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What Is Trap Music?

You’ve likely heard the term “Trap” used a few times over the last few years. It’s by no means a fledgling genre. But, it’s been gaining popularity to the extent that it started showing up on mainstream charts.

However, Trap music is not set in stone like other more established genres, for example, Hip-Hop and Country. It’s a bit of an off-shoot that managed to become a mainstream sound. And because of this, people will often ask, “What is Trap music?”

Trap Music – Origins and Influence

What Is Trap Music

The sound may have found its first seeds somewhere in the late 80s. But, it was during the 90s that it truly began as a sound. The early Trap music artists were Hip-Hop and Electronic influenced. 

One of whom, Lil Jon, came from Atlanta, Georgia. This is where the term “Trap” was born. A “Trap” was a house or residence used exclusively for selling narcotics. 

The earliest Trap releases… 

And one that has since been heralded as a landmark in the sound is “Cocaine in the Back of The Ride” by Texas-based Duo UKG; it was the A-side from their EP The Southern Way

The group would follow this with “Pocket Full of Stones” from their sophomore release, Too Hard To Swallow. The track was featured in the 1993 film “Menace II Society” which was the first major exposure of the sound to new audiences. 

Due to the lyrical content…

In early songs like “Pocket Full of Stones” and “Mr. Ice Cream Man,” fans began referring to rappers who often rapped about the particular subject as “Trap Rappers.” 

Although, there was something in the style as well. I mean, Notorious BIG rapped plenty about drugs, but no one called him a “Trap Rapper.” 

Trap Music in the 2000s

From the early to mid-2000s, the first examples of Trap music began to appear in the mainstream. Many albums and songs dealt with topics within the umbrella of “Life in the trap” began surfacing on mainstream charts. 

Crossover hits from the first age of Trap music came from artists like Rick Ross, Gucci Maine, Boosie Badazz, Young Dolph, Lil Wayne, and Atlanta-based T.I.

From the get-go, the pallet of sounds used was wide. Early pioneers had 808 drums, complex high-hat patterns, fat bassy drones, and a lot of orchestral samples. Early producers of note in Trap music are Drumma Boy, DJ Toomp, Fatboi, and Zaytoven.

Trap Music in the 2010s

in the 2010s

Nearing the end of the 2000s, Trap music was already rearing its head all over the charts. Trap Artists and other mainstream artists that used Trap sounds began dominating music in the US and overseas. 

There were many names…

But, not many can be said to have made such a dent during this period as Atlanta-based producer Lex Luger. His output reached 200 or more songs within two years. This massive batch of singles included “Blowin’ Money Fast” by Rick Ross. It’s considered an iconic Trap song by many. 

Luger is credited with defining the foundations of Trap music. His use of the Roland 808 drum sound, crispy snares, fast high-hat patterns, massive sounding synths, and orchestral sounds became a staple of Trap songs.

As the 2010s continued, a plethora of artists began enjoying success with the Trap Music sound. These included Southside, Sonny Digital, TM88, Young Chop, DJ Spinz, and Metro Boomin’. Many artists started to expand their palettes by including contemporary sound from R&B and EDM music. 

In 2011 and 2012… 

Many artists from the Trap genre were represented on the Billboard Charts. Most notably, Young Geezy, Chief Keef, and Future. 

Keef’s smash hits “Love Sosa” and “I Don’t Like” got over 30 million views on YouTube. That ended up giving birth to yet another sub-genre which has become known as “Drill.” 

Kanye West did a cover of “I Don’t Like” on his label’s 2012’s compilation album, Cruel Summer. Many of the big producers in the Drill scene have noted the productions of Lex Luger as being a major influence on their sound. 

By 2013… 

The Trap sound had reached the ears of the EDM world. And, DJs began using the Trap sound as a new color to paint sonic images; most noted amongst these is DJ Snake. Later EDM Trap artists include RL Grime, Carnage, Diplo, and Aero Chord. 

2013 also marked the use of Trap sounds by mainstream artists from other genres. Most notably, Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love,” “Flawless,” and “7/11“. 

Also, Lady Gaga featured T.I, Too Short, and Twista on her album, Artpop. Likewise, Katy Parry’s “Dark Horse” contained Trap sounds and became a Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper. As well as a world-dominating international hit. 

Memes 

Something else that contributed to the success of Trap music is memes. One of the most notable examples of this would be “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane. 

