“I used to hit the kitchen lights, cockroaches everywhere…
Now I hit the kitchen lights and there’s marble floors everywhere.” (Young Jeezy | Thug Motivation)
“In a cloud of smoke and we playing this Marvin, momma forgive me but we ain’t thinking about Harvard.
That’s too far away, niggas is starving, nothing wrong with the aim, just gotta change the target…” (Jay-Z | American Dreamin’)
I scan the crowd, this bubbling, vibrant mass of boundless energy and take a moment to reflect on how much things have changed… while in many ways, remaining the same.
I started partying at about 17, with high hopes and a higher libido. Despite being spectacularly unsuccessful at attracting women, there was something about this environment where the right song at the right moment could unite hundreds or thousands of friends and relative strangers into a collective mass of sweat and lowered inhibitions.
One of the greatest things about music, regardless of genre, is its transformative property; its potential ability showcase a lifestyle, a culture, an emotional or psychological state that the listener may have little to no actual experience with while simultaneously serving as a voice for those who can relate. As a writer, my favorite music feels more like the soundtrack to a compelling story which is why ‘trap’ (or ‘coke rap’ as it’s also been labeled in the past) has been and still remains one of my favorite genres.
Flash forward nearly a decade later. I’m the emcee for Atlanta DJ Heroes x Villains and tonight we’re performing in front of over 1500 people; there’s no shortage of glow sticks, neon halos, light gloves, and furry boots. This is a rave which has experienced a revival in recent years as ‘electronic dance music’ (an umbrella term) has become increasingly popular in America. This is not the kind of party where you might expect to hear a barrage of bass heavy, hard hitting, Southern rap records but for the last three years, Heroes x Villains has mixed ‘trap’ and electronic music with great success.
The crowd, mostly Caucasian and suburban can recite every word to every rap song they hear tonight. Back when I was 17, I would have never imagined this. Now… I wouldn’t expect anything else.
“I’m talking about life… and all I hear is, “Oh yeah, he keeps talking about crack…” (Jay-Z | What We Talkin’ About)
“Sound underground like I’m rapping in a dope house… might as well be the way the Feds got me scoped out…” (T.I. | Trap Muzik)
While Southern rap has dominated the hip-hop genre for nearly a decade, the ‘trap,’ a slang term for impoverished, typically inner city neighborhoods where narcotics dealing (along with the violence and mass addiction that typically follows it) is frequently used to make money, can be found in any metropolitan area in the United States. N.W.A. in Compton, The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z in Brooklyn, Pusha T in Norfolk, UGK in Port Arthur and even Rick Ross, with his Cocaine Cowboys meets Grimm’s fairy tales (which he spins as fast as Rumpelstiltskin turned straw into gold) in Miami. They have all used the ‘trap’ in their respective cities as inspiration for their work.
At times, the trap is used to make social commentaries about the failures of trickle down, ‘Reaganomics’ and decades of the ‘War On Drugs.’ Other times, the trap is a backdrop in a Joseph Campbell-like ‘Hero’s Journey;’ with the rapper as a proverbial Odysseus navigating a world filled with cocaine, dirty money, digital scales, expensive baubles, ‘loose’ women, and questionable associates. All while trying of avoid their arch nemesis… the police. Like all stories throughout human history, the acumen of the storyteller is more important than innovation or factual accuracy. Rappers have been telling the stories of the trap for nearly 20 years. In that time, rap music and by extension, hip-hop culture, has gone from niche to one of America’s primary global exports.
While most residents of the ‘trap’ still (unfortunately) remained trapped, ‘trap’ music escaped a long time ago. It became community property, as music tends to become once enough people hear and enjoy it.
To understand that is to understand how we got here: a world where rap and electronic music, once very separate cultures, have now come together. You don’t have to be black kid growing up in Brooklyn during the tail end of the Crack Era like me to love Jay-Z and you don’t have to be the white punk kid growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Savannah like Heroes x Villains to love Young Jeezy. People of various ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds and artistic disciplines have been inspired by (whether by proxy or from direct experience) the stories of the trap over the past two decades… producers of electronic music are merely adding themselves to the list.
Trap Muzik… a primer: To some parts of the country, ‘trap’ music may be a more recent phenomena but for those of us living in the South, especially Atlanta, trap music is as ubiquitous as strip clubs and sweet tea. Below is a list of my current favorites from the genre this year, showcasing the rapid progression of trap music in recent months:
Banned: Mixed by Flosstradamus
This Chicago duo have been smashing lately and their newest mix is no exception. An excellent primer if you’re unfamiliar with the marriage of rap and electronic music (Click here for download link and track list)
Good Hunting & Cold Summer: Mixed by VAVLT BOYZ
Born in a sexy, clandestine bar at the W in Midtown, the VAVLT BOYZ duo of Heroes x Villains and BLKMORRIS, create ‘luxury trap.’ The result is a lush, textured sound that’s perfect for the after party or the intimate after party. Newest member Respire expertly handles the baton with Cold Summer.Both mixes are recommended… for best results, listen with a lovely guest nearby (Click here for Cold Summer)
Dope Girl Anthems: Mixed by Speakerfoxxx. Hosted by Gangsta Boo
This remains one of my favorite mixes from this year. If you’re in the mood for straight windows down, trunk rattling trap music, look no further. Play this on the way to the club and try not to get kicked out once inside.
Trapacana: Mixed by BLKMORRIS & Ira G.
Summer is almost winding down, so get your ass to the pool or beach while you still can, with your favorite cocktail on hand and this mix on the speakers. Listen for out for trap tracks ‘Original Choppaz’ by Heroes x Villains and ‘Brick Squad Anthem’ by Mayhem x Antiserum.
There’s also three underground mix tapes that also warrant mentioning: FKi’s ‘Transformers In the Hood,’ where the duo rap over the kind loopy, bass heavy electronic beats inspired by Atlanta’s strip clubs and Atlanta’s ‘rave’ scene. They embraced the marriage of trap and electronic music long before ‘trap’ became a buzz word. Two-9 is like the Atlanta version of Odd Future (but very different at the same time) and their mix tape, ‘Two-9 Forever’ is really great. I’ve seen them perform a few times and their energy is absolutely incredible… more of a punk rock show than a rap show (which I typically dislike). And lastly, the third installment of Mach Five’s ‘Ratchet Shit’ series which has features from Gangsta Boo and Juicy J. If Kid Cudi made trap music, it would probably sound something like this.
Regardless if you’re already familiar with trap music or heard a few things and are interested in hearing more, all of the music I mentioned above comes highly recommended.
Written by Julian Caesar
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