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What is Trap Music?

What is Trap Music?

Paul Egas Scarino Photography

Paul Egas Scarino Photography

Trap music is a sub genre that originated during the 1990s from Southern hip hop in the Southern United States. It is typified by its ominous lyrics and sound that incorporate double or triple-time sub-divided hi-hats, heavy kick drums from a Roland TR-808, layered synthesizers, and "cinematic" strings. The term "trap" initially referred to places where drug deals take place. In recent years it has been incorporated with electronic dance music (EDM) by artists who have remixed and made trap songs with more EDM-like aspects.


Trap music is defined by its ominous, bleak and gritty lyrical content which varies widely according to the artist. Typical lyrical themes portrayed include observations of hardship in the "trap", street life, poverty, violence and harsh experiences in urban inner city surroundings.

Trap music employs a heavy use of multi-layered hard-lined and melodic synthesizers; crisp, grimy, and rhythmic snares; deep 808 kick drums; double-time, triple-time and similarly divided hi-hats; and a cinematic and symphonic utilization of string, brass, woodwind, and keyboard instruments creating an overall dark, harsh, grim, and bleak atmosphere for the listener. These primary characteristics would go on to be the signature sound of trap music originating from producer Shawty Redd. Trap comes at many different tempos, varying from 100 BPM up to 176 BPM, but the tempo of a typical trap beat is around 140 BPM. Artists such as Future and Travis Scott are prime examples of artists that work at varied tempos.



The term "trap" is used to refer to the place where drug deals are made. The term originated in Atlanta, Georgia, where rappers Cool Breeze, Dungeon Family, Outkast, Goodie Mob, and Ghetto Mafia were some of the first to use the term in their music. In the early 1990s, rappers UGK, 8Ball & MJG, Cool Breeze, Master P, and Ghetto Mafia were among the first rappers other than NWA to introduce the "trap" or drug dealing lifestyle into their music. In 1992, UGK's "Pocket Full of Stones" was one of the earliest records to be released from their major-label debut album Too Hard to Swallow. It was also featured in the 1993 film Menace II Society. In 1996, Master P released his single "Mr. Ice Cream Man" from his fifth studio album Ice Cream Man. Fans and critics started to refer to rappers whose primary lyrical topic was drug dealing, as "trap rappers". David Drake of Complex wrote that "the trap in the early 2000's wasn't a genre, it was a real place", and the term was later adopted to describe the "music made about that place."


During the early-to-mid 2000s, trap music began to emerge as a "trashed" genre after the mainstream success of a number of albums and singles with lyrics that covered topics about life in "the trap", drug dealing and the struggle for success. Several Southern rappers with drug dealer personas such as T.I., Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Yo Gotti, and Rick Ross produced crossover hits and helped expand the popularity of the genre, with trap records beginning to appear more heavily on mixtapes and radio stations outside of the South. Though trap artists were somewhat diverse in their production styles, the signature and quintessential trap sound (typically based around synth, orchestra and string swells with tight, bass-heavy 808 kick drums) that would come to be associated with the genre developed in Atlanta during trap's mid-2000s breakthrough. Some of the notable trap producers during the mid to late 2000s include DJ Toomp, Fatboi, Drumma Boy, Shawty Redd, D. Rich and Zaytoven. The first wave of the trap sound developed was influenced by earlier Southern producers such as Lil Jon, Mannie Fresh and DJ Paul.

With the exception of Outkast, let me think, Goodie Mob... with the exception of that, before I came in the game, it was Lil Jon, Outkast, Goodie Mob, okay so you had Crunk music and you had Organized Noise. There was no such thing as trap music, I created that, I created that. I coined the term, it was my second album, Trap Muzik it dropped in 2003. After that, there was an entire new genre of music created. An open lane for each of you to do what you do, and live your lives, on T.V., and be accepted by the masses. The masses have accepted you 'cause I opened the door and you walked through it. Don't forget who opened that door cuz.

