What The Hell Is Trap Music?

By Rebecca Haithcoat

You may have heard the term "trap music." You may even realize that what people are calling "trap music" today, which sounds a whole lot like dubstep, is not necessarily what people were calling "trap music" a few years ago.

So, what the hell is trap music?

Not too long ago, "trap" referred simply to a place where drugs were sold -- hence the title of T.I.'s 2003 breakout album Trap Muzik, and the line from Yung Joc's jittery snap song "It's Goin' Down": "Meet me in the trap."

There's something poetic about this usage, with overtones of being "trapped" in the lifestyle. Trap music derived from this slang, and was associated with dealing, gang-banging or sipping drank, i.e. codeine/promethazine cough syrup mixed with soda.

Trap music in this connotation was characterized by soulful synths, 808s, the pan flute, sharp snares and long, syrup-slurred vowels. To take a step backwards, then, early '90s groups like Three 6 Mafia and UGK were making trap music before the term was coined. Many toss in Houston's DJ Screw and his "Chopped and Screwed" technique as well.

By the time Trap Muzik was released, trap seemed to have found its heart in Atlanta, and rappers Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy gained popularity in coming years. In 2005, Jeezy emerged with group Boyz n da Hood and further cemented his status as a "trap rapper" on his solo work Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101. Gucci Mane exploded with "So Icy" from his '05 debut Trap House.

More recently, Gucci protégé Waka Flocka Flame and producer Lex Luger teamed up to define and further morph the genre. Luger's signature glittery ascending synth, beefy and aggressive bass lines and Flocka's bark collided to create a coked-up monster of a sound. Their highly addictive songs have dominated hip-hop in recent years and thus have been, naturally, appropriated.

In fact, in recent months electronic dance music producers began fostering their own version of trap. "It began blowing up heavy [in L.A.] in May or June," says L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss. On Weiss' blog, writer Son Raw praises Diplo-led label Mad Decent affiliates UZ and Baauer as heading up the new breed of producers making "trap out[side] the trap."

"On paper it's easy to chalk this up to another irony drenched hipster-hop shitbag from the cultural movement that brought you Spank Rock ... [but] this shit is actually pretty good," he writes. The same keyed-up snares Luger uses are audible, and while the sound is still muscular, the production is much less belligerent and doesn't teem with the unchecked testosterone of say, "Snake in the Grass."

This now-morphed version of trap can be heard in stuff Flying Lotus spins at Low End Theory, in RL Grime and Salva's remix of Kanye's "Mercy" or, especially, Baauer's "Harlem Shake."

You could basically call it the next phase of dubstep. It plays at a club-ready 140 bpm while retaining dubstep's craze-inducing drops. (That said, eschewing the over-hyped and much-disparaged name "dubstep" is definitely a good PR move.)

Don't expect it to spread far and wide, however. Party promoter Adam Weiss says the new version of trap doesn't stir the crowd at his "twerk" warehouse parties like ratchet and traditional trap. It seems to fit most seamlessly either into experimental beat nights like Low End or clubs where partiers already are accustomed to massive drops.

But who knows? Genres shift and morph with lightning speed nowadays. One expects a new permutation of "trap" sound will crop up sooner rather than later. In other words: Trap might've moved up out of the hood for now, but it probably will be headed home at some point.

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