Trap Music: The New Dubstep?

In a classic case of social media outrage, Chicago duo Flosstradamus placed this status on their Facebook page in June: “People already calling this trap shit a ‘fad’, calling it the next dubstep or whatevs. Fuck all that nerd shit, let’s just have fun, damn!” It was a statement that captures the mood around trap music’s rapid rise in America and its building momentum down under. But what does trap music mean for dance music, and does it really have the potential to become the next dubstep?

Traditionally, trap music is the term used to describe hip-hop from the Southern region of America. The name derives from such rappers’ tendency to sell drugs from spots known as “trap houses.” Syrup-sippin’, cadillac-cruisin’ artists like UGK are often cited as the forefathers of the style, and Atlanta veteran T.I. even named his 2003 album Trap Muzik.

Notably, trap has become largely identified with a more intense brand of hip-hop, where these Southern trademarks have been amplified both lyrically and production-wise. Rappers such as Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame have taken drug and thug bravado to almost cartoonish levels, spitting over a backdrop of snares, hi-hats and brooding synths. The producer behind many of these riot-inducing beats is Lex Luger, who is often credited with popularising the modern trap sound. But the formula may be growing tired, as Luger himself told the NY Times in 2011 that “everybody’s trapped in the trap sound.. I’m trying to get out.”

One only needs to look at 16-year-old rapper Chief Keef to see how big the phenomenon has become. His brash trap banger I Don’t Like went viral earlier in 2012, and was picked up by Kanye West for an official remix. After being scouted by every label from Cash Money to Grand Hustle, the teenager recently inked a deal with Interscope. The track’s producer, Young Chop, signed with Warner Bros.

So while trap music is a label identifiable with hip-hop, it has also been used increasingly to describe EDM producers taking influence from the Southern rap sound. RL Grime, Baauer and the Hudson Mohawke/Lunice project TNGHT are just some artists being slapped with the term. Locally, Spenda C of The Mane Thing has been waving the trap flag with pride in his production.

Some have criticised the growing EDM adoption, and comparisons with the explosion of dubstep are already starting to roll in. The intense hatred directed at Skrillex suggests that older dubstep fans mourn the loss of intricate production in favour of noisy brostep tracks. Similarly, many feel that these dance artists have only drawn from the trap hits of recent years, while ignoring the innovators of the sound. In an interview with Motherboard, producer Lotic described the current situation as “de-contextualised. A lot of the sounds and ideas in trap can be traced back pretty far, but people are only going back a few years for ‘inspiration’. It’s just really clear that there’s a lot of bandwagoning rather than real appreciation.”

However, it only makes sense that the EDM scene has taken cues from Lex Luger’s sound and its legion of imitators. The beats are massive, menacing and perfectly crafted for dancefloors. The NY Times stated that “in Luger’s hands, the sound has become even more grandiose, almost operatic… Luger cranks trap music’s booming meanness to the point of absurdity and dares you to laugh.” Therein lies a parallel between the most popular forms of trap and dubstep – its lack of subtlety. While trap doesn’t spill the same headache-inducing wobbles, for the large part it’s made for punters to get as rowdy, ignorant and “hood” as possible. California’s D-V3KZ told MTV that “people are so into it because this new trap has the O.G. stems with the influence of electronic dance music and it gets the people going.”

Snoop Dogg was one of the most prominent artists to jump on the dubstep bandwagon in 2011, even releasing his own mixtape named Throw Your Dubs Up. In June, he tweeted at RL Grime, the trap alter-ego of Dim Mak’s Clockwork, to give him props. Earlier that month, the RL Grime & Salva remix of Kanye West’s Mercy reached number one on the Soundcloud charts the day it was uploaded, gaining 160,000 streams in its first week. Featuring screwed vocals, heavy bass and rave intermissions, it’s likely to appeal to fans from both the hip-hop and dance spectrums. RL Grime also tweaked Afrojack’s Pacha On Acid for his own thug-tinged anthem Trap On Acid, and it’s clear that trap may be the next big fusion phenomenon. Skrillex and Flux Pavilion have dropped Baauer’s Harlem Shake in their recent performances, while the Mercy remix has worked its way into the setlist of incoming Stereosonic visitor Dillon Francis.

Although collisions between hip-hop and EDM have produced mixed results, labels such as Fool’s Gold and Mad Decent continue to foster creative bridges between the two. Flosstradamus recently released their widely-acclaimed mix for music blog LFTF, with a setlist boasting everybody from Rick Ross to Diplo. The quality of such work suggests that trap music’s genre-blending is in safe hands – for now. But many will point out that if dubstep has taught us anything, it’s that an increase in popularity often results in a decline in quality. Just ask James Blake and co. for the lecture.

In 2012, it’s inevitable that trap music is going to cause even more confusion and debate, as the term is now equally used to address gangster rappers as well as dance producers. With an increasing number of DJs dabbling with trap, the sound of the South’s cocaine-pushers and jewelry-flashers is crossing genres on unprecedented levels. However, with Lex Luger already identifying trap as being overplayed in the hip-hop scene, one must question its longevity in the EDM spotlight. Indeed, some American blogs are already featuring trap music memes in the vein of those that arrived with the dubstep’s rise.

While Flosstradamus may dismiss the idea of critics categorising and labeling their sound, this is always certain with any music trend that’s preparing for lift-off. Only time will tell if trap music falls victim to the fierce and scathing critique of the EDM community.

Client: Inthemix

Date: July 2nd 2012

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© 2014 Christopher Kevin Au