Origins Overlooked: Trap Music in Mainstream Music

Origins Overlooked: Trap Music in Mainstream Music

Photo Credits: CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE

While trap flourishes in popular culture, the story of its inception does not

Depending on the person, the word “trap” can mean many things. Thanks to the rise of trap music in mainstream media, the words trap and trapping are now glorified, epitomizing a chic image that everyone wants to get behind. Stickers that say “trap house” now pervade the outside of Hydroflask canteens and trap-style beats are being used as background music for commentators to speak over, such as in HBO’s “Game of Thrones: Game Revealed,” a behind-the-scenes special for the world’s most popular television series. As the trap bandwagon becomes laden with suburban teenagers, Hollywood producers and cross-genre musicians, so does the concern that those who appropriate the culture do not understand the origins of the trap.

The word “trap” is meant to reference an inescapable place in the ‘hood — a place where one hustles and does anything necessary to leave the trap behind. Conversely, those who thrive in the trap use the word to reference a place where the money comes and never leaves, but as the word circulates popular culture, little homage is paid to those inner-city individuals who have survived the trap or have used it as a means to propel their hidden talents into the limelight.

The implementation of the word “trap” into popular culture is undoubtedly attributed to the widespread fame that trap music knows today. Although most music connoisseurs think of 1017 BRICK SQUAD and Lex Luger when they think of the iconic trap sound, it predates those trap stars by decades. Slowly but surely, trap music rose to prominence through the 1980s with musical groups like World Class Wreckin’ Cru (two of whose members went on to form N.W.A.) and 2 Live Crew.

For those interested in a breakdown of the trap sound, it goes 1/3 hip hop (tempo and song structure are similar, most tracks are usually between 70 -110 bpm), 1/3 Dance Music  (high pitched Dutch synth work, Hardstyle sampling) and 1/3 dub (Low-frequency focus and a strong emphasis on repetitiveness throughout a song), according to runthetrap.com. The man who coined this now-immortal beat type was was Greg Broussard, otherwise known as Egyptian Lover, a Los Angeles-based musician, producer and D.J.

Broussard produced his beats with the Roland TR-808, the same machine that was used by Afrika Bambaataa and producer Arthur Baker to create the ultra-popular 1982 track “Planet Rock,” which served as the catalyst for the soon-to-boom L.A. electro and hip-hop scene. What Broussard did differently than Baker, though, was tweak the settings of the TR-808, as many other producers who followed in his footsteps would do as well.

Aldrin Davis, a remote protégé of Broussard, voiced the exact technique that Broussard used to create his compositions.

“When I started playing around with the 808 drum machine, I noticed that when you turn the one little knob up that says ‘decay,’ it’ll make the bass stretch out,” Davis said in an interview with Complex Magazine. “But I never knew back in ’85 how I could actually use that sound. […] Ain’t no telling what ‘Planet Rock’ would have been if they would have let that decay kick off back then. That shit would have changed the world, for real. It would have blown a lot of speakers, too.”

Davis would go on to produce a large number of tracks for Atlanta-based artists in the late ’80s, all of which would lead to his work with T.I., who brought the word “trap” into popular culture with his album “Trap Muzik” in 2003. From there, it’s all history — synth tracks would remain simple, 808s would whop in the background and hi-hats would be cranked up to an inhuman speed: the iconic sound of trap music.

Somewhere later in that history, subgenres would be created, such as “future bass,” “boomtrap” and “trap step” to be performed on E.D.M. stages, Grammy-nominations would be handed out to Lorde for her trap single “Sober II (Melodrama)” and the Higher Brothers, a China-based rap trio, would be praised as trap stars.

In an interview with Vice outside of a Higher Brothers performance in Chengdu, fans were asked what trap is. One fan responded with, “Trap is life. It’s a lifestyle.” And when the front-man MA$IWEI was asked what people will think of his music, his response was, “They just [think] you’re doing trap music, that means you’re encouraging that kind of bad stuff. But my lyrics are not like that.”

There is a culture speaking through the knock of 808s and the fast paced hi-hats of trap music, one which voices the cumbersome realities and rapid lifestyle changes that original trap stars had to overcome to promote their music. And while the sentiment may have been there in the eastern interpretations of the word trap, it still invokes a fear that the proprietors of the sound have been forgotten in the mainstream hype.

Everyone praises trap music for its simplicity, but few consider the reasons why it’s so simplistic. To paint a picture, the king of trap Lex Luger got his start with a PlayStation controller, a pair a toy turntables and the video game “PlayStation 2 MTV Music Generator 3.” Luger was able to channel his musical talents into a video game and record his beats onto a memory card. As the story goes, Luger rose to fame by sending beats to Waka Flocka Flame, but it was not by sending out a PlayStation memory card in the mail.  

A friend of Luger lent him a laptop with an unlicensed version of F.L. Studios on it, from which he supposedly made ten beats per day and sent them all to Waka Flocka Flame over Myspace until he was flown out to Atlanta to make beats for BRICK SQUAD. Even then, in the height of his fame, making beats for Juicy J and Jay-Z, Luger kept it simple and chose a computer keyboard over synthesizers to make his music, pressing “W” for an 808 and keys “A” through “G” for various percussions.

When considering the origins of trap, who can speak to Luger’s sleepless nights in a basement, battling drug addiction and broken keys on a laptop, or Migos in 2013, still living in a functioning trap house and recording their own music in a booth that holds both their clothes and a microphone.

This goes to show that trap music does not come from a cushy studio with hightech equipment and professionally trained musicians, but from the trap, from real people with real experiences of trapping that either allowed them to make it out the trap or killed them in the process (R.I.P. Nipsey Hussle).

Although the glamorization of trapping may be an uncontrollable force, it’s imperative to understand the history that goes along with both the music and the word itself. All that surrounds trapping, from the music to the hustle, is akin to marginalized people that have battled a history of institutional racism and oppression, all of which put them in the trap house to begin with. Yet the culture is still subjected by those who haven’t a clue of what the trap house entails.

The realities are this: trapping may seem appealing when looking from the outside in, but when trapping is one’s only means for survival, the appeals pale against the implications of that harsh reality. Trap music, where it is and whence it came, holds the secrets of that culture, all it requires is a level of appreciation for its origins and the knowledge that its rise to prominence may be the most complicated come-up in the history of music.

No one owns the rights to the word “trap” but Migos said it best when referring to what trapping means today, now that it courses through the veins of popular culture.

“It ain’t gotta be about cocaine and all that no more,” Quavo said in an interview with Vice. “You’re trapping when you’re hustling and doing your thing.”

Written By: Clay Allen Rogers — arts@theaggie.org