Can you Take the ‘Trap’ out of ‘Trap Music’?

Written By: Justin Leonard Clardy

There is a cliché that goes, “You can take the homie out the hood, but you can’t take the hood out the homie.” An element of the hood is essential to the homie. Is the trap essential to trap music? Erica Campbell’s trap gospel song (Yes. I said, “trap gospel”.), I Luh God sparks an interesting question, “Can you take the trap out of trap music?”

If you’re like me, you’re faithful to your medically prescribed doses of trap music. The guilty pleasure that allows us all, even if only in three to five minute intervals, to stack bricks in a dimly lit living room full of scales and work. But what is trap music? In other words, what makes trap music, trap music?

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Hip-hop was introduced to the trap by the South through some of its earliest trailblazers T.I., Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy. We get T.I.’s Trap Muzic in 2003, Gucci Mane’s Trap House and Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 101 in 2005 all of which turned the first half decade of the new millennium into a complete #Lituation. The pioneers gave us trap music not far removed from the association with drug dealing. The trap referred to a place where drugs were used, bought, sold, and manufactured and trap music became synonymous with the trap house. Aside from descriptions, trap music explored the emotional complexity and difficult ethical questions of moving weight—not for lack of empathy, but out of social and political necessity. Today, the historical influence of drug trade on the content of trap music probably best explains why it seems to fit the mood of “the grind” most appropriately—trap music doesn’t describe the high life, but instead it describes what it takes to get there. Perhaps these origins of give the lyrical argument its strength: trap music is music where the artist’s lyrics refer to and describe dope houses and drug dealing. But the characterization of trap music has evolved.

When the genre was emerging from the south it brought with it a certain sound. There were 808s and distorted 808s, there were those grimy sharp snares, and that pan flute. Yes, you can hear a beat without lyrics and determine whether it is a trap beat or not. But I hesitate to strip the art’s genre of its cultural metadata. Songs that have now become characterized as trap share in the fact that they usually have one or another of these elements and sometimes in combinations. What we wind up with is songs like See Me Now and Mercy by Ye, Fetty Wap’s trap romance Trap Queen, Campbell’s I Luh God, Diamonds from Africa by Future, Migos’ Forrest Whitaker, all sharing a single genre umbrella. Even worse, Nikki’s Beez in the Trap, which is neither about whippin’ and flippin’ bricks nor does it have the instrumentation traditionally associated with the genre, might garner legitimate support from her Barbz vying for its classification as a trap song. Yep, trap song, no trap.

So what does best characterize trap music? Is it the beat? Is it a song’s lyrical content? I’m all for a dope trap beat. But I do worry that if trap music is characterized by something other than its lyrical content that we might end up taking the trap out of trap music.

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