, like dubstep before it put an outrageous amount of money into Skrillex’s account, it has its origins back in the day. More or less, here they are.
It is the end of the 90s and the American rap nation is trying to reconcile its two coasts after losing 2Pac and Biggie. It is doing so through super-sales and Timbaland productions. Meanwhile, somewhere in Houston and up to his eyeballs in codeine, DJ Screw invents chopped & screwed, and popularises syrup, which spreads through the southern part of the United States until it reaches, say, Tennessee, where Three 6 Mafia baptises the brew as purple drank with “Sippin’ On Some Syrup”.
Nevertheless, the term “trap” would not officially be coined until T.I. dedicated an entire album to it in 2003, “Trap Muzik”. “And if you don't know what the trap is, that's basically where drugs are sold”, explained T.I. himself, when talking about his album. From that point on, a lot of the rap that came out of the Southern states was basically focused on continuing this sound concept. This is where Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka, OJ Da Juiceman, Wooh Da Kid and the rest of the folks who, one way or another, passed through 1017 Brick Squad come in. Alongside the labels that fed into it - So Icey Entertainment and Mizay Entertainment (where Waka’s “momage” was CEO) – and those who contributed their grain of sand to Trap-A-Holics with their mixtapes, before they got shot. Whether we’re talking about Tennessee or Houston, the subject matter of trap music is the same: kush, dealers, syrup, bling bling, selling drugs. Something that is both removed from and attractive to middle-class white kids all over the world, who spend their afternoons playing with their GTA and smoking weed.
Do you remember the first time you heard “Hard In Da Paint”? Didn’t you have the melody stuck in your head for days, maybe weeks? Through midi blasts and snapping high hats, Lex Luger massively managed to get people to embrace the hair-raising but exciting feeling of living somewhere where everything revolves around drugs; where there is codeine running like oil gushing out of an oilfield and your chances of running into gunfire are getting higher every day. Shortly thereafter came another banger by a producer in the same line: “Blowin’ Money Fast”, by Rick Ross. People liked the formula; it was spreading like it never had before. So much so that Kanye quickly snapped up Luger’s favours for himself. A year later, the man who had fanned the flames of trap fever with his sound shockwave would declare in an interview with the New York Times: “Everybody’s trapped in the trap sound. [...] I’m trying to get out”. It was 2011 and the father of the sound was washing his hands of it. This is how the chronicle of a death foretold begins.
3. 2012. But how did we get here?
Flosstradamus was a duo of Chicago producers whose career had been progressing discreetly through mixtapes, mixes and the occasional EP on Fool’s Gold (Flosstradamus’ J2K is Kid Sister’s brother, and therefore the brother-in-law of A-Trak, the owner of Fool’s Gold). And then, at the beginning of 2012, the duo’s career took an unexpected turn. They put out the remix of Major Lazer’s “Original Don” and replaced the jumpstyle of the original cut with the high-hats and snares that we had all been listening to in Southern rap for a long time. Diplo, who is clever and knows exactly how to choose his hype, saw the chance and put out Flosstradamus’ “Total Recall” on Jeffree’s, another two cuts of progressive jumpstyle transformed into dirty Southern or, as the description of the EP says, “post-apocalyptic trap”.
So let’s pause for a moment and analyse the concept of Jeffree’s. As we have said, Diplo is equally as clever as he is a digger. Not to mention how big his network of contacts has to be. But Mad Decent is not the Good Samaritan of underground electronica, and M.I.A.’s ex doesn’t want to lose a single petro-dollar, young Yankee entrepreneur that he is. And so was born Jeffree’s, a netlabel where everything is free. Artists release EPs in exchange for hanging the “Diplo” label of origin on their work, meanwhile the Baltimore musician can test how the shit that excites him the most works, whilst avoiding major disasters on his mother-label. In less than 10 months, Jeffree’s has released 24 pieces, among which we find not only little stars of this new, supposedly dying trap (like Baauer and UZ), but also other highlights of Tumblr internet cannon fodder, such as Zebra Katz (champion of queer rap). Is Diplo the main suspect if we are looking for the killer of the genre? Well, yes and no. Later, we’ll see why. Let’s go on with 2012 and the new trap, rave trap.
We’ve just been through some years in which clubbing on both sides of the Atlantic has incorporated hip hop into it as a danceable genre and R&B (especially mainstream) has added dance rhythms to its sound palette. You go to the same urban club you’ve always gone to and now you hear Calvin Harris. You go to your good old electronica club and you find the DJ playing Kanye West. For someone under the age of twenty-one, with production software and a desire to have a million “followers”, the stylistic barrier that used to be between the two worlds simply doesn’t exist, it’s natural. As far as the primary Flosstradamus formula goes (t)rap + jumpstyle + progressive works as perfectly as R&Bass or moombahton remixes. That is what happens with Baauer, a kid from Brooklyn who, as Mad Decent said when it introduced “Harlem Shake” to the world, has been doing UK bass as much as he has Southern rap. Since Rustie played it in his Essential Mix, it has become an instant classic. There is no need to say that regardless of whether trap is dead, killed, or dying, “Harlem Shake” is one of the songs of the year.