This multi-platinum smasher became a Billboard Hot 100 after getting exposure online. Mainly due to its frequent use in videos of the viral internet sensation, “The Mannequin Challenge.” 

In 2017, Migos and Lil Uzi Vert dropped “Bad and Boujee.” It enjoyed similar success thanks to its exposure from internet memes. 

2015 Onwards

Since 2015, Trap music had found its way so deep into mainstream consciousness that it will remain a staple of pop culture moving forward. 

New Jersey rapper, Fetty Wap, rose to prominence with his Trap music hit song, “Trap Queen.” It became a Billboard Hot 100 hit and was followed by two more. And, who can forget Desiigner out of Brooklyn with his debut, “Panda”? A song from a mixtape that became a Billboard success. 

In 2017, Georgia-based artist 2Chainz, released his seminal album, Pretty Girls, Like Trap Music. And Cardi B dropped her groundbreaking debut single “Bodak Yellow,” a song that would become one of the defining tunes of the decade. 

Latin Trap…

From the Latino community came Spanish rappers using Trap elements and cadences in their music. Of course, they add a little Latin flavor to lyrics about street life described in the early rap songs. 

Some of the biggest names to come from this new influx are Bryant Myers, Anuel AA, Miky Woodz, Almighty, Maluma, and Bad Bunny.

R&B star, Ariana Grande, enjoys immense success with her Trap-influenced albums Sweetener and Thank U, Next. One of which earned her a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Album. 

2019 was a big one for Trap, though…

Georgia-born rapper, Lil Nas X, released a Country/Trap tune called “Old Town Road,” which didn’t become a chart smash. But, it managed to make enough noise for Billie Ray Cyrus to feature on a remix. It is still the longest-running #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 at nineteen weeks. 

What is Trap Music? – Definitions

Definitions

With the rise of the digital age, defining music genres has become increasingly difficult. Sub-genres of sub-genres can become overnight sensations these days. Trap music is a good example of a sub-genre that ended up becoming massive. 

It started as an offshoot of Hip Hop during the 80s. As mentioned, the term “Trap” is a slang term for houses that were used to sell illegal substances. However, this connotation has since become less and less prominent in the lyrical content of Trap music

Because of the pace that culture develops…

Pinning down a definition of Trap Music is like asking a snowball to stop for a selfie on its way down the mountain. 

There are already sub-sub tags on streaming services for styles that are “Trap-Step” and “Jersey Club.” Not to mention “EDM Trap,” which was huge during the 2010s, as well as “Drill” and “Bubblegum Trap.” 

Musical Attributes

Some things have become quite prominent. Multilayered, mono synths that give that fat bass sound and those low drones. The twisted remains of natural sounds like woodwinds and brass get processed to oblivion.

And, of course, that ever-important Roland TR-808 drum machine. All of these elements are found in Trap hits. So, it’s probably safe to say they’ll be sticking around. 

Typically, a Trap beat ranges from 50 – 70 to 140 BPMs and involves very complex high-hat patterns. Many times, this is achieved by programming the beats in double time for smaller subdivisions. 

In terms of tone… 

The words that best fit the Trap Music genre would be “dirty,” “grimy,” and “punchy.” There are often no melodies. If there are, they are sparse and not musical. It is not often that you’d find a Trap song that uses complex arrangements. The genre favors simple mixes with two or three elements. 

Of course, many of the above-mentioned conventions can and have been broken. The genre lends itself well to experimentation because so many sounds were present in it from the start. 

Top 5 Trap Artists

Now that we are familiar with the history, influence, and characteristics of Trap music, let’s take a look at some examples of great Trap artists. These may not be Trap-based through and through, but they have still managed to make a significant impact within the genre.

Travis Scott

Travis Scott

Jacques Bermon Webster II took the name of his favorite uncle and combined it with Kid Cudi’s real name, Scott, to create his professional moniker. Since signing his first major label deal in 2012, he’s become one of the biggest rappers in the world. 

His first studio album, Rodeo, appeared in 2015 and featured his breakthrough single “Antidote.” A quadruple-platinum Trap anthem that, for many, was the introduction to Scott’s style.

Within a year, Travis released another full-length studio effort. It featured quite a few big names like Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, Bryson Tiller, Young Thug, Quavo, K. Forest, and the Weeknd. The album became #1 on the Billboard 200 Album chart and sold over 80,000 in its first week. 