— Atlanta-based rapper T.I., in a December 2012 interview


By the end of the decade, a second wave of trap artists continued to gain momentum and frequently top the Billboard hip hop charts. Trap producer Lex Luger broke out of relative obscurity, gained huge popularity, and went on to produce more than 200 songs between 2010 and 2011, including a number of singles for popular mainstream rap artists such as Rick Ross' "B.M.F. (Blowin' Money Fast)", Kanye West and Jay-Z's "H•A•M", and Waka Flocka Flame's "Hard in da Paint". Since Luger's rise, his signature trap sound has been the heavy use of 808s, crisp snares, fast hi hats, synth keys, and orchestration of brass, strings, woodwind, and keyboards. Many of his sounds have since been adopted and incorporated by other hip hop producers, trying to replicate his success, as Luger is often credited with popularizing the modern trap sound. Since the 2010s, an array of modern trap producers have gained industry popularity, most notably 808 Mafia, Southside, Sonny Digital, TM88, Young Chop, DJ Spinz, and Metro Boomin. Some producers expanded their range to other genres, such as R&B (Mike WiLL Made It) and electronic music (AraabMuzik).

Throughout 2011 and 2012, trap music maintained a strong presence on the mainstream Billboard music charts with a number of records released by rappers such as Young Jeezy, Chief Keef and Future. Jeezy's single "Ballin" reached number 57 on the Billboard charts and was considered one of Jeezy's best tracks in some time. Future's single, "Turn on the Lights", was certified gold and entered at number 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Keef's "I Don't Like" and "Love Sosa" generated over 30 million views on YouTube, spawning a new subgenre within trap called drill. Music critics called drill production style the "sonic cousin to skittish footwork, southern-fried hip-hop and the 808 trigger-finger of trap." Young Chop is frequently identified by critics as the genre's most characteristic producer. The sound of trap producer Lex Luger's music is a major influence on drill, and Young Chop identified Shawty Redd, Drumma Boy and Zaytoven as important precursors to the drill movement. "I Don't Like" inspired fellow Chicago native, notable hip hop producer and rapper Kanye West to create a remix of the song, which was included on his label GOOD Music's compilation album Cruel Summer. Stelios Phili of GQ called trap music "the sound of hip hop in 2012."

Since maintaining a strong presence on the mainstream music charts, trap music has been utilized by non-hip hop artists. R&B singer Beyoncé's songs "Drunk in Love", "Flawless" and "7/11", all from her 2013 album Beyoncé, also contained trap influences. American dance-pop singer Lady Gaga recorded a trap-inspired song titled "Jewels 'n Drugs" for her 2013 album Artpop, featuring rappers T.I., Too Short and Twista. The combination of pop and trap music was met with mixed responses from critics. In September 2013, American pop singer Katy Perry released a song titled "Dark Horse" featuring rapper Juicy J, from her 2013 album Prism, that incorporated trap flavors. The song reached the pinnacle of the Billboard Hot 100 by the end of January 2014.

In May 2015, trap music once again surfaced the top of mainstream music charts as New Jersey rapper Fetty Wap's hit single "Trap Queen" peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Fetty Wap's subsequent singles, "My Way" and "679", also reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making him the first male rapper to have three songs in the top 20, since Eminem in 2013.

In 2016, Brooklyn-based rapper Desiigner gained major recognition upon the release of "Panda" as his debut mixtape single which topped the US BillboardHot 100 chart. The commercial success of trap songs also began to be assisted by Internet memes, as was the case with Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane's "Black Beatles" which reached number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after exposure through the 'Mannequin Challenge' internet phenomenon. Similarly, in 2017 the collaboration between Migos and Lil Uzi Vert "Bad and Boujee", with the now popularly spread lyrics "Raindrop (Drip), Drop top (Drop Top)" reached number-one after internet meme exposure.

EDM development

In 2012, electronic dance music (EDM) which incorporated elements of trap music, began gaining popularity. Most of these sub genres combined snare and hi-hats typical to hip hop music and sub-bass and slow tempos of dubstep, creating "dirty, aggressive beats [and] dark melodies." Electronic music producers, such as Diplo, TNGHT, Baauer, Keys N Krates, Bro Safari, Luminox, RL Grime, and Yellow Claw expanded the popularity, and brought wider attention to the derivative forms of trap. This genre saw the use of techno, dub, and house sounds combined with the Roland TR-808 drum samples and vocal samples typical of trap.