4. Uzis, uzis and more uzis
While Flosstradamus were kicking off the “new era of trap”, a secret agent was opening a Soundcloud account under the name ︻╦╤─ ƱZ ─╤╦︻ and started to post tracks with the generic name “Trap Shit v#”. Three months and six cuts later, Jeffrree’s released “TRAP SHIT 6/9”, with four songs – two of them unreleased to date– in which, unlike Flosstradamus or Baauer’s productions, the “less is more” philosophy triumphed over everything else. No vocal drops, no house or moombahton grafting, no runaway airhorns. UZ’s EP came out in June and in the months afterward, the mysterious producer has remixed other soldiers in the movement, such as the previously-mentioned Baauer, Flosstradamus and DJ Sliink (another new cat affiliated with the sound, but with Jersey Club lineage, who has already collaborated with Brenmar and taken up space in the “newcomers” section of the occasional publication). Right now it seems that the interest generated by UZ is focused more on revealing his true identity (it’s enough to see the timeline on Twitter) than on his new productions. An unmistakeable sign that this trend should be taken with a certain dose of scepticism.
5. TNGHT. If it’s Warp, does it work?
One need not have followed every detail of Lunice and Hudson Mohawke’s careers to sense that these two producers were into a lot of the Southern rap from the last decade. Their productions have drawn from this influence an infinite number of times, and in a joint project it was clear that TNGHT’s songs were going to follow in the same line. The Southern lineage is there; but there is also HudMo’s melodic shockwave and Lunice’s dancer-like ability to structure songs. Although the songs on “TNGHT EP” have been floating around on the internet in the form of radio rips, the arrival of the release has come just at the crest of this tsunami. And along with this contextual overdose, we have to admit that things have gotten ugly. Now comes the debate: since it’s released by Warp, should it be saved from the pyre, or on the contrary, since it follows the stylistic line of the hype of the year, is it not so cool anymore? Maybe we should start to consider simply that although it’s a passing trend and won’t make it to the end of the year, there are some songs that will outlive it, underlining that the important thing isn’t what you call it, but how it sounds.
6. Is there life after Jeffree’s?
Of course there is. And in fact, other labels or groups that are into bass, the beats of bedroom producers and electronica are starting to jump on the bandwagon. The first case comes with the collective WEDIDIT, which is home to people like Shlohmo, eLan and Groundislava. In April they kicked off with the debut of RL Grime, “Grapes EP”, another of the names that has become the most relevant in this wave.
A few days ago, LuckyMe announced their signing of Baauer and the release of two EPs on the Glasgow label. The first will be out on 17th September, as a white label; it's called “Dum Dum”, and extracts from it can already be heard online. No details have been given about the other record. Are the Scots jumping on the bandwagon, or do they simply believe in the possibilities of the sound, as produced by people like Baauer, who, with “Harlem Shake”, has already shown he has the ability to make the punters go berserk? Time will tell.
Philadelphia producer Krueger has already released two records on two different European labels (Silverback Recordings, and Paradisiaca). With countless tics and nods to all kinds of danceable genres, his productions are reminiscent of Sinjin Hawke's “The Lights EP” for Pelican Fly.
The Trap wave has also wreaked its havoc in Spain. Three months ago, with the sound coming to the boil, Basque collective Sweat Taste uploaded a track by Vark Mision, the crew's most recent project. “Augustus Hill” is reminiscent of TNGHT's rave trap: an inescapable melody, an oddball attitude, a codeine groove, and a ravey aftertaste.
For those who want to go all the way, we recommend the New York M//O//D collective. They have three free mixtapes out featuring productions by different members of the group, and they've already come to the attention of the Mad Decent posse, who've included one of their tracks in one of the entries on their blog.
Another recommendation is Canadian collective Walmer Convenience. Though in the description of their sound on their Soundcloud page, they don't want to be tagged with any genre, the tracks from the compilations are labelled “trap shit”.
At this point, things are turning darker. There are Facebook groups like Trapdown, or YouTube accounts like Trap City Music, where all kinds of trap stuff are collected from Soundcloud. Those people aren't too fussy; the experience could turn out to be quite disappointing. This, we could say, is where the hype of the year comes to die.
7. In the meantime, Lex Luger…
What has happened to the man who started this whole fire, after he said in 2011 that he was trying to get out of the sound that brought him the recognition of the rap world? The truth is that most of his 2012 productions have been for southerners, although he's also appeared on other works by people like Wiz Khalifa, Rick Ross, and SchoolBoy Q, on which he tried to reinvent himself, which he did fairly successfully. Making those comments to the NY Times, he already showed he's well aware of the havoc he wreaked, but doing what he did was possibly more a bid for survival than an attempt to kill a hype that's already going down the toilet (if you can't be the first to say something's cool, be the first to say it's uncool). A man who delivers 100 beats in a year needs fresh and distinctive sounds to keep up the pace. With a million kids doing the same thing he does, his phone might stop ringing. Pure survival instinct.
Like what happened with dubstep, it could be that trap in its new forms will continue to filter into more commercial sounds, becoming the inspiration for the next Britney Spears album or something similar. However, there still are some veterans playing the game and delivering top-quality material. Gucci Mane, Juicy J, Waka Flocka—they don't seem to feel like calling it quits just yet. Moreover, we've already seen that putting them in jail doesn't stop them from making music. Diplo will keep looking for and embracing other things, and he might soon lose interest in this particular sub-genre, but is he to blame for us choking on the flood of free releases on Jeffree’s?
The number of people uploading tracks to Soundcloud tagged “trap” is proportional to the Mad Decent capo's attention span, so if this hype would have been provoked by a more discreet platform, its public impact would have been smaller. But, who knows, maybe in that case this whole new trap era would have spread through other channels. Although not so fast, we've seen more than one fad die out or transform into things outside the boundaries of our personal tastes, leaving only a few tracks as a reminder.