Recently I’ve been getting into trap. It was a bit of a guilty pleasure at first, but only because I felt like it should be. Eventually I realized I genuinely enjoyed the genre, and the more I listened to it, the more I began to dissect it. Until one day something clicked.
Trap seems to be a genre that gets a lot of hate. Like other rising EDM genres like brostep, its emphasis on repetitive tone-based music is seen as lazy and uninspired by genre purists, musicians, composers, and everyone in between.
So why would an experimental composer, anti-4/4 and anti-conventionality, support a genre that is so blatantly standardized? Because there is more to this genre than meets the eye. That being said, I would like to focus less on the musical criticisms of the genre and more on the source of the genre itself. More specifically, the reflection of violent culture that is depicted in trap music.
There are two very distinct elements in trap: sub-bass and fast, tremolo-like hi-hats. Anyone who has attended a live, bass-heavy electronic set knows of the full body sensations low frequencies can cause. The engulfing, almost numbing feeling is something many people will specifically attend concerts for. Why would trap producers want to capture this specific feeling in their music? By diving into the origin of trap we discover that even the genre’s name holds some significance. Trap houses are a dangerous aspect of inner cities. They are a dead end consisting of the worst drugs imaginable, numbing the body and mind while the inhabitants desperately try to hold onto one last body high. Low, body-numbing sub-bass could very well be the reflection of body highs found in drugs present in trap houses.
Second is the quick, percussive hi-hats. These often come in and out in waves, starting up slow and then exploding into a full tremolo-like effect, expressing 32nd-notes, quick triplets, or other variations. I feel that these are arguably the most important aspect of trap, as they serve a very important purpose: to reflect gun violence in inner city culture. Ever hear submachine gun fire? Compare that with the hi-hats in trap music, they are eerily similar. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Even if the first trap producer didn’t do this intentionally, I sure bet their subconscious did. Regardless of that, once some individuals made the connection I’m sure it stuck. Ultimately it’s a bit like a “chicken or the egg” scenario, it’s the end result that’s important.
So what do we have?
1. The name: trap. The culture depicted in trap music is a trap, many don’t get out alive (also trap houses).
2. Sub-bass causes a full body sensation that can be compared to a drug high (the numbness aspect could possibly be tied to numbing caused by nerve damage from a gunshot / stab would as well, if we really want to get into it).
3. Hi-hats being expressed through fast, tremolo-like patterns imitating submachine gun fire.
Trap music is the perfect example of how a culture will express itself through music. While many will openly dismiss trap as boring and uninspired, many people like myself see it as something completely different. We see it as a culture that needs to be heard and needs to be expressed, we see it as a cry for help. In my opinion that makes trap the opposite of boring and uninspired, it directly reflects what the everyday life is for the individuals living in this “trap” world: thump-thump-thump. click. POP. POP. KATKATKATKATKAT. boom, bodies hit the floor. This is as genuine as music gets, and most people don’t even see it.
I would also like to point out that trap music isn’t the only genre that does this. Tonal derivations are used in other genres as well. The slide guitar found commonly in country music sounds an awful lot like a horse whinny, pig squeal, or other animals. Genres like technical death metal and brostep emulate the rhythmic and tonal intricacies of modern machinery respectively. Music with yelling, screaming, and growling in it tend to be a means of expressing anger or frustration (though obviously this is not always true). Punk is anger toward the government and oppression of freedom and expression. Hardcore, metal, and screamo tend to be anger toward an individual or group of individuals. Black metal is anger toward religion, Christianity in particular. Other metal subgenres tend to use the vocal style as a convenient means of expressing certain ideas, themes, or stories. Themes like violence, gore, orcs, wizards, aliens, etc., it is easier to depict these if we try to replicate the source of their inspiration.
Music reflects culture, music is art, culture reflects consciousness, music reflects consciousness. But we already knew that, didn’t we? At least now we have a reminder in case we ever forget.
I created my own weird take on trap for WeeklyBeats, it was my first attempt at something vaguely trap-like, and it’s not quite what I originally wanted or expected it to be (I would call it “trap-inspired” more than trap, honestly). It was written and recorded in a couple hours and I’d like to give another shot at this style in the near future. You can listen to the song here:
For further reading and references, please follow the underlined links spread throughout this article. I’ve also singled out a few pages in particular I recommend:
http://www.residentadvisor.net/feature.aspx?1730 – This has some similar points that my article made, and really gets into the culture behind the music and its origins.
http://www.artype.de/Sammlung/pdf/russolo_noise.pdf – A brilliant man who essentially predicted the future, a must read for all music and sound enthusiasts (download it, it’s a pdf)!
I may add additional links as I find / remember more stuff that relates to this subject.
Thanks for reading!