In the later half of 2012, these various offshoots of trap became increasingly popular and made a noticeable impact on the American electronic dance music scene. The music was initially dubbed simply as "trap" by producers and fans, which led to the term "trap" being used to address the music of both rappers and electronic producers, to much confusion among followers of both. Instead of referring to a single genre, the term "trap" has been used to describe two separate genres of hip hop and dance music. The new wave of the genre has been labeled by some as EDM trap to distinguish it from the rap genre. The evolving EDM trap has seen incorporation and stylistic influences from dubstep, in which trap has been hailed as the superseding phase of dubstep during the mid 2010s. The new phase typically plays at 140 BPM with strong bass drops, which has been growing in popularity since 2013.

In 2013, a fan-made video of electronic trap producer Baauer's track "Harlem Shake" became an internet meme, propelling the track to become the first trap song to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. This challenge consisted of one person dancing to the rhythm of the song until the beat dropped, in which then whoever else within the video would dance along with the person dancing in the beginning. Five popular EDM trap producers performed at the 2013 Ultra Music Festival in the United States – Carnage, ƱZ, DJ Craze, Baauer and Flosstradamus.  The 2013 Tomorrowland festival featured a "Trap Stage".

On February 10, 2013, All Trap Music released their debut compilation album which featured 19 tracks from artists such as RL Grime, Flosstradamus, Baauer, Bro Safari, Buku, 12th Planet, Hucci and UZ. Described by the music press as the first album of its kind it reached number two in the iTunes dance chart with Vibe stating it was "the world's biggest-selling EDM trap album ever." In 2013, DJ Snake and Lil Jon released the single "Turn Down For What", which became both a commercial hit charting in several countries and a critical hit. Rolling Stone voted "Turn Down For What" as the second best song of 2014, saying that, "The year's nutsiest party jam was also the perfect protest banger for a generation fed up with everything. DJ Snake brings the synapse-rattling EDM and Southern trap music; Lil Jon brings the dragon-fire holler for a hilarious, glorious, glowstick-punk fuck you."

Trap music has also found fame internationally, especially in South Korea. In November 2014, the K-pop duo G-Dragon and Taeyang of the South Korean boy band BIGBANG, released their single "Good Boy", where it incorporated strong elements of trap and electronic flavors. The single garnered 2 million views in less than 24 hours and was met with positive reviews from music critics. In June 2015, trap again resurfaced in the K-pop sphere when BIGBANG released their commercial hit single Bang, Bang, Bang. The single was a critical and commercial success in South Korea reaching the apex of the Gaon Digital Chart, eventually selling more than 1 million digital singles by August 2015.

Latin trap

In 2015, a new movement of trap music referred to as "Latin Trap", began to emerge. Prominent artists of the subgenre include Messiah, Fuego, Anuel AA and Bad Bunny. In July 2017 The Fader wrote "Rappers and reggaetoneros from Puerto Rico to Colombia have taken elements of trap — the lurching bass lines, jittering 808s and the eyes-half-closed vibe — and infused them into banger after banger, which you can listen to on Trap Land, a playlist curated by Spotify." In a August 2017 article for Billboard's series, "A Brief History Of," they enlisted some of the artists key to the Latin Trap movement -- including Ozuna, De La Ghetto, Bad Bunny, Farruko and Messiah -- to narrate a brief history on the genre. Elias Leight of Rolling Stone noted "[Jorge] Fonseca featured Puerto Rican artists like Anuel AA, Bryant Myers and Noriel on the compilation Trap Capos: Season 1, which became the first "Latin trap" LP to reach Number One on Billboard's Latin Rhythm Albums chart."[47] A remixed version of Cardi B's hit single "Bodak Yellow" (which reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart), dubbed the "Latin Trap Remix", was officially released on August 18, 2017.[48] The song features Cardi B rapping in the Spanish language and includes Dominican hip hop recording artist Messiah contributing a guest verse.[

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