From T.I. To TNGHT: A Look At Trap Rave
Do a search for “trap” on SoundCloud and you’ll find more than 500 tracks uploaded with the tag in the last three days. What’s interesting, though, are the labels that show up with the most frequency in the similar tags section: “bass,” “club,” “dance,” “dj,” “dubstep,” and “electronic” appear right below the expected “rap,” “hip-hop,” “remix,” and “South.” The correlation is directly reflective of a newly burgeoning movement where SoundCloud-fiending musicians have been using trap-like instrumentals to create a sub-genre of their own: trap-rave.
In August of 2003, a 22-year-old T.I. released his second album, Trap Muzik, on his newly debuted Grand Hustle label. Executive produced by DJ Toomp — a former Miami Bass aficionado and producer and tour DJ for MC Shy-D and 2 Live Crew — the record was the first to bring mainstream attention to this particular style of Southern rap via a handful of rap radio hits like “Rubberband Man,” “24s,” and “Be Easy.” The underlying concept was pretty straightforward: to share stories and street wit on the realities and often-glamorized lifestyle of drug-laden pockets of urban Atlanta. These areas made up “the trap,” and telling its story became the glue that bonded a new class of rappers from the South. “Whether you in the trap selling dope, in the trap buying dope, or in the trap trying to get out,” T.I. once said on making Trap Muzik. “It’s informative for people who don’t know nothing about that side of life.”
Atlanta natives Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane soon followed, breaking to national rap and mixtape audiences with their own trap releases (Trap Or Die and Trap House, respectively) that made the genre an entire movement. “At the beginning it shared a foundation with the blues, like a lot of music from the South,” explains Gucci Mane producer Burn One via telephone. “A lot of rappers were talking about stuff they didn’t have and heartbreak. Right after Jeezy came out, it made dudes like him think, ‘OK, I can do that too.'” While Burn One notes that it’s a genre that’s spawned by the same social commentary and grittiness that lays the foundation for most rap — one about survival — he stresses that trap is made for the club. “In Atlanta, trap music is strip club music. It’s hard to play anything else because, as a sound, it hits so hard. It’s brash.” At its core, the trap music sound is reflective of the lifestyle it comes from.
Not much has changed on the production side of the genre either. Like many of his affiliates, Burn One credits Toomp for the instrumental origins of trap. It’s a heavy, bouncing pulse that lies within a few degrees of a 75-beat-per-minute tempo and often uses hyper snares and knocking 808s to break the beat into an energetic double or quadruple time. Focused drums are simultaneously reflective of the sauntering swag of the South and the aggressiveness of the trap way of life; high-hats that are shrill and tightly wound and bass that thuds with earth-trembling weight. There’s orchestral depth as well; a melodic loop may be paired with horns and synths that layer upon each other to create massive builds that make way for dramatic drops.
“It’s all about the subtleties,” says Burn One. For him, that may mean adding a live bassist in lieu of a drum machine, or subbing out a horn sample for a guitar riff. No track is complete before passing one final test in the club. “I was DJing a lot to fine-tune and work out my own music,” he says. “It’s always important to see what would work in the actual club setting.”
Today a rising class of dance DJs and producers use the same made-for-the-club mentality. The script has been flipped, though, as many of these musicians call clubs their home and hope to use their ingrained dancefloor know-how to their advantage. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect for those who share a love of Southern rap as well. Waka Flocka Flame and 2Chainz have been topping the rap charts in recent months and creative collaborations between indie dance producers and major-label rappers are more popular than ever. Diplo and Afrojack’s production for Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” is probably the most well-known track to showcase this fusion in the past year, but rap starlet Azealia Banks’s recently released Fantasea is the boldest. The mixtape boasts production from UK dubstep maven Ikonika, IDM producer Machine Drum, LuckyMe affiliate Hudson Mohawke, and Lunice. While pop has embraced the feel-good, sing-songy, major chord progressions of house music, rap has started to turn to the weird, weighty, abrasiveness of the underground bass community.
Enter the much buzzed-about Internet-birthed sub-genre of “trap-rave.” As with any trend to come out of the SoundCloud ether, there’s plenty of confusion and debate surrounding the comically blunt moniker. What is it? Who makes it? How can it wear the “trap” badge when it’s not from the trap? And, most importantly, does anyone care? While blogosphere tastemakers like Mad Decent have remixed trap MCs with electro via their series of Free Gucci mixtapes, and hip-hop producers like Lex Luger commonly use massive electronic builds on tracks for Gucci Mane’s Brick Squad imprint, this particular movement is one whose computer-produced hip-hop instrumental revelry is aimed at the club and not the studio. That is, many of these tracks are being released as dance tracks rather than a rapper’s freestyle playground.
