Trap
Future Music|August 2021
A genre? A movement? A key element of hip-hop? This month we explore the roots of the modern trap sound

All genres evolve; some more than others. Ten years ago, the dominant view of trap would be that it was an offshoot of the all-new EDM phenomenon sweeping the USA. Ten years prior? A select few in the Deep South hip-hop scene might have understood the slang, if not necessarily thought of it as a genre. Now? It’s a mainstay of pop music as much as it’s a production style or a musical scene. Let’s dig back into the history and explain why genres aren’t always easy to pin down.

To understand trap in its original, hip-hop context, you would firstly need to consider the word itself. Originating in Atlanta, Georgia, ‘trap’ is a loosely defined slang term meaning a place where drugs are sold. The related concepts of trap houses and ‘trapping’, ie selling drugs, became common subject matter for a wave of ’90s southern rappers. In its first incarnation, trap music was referring simply to southern rap tracks whose lyrics covered drug-related subject matter.

Drug references in hip-hop go way back, most notably courtesy of Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s 1983 hit White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It), but there’s a fatalism and a nihilism to southern trap that sets it apart from the conflicted but often glorifying takes on drug dealing that you might find elsewhere. Take Texas rap duo UGK’s proto-trap 1992 hit Pocket Full Of Stones and you’ll get a sense of the unabashed way Southern rappers told stories of drug dealing: “Living real smooth like aloe vera lotion/I’m selling crack rock, the devil’s love potion...”

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