Why “trap” as a genre is as relevant as you make it

Last night a friend of mine, someone whose musical taste – although primarily indie rock based – I’ve never questioned, asked me for “my take on trap.”

He intended the question to be a compliment, knowing personally my history and hobby of writing about current music over the years. I took it as such, but realized, my answer wasn’t all that insightful. Without thinking much about it, I said something along the lines of: think of the phenomenon of brostep these days but apply it within the context of featuring southern rap tastes. That’s that. He said “ok.”

Trap can be aggressive lyrically, with booming 808’s and cutting snares, as well as a negotiable tempo and rhythm. The kick is in the bass, in that it’s often quite dramatic with the kick drum acting as the bass instrument. To simplify, think banging beats with an ignorant vocal glaze.

My first introduction to the term came during a college radio set my friend did about six months ago, during which, someone (whose musical taste I also respect) asked me for a track ID. The track in question had “trap instrumental” in the title. That’s as much as I can remember – besides also enjoying the track – but from there, I started noticing more and more the term being tossed around and people fixating on it as the ‘next thing.’

A couple of my best friends for example, have been sampling rap in their bass-driven DJing since the very beginning of their time as a DJ, because that’s what they’ve known best coming into the craft. Do I call either one a trap DJ? Definitely not.

Hearing people bastardize the sounds as the ‘it-genre’ of the moment is quite annoying and repetitive, all without gaining much new insight.

My reaction to trap, like most others I know, was cyclical: intrigued, engaged, supportive, then a bit disinterested and now indifferent. I’ve been listening to hip hop and occasional rap for years and in the context of trap being played sandwiched between other tracks and sounds I consistently enjoy, I’m all about it.

What I’m not about is the fixation and microscopic focus on the ‘latest’ genre, which is another can of worms in itself. I’ve never been about that. As my friend Truenature worded it, “mainstream music is for mainstream people,” and I’ve never been able to relate to any of it aside from being exposed in bits and pieces and even then, I’m often late to the party. That’s the best part, music as an individual connection and a diverse experience to each their own.

For me, the parallel between trap and brostep runs too deep and for that reason alone, I’m not into it most of the time. When electronic music undergoes the same overnight rise in popularity that moombah did online for instance, especially to those DJs catering a certain crowd, it’s easy for the music to go from one end of the quality spectrum to the direct opposite and this has to do with over-saturation of a specific sound. A classic example of quantity not equating quality.

On another note, trap is by no means a new idea. People have been tampering with sampling rap in all sorts of contexts in modern club music for ages and as my friend worded it, the best trap sounds are in the original vocal cuts. If you want to date it back to 2003’s “Trap Muzik” from T.I. by all means feel free. If you want to credit Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” or Major Lazer’s “Original Don (Flosstradamus Remix)” as tracks spearheading a movement, that’s entirely up to you.

Merely the fixation on trap as a trendy genre, not the music itself, is really what’s new here. Hell, I can still get down to moombahton in the right moment, all music snobbery aside, even though some would say it’s a murdered genre trend in 2012. Or one that has fallen victim to the contemporary overhaul of mass production; such as how we see Nadastrom playing the Upstate Music Hall for $25, Dillon Francis booking a venue such as the Armory and both appealing to the same crowd that Dayglow and Bassnectar did a year ago.

For me, given the subject matter of the tracks and mixes in question, it feels impossible to speak intelligently about trap music – especially considering that trap has grown rapidly through internet culture, much like moombahton and dubstep in their current popular forms, (if you really want to get into that), which makes it difficult to put a finger on it. It’s not all bad and it’s definitely not all good.

I simply don’t want to listen to DJs mixing trap for hours and hours the same way that I want to listen to hours of DJs mixing techno or house, for example. If I did, I’d just put my Pandora on a hip hop or rap artist and leave it to the familiar Top 40 shuffle. Because of that tendency, I think utilizing trap as a DJ tool to give a mix some flair or take on a new direction is much more appreciated than pigeon-holing it as the current element to make the main focus.

Which, brings me to my most important point: trap in the sense of current DJing as a trend is just like any other genre-specific fixation: as relevant as you make it.

That to me, is the most important element and most often ignored.

When you bring up the names Juicy J, Waka Flocka, Tha Joker, Rick Ross, Dreasbeats, etc. those people to me are rappers. They are allowed to and encouraged to get creative within their craft and they do so. While they play an integral role in trap music, that role also becomes more or less a matter out of their own hands and into those looking to these artists as source material when looking to play something to brand as trap.

That’s the part that reminds me of the unfortunate and looming identity crisis in the modern-day dubstep spin-off genre deemed brostep or mainstream EDM: people look in one, sole, and perhaps superficial direction for inspiration, find what’s popular at the moment and get caught up in it. At that point, it’s both common and likely to lose sight of something genuine in the process – therefore losing any originality and people just end up playing more shit music on louder systems to a growing amount of people. It’s a cynical mixture of playing it safe and feeding what the masses want. Sound familiar?

Trap might die out when the ‘next’ sound is lit on fire, or it might have staying power within underground circles. I don’t really care. I understand DJs may feel a pressure to stay relevant to some degree in this insanely fast-paced music scene, but the best tastemakers can recognize when something is played out and when to move onto something else.

All I know is that I have endless respect for the DJs who do their own thing while managing to keep a crowd moving and if the beat is banging, I’m on board.

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