To be fair, most of these off-kilter electronic step-siblings are more removed from trap than their hashtags let on. Many are simply instrumentals that carry the same gritty, heavy, 70bpm thump and 808s as their favorite Southern rap. 19-year-old Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” is a perfect example and has been one of the biggest tracks to break through to hip-to-it bass audiences. The song’s squeaky bloated synths serve as an exaggerated spin on trap’s hissing snares, and its tinny beat builds until it crashes into the sound of a lion’s growl. Flosstradamus’s “Total Recall” takes another route, pulling together UK bass lines, gritty club, and their love of hardstyle. Here the foot-stomping, hard techno grunts are as much at play as the signature rolling snares associated with trap.
It’s important to note that, although these productions happily coincide with a resurgence of Top 10 trap hits, it’s also a natural progression for this collective of bass-loving dance maestros. Flosstradamus’s upcoming release will come out on A-Trak and Nick Catchdub’s Fool’s Gold imprint, a label that has basically kinged the market on connecting the velvet ropes between strip-club rap and bottle-service house (Danny Brown, AraabMuzik, Just Blaze, Yelawolf, and Jackie Chain are signees and affiliates). More significant, however, is the still-growing popularity of dubstep. Not only does the subterranean wobble share the same +/- 70/140 beat-per-minute push, but it fosters the same slow, escalating tension that’s released at the drop. Between Girl Unit’s post-dubstep grooves, the “maximalism” associated with Rustie’s gorgeously lush orchestrations, and the trance squeals behind AraabMuzik’s concoctions, it was only a matter of time until some new hashtag genre was born to fill in the gaps.
Last week’s release of Hudson Mohawke and Lunice’s collaborative debut with their eponymous TNGHT EP might be the best example of these worlds merging both on and off the dance-floor. While the duo shies away from being labeled as dance producers, they too have collaborated with Girl Unit and Rustie on bass tracks. However, the pair is adamant that their sound has little to do with the Internet-hyped genre of trap-rave. “We put this record together last year,” said Hudson in an interview with the Independent. “It just seems to coincide with this new wave of music.” Lunice agrees. “There are similarities in how hard it hits and just because of the 808s, people assume it’s trap. While everyone’s making trap, we’re just making something else. We’re focusing on putting out tracks for rappers.” As much as the duo avoids the “trap” moniker, there’s some validity to it: Waka Flocka Flame rapped over Lunice’s “Good Kids” and TNGHT recently released an official remix of the rapper’s “Rooster In My Rari.”
But how do producers actually from Atlanta feel about this recent co-opting of trap music? It appears that, not only are they supporters of the trap-rave movement, but they’ve been championing the genre-meld for years. “It’s funny, Atlanta is such a bubble,” says hometown DJ Daniel Disaster. “When dubstep became big, mixing old-school trap records with new dubstep made sense to us. The crowd didn’t know half of the songs we were playing but they didn’t care because the energy was the same and it was fun.” Others in the scene included Gangsta Boo’s DJ Speakerfoxxx and the Atlanta Dubstep crew.
Disaster was 20 years-old when he was recruited by Grand Hustle in 2004 as an engineer for three T.I. albums. Since then he has gone on to work with Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne and release electro-infused remixes of rap under a variety of pseudonyms (Heroes & Villains, MeganFoxxx, Quadrant). In 2010, the DJ started a party called Heavy with the goal to play any and all music of a certain “hard, powerful, raging energy” including dubstep, dirty bass, trap, and punk. “I would go out and notice that other DJs were doing the same exact thing,” he says. “We would see clubs full of kids of different backgrounds — half the crowd was black and half was white — we’d see them go totally crazy and start a mosh pit to dubstep, and then to Waka, back-to-back.” Burn One remembers these parties as well. “You’d be listening to this dubstep track and then he would throw a Gucci a capella on top. It was trippy, really trippy, but I liked it.”
And then there was the time that Gucci Mane made an appearance himself. “We’re all a tight-knit community,” Disaster explains. “Lil Jon, Pill, Big Boi, Yelawolf — they would come by when they were in town to hang out and hear new music. Some of them performed or partied with us, they loved it.” As for Gucci’s visit, Disaster recalls when the rapper freestyled in the middle of one such party in 2010. “Gucci was hanging out one of the times he got out [of jail],” says Disaster. “Everyone was having a good time and Gucci was really feeling the [dubstep track] that was playing and jumped on the mic for a verse.”
So it looks like trap-rave might have some staying power after all. As for the moniker, no one seems to be too concerned with it. “Flosstradamus and I are huge fans of each other,” says Disaster. “They’ve mixed their love of hardstyle and mixtapes and have created something amazingly good and new and not trap.” Burn One agrees. “It’s interesting to hear this spin. Trap has always been about a lifestyle and you can’t emulate a lifestyle,” he says. “But a name is just a name and no one owns a style of music. We’ve learned from the people before us and now people are taking what we’ve done to make their own style. As long as it’s good, it’s cool by me.”