In 2017… 

Scott founded his own label to help other artists make a name for themselves. Amongst his currently signed acts are Sheck Wes, Don Toliver, SoFaygo, Chase B, and Canadian producer, WondaGurl.

Scott’s 2018 album, Astroworld, was released in 2018 and contained his first #1 single, “Sicko Mode,” featuring Hip Hop megastar Drake. Travis’s label, Cactus Jack, released a compilation album that topped the Billboard 200 Albums chart. 

Since starting his career… 

Travis has been nominated for no less than eight Grammy Awards. He’s won a Billboard Music Award, a Latin Grammy Award, an MTV Video Music Award, and multiple BET Awards. 

When Scott’s single “Franchise,” featuring Young Thug and M.I.A., dropped in 2020, he became the first artist to have three songs debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

21 Savage

21 Savage

Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known as 21 Savage, is another Atlanta native who has become a notable success in the Trap world. Not only does his music reflect the “Trap life,” but his actual life does as well. 

Savage made his first appearances via independent mixtapes. It was, however, his 2015 collaborative EP with producer Metro Boomin called Savage Mode that started his career. The EP produced not one but two Top 40 Billboard Hot 100 singles. 

Less than a year later… 

Savage was featured on Drake’s “Sneakin,” and by 2017, he signed a contract with Epic Records. Not bad for just three years.

In that same year, he would make one of the biggest tracks of his career with Post Malone. “Rockstar” is a diamond-selling single in two countries and was Grammy nominated for Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance.

Since then, Savage has dropped two chart-topping albums elevating him to the upper echelons of the mainstream music world. He’s won a Grammy and collaborated with Drake and J Cole. 

Trouble

Trouble

Mariel Semonte Orr got named “Trouble” because, well… he was trouble. He deserves to be counted amongst the artists who rap about the hard life because they lived it. 

Despite the controversy surrounding his lifestyle and the manner of his death, Trouble represented the hardest edge of the genre and was respected in all circles because of it. Razorsharp’s lyrics and ruthless devotion to “telling it like it is” marked his lyrical style and can be found all over his tunes. 

His debut and only studio release, “Edgewood,” was released in 2018. It featured appearances by Boosie Badazz, Drake, Fetty Wap, Lil 1, Low Down Dirty Black, Quavo, and The Weeknd. 

Young Thug

Young Thug

Thug is what you might call the eccentric one. From his vocal style to his fashion sense and way of thinking, it’s hard to place him in any kind of box. Whether this uniqueness takes your fancy or not, Thug’s reputation as an influential rapper and a trendsetter of his era is unquestionable. 

Jeffery Lamar Williams is also an Atlanta native. And he grew up in the same neighborhood as Waka Flocka Flame, 2 Chainz, Ludacris, and Peewee Longway, who is also a longtime friend. 

After releasing some independent mixtapes, he caught the attention of fellow Atlanta-based rapper and producer Gucci Mane. Mane subsequently ended up signing Williams to his label 1017 Brick Squad Records. 

The eccentric one…

Thug’s eccentricities extend to his way of writing and performing as well. He’s been both praised and criticized for his unique vocal style. A style that often utilizes shouts, screams, and strange contortions of his voice to achieve a truly strange and original style.

Kanye West and other well-known names that Thug has worked with noted the incredible speed with which he wrote material. He often came up with his lies right there on the spot. Thug didn’t even write down lyrics. Instead, he wrote down symbols and shapes to help him remember his verses.

Thug has produced multiple chart-topping singles and albums, including 2020’s “Go Crazy” with Chris Brown. He has won multiple MTV awards and a Grammy for Song of the Year thanks to the monster hit “This Is America” with Childish Gambino.

Waka Flocka Flame

Waka Flocka Flame

Born in New York but raised in Georgia, Juaquin James Malphurs was given the “Waka” part of his stage moniker by a cousin. The inspiration for this was The Muppets’ character Fozzie Bear’s catchphrase “Wocka Wocka.” 

The “Flocka Flame” part was inspired by none other than Gucci Mane, whom Juaquin has known since he was nineteen. Additionally, Flocka Flame’s mother used to be Gucci’s manager and CEO of an entertainment business.

Flocka signed to 1017 Brick Squad and Warner Bros in 2009. His first studio album, Flockaveli, was produced by a myriad of artists and producers, including Lex Luger, Lil Jon, and Tay Beatz. The album produced three well-charting singles, “No Hands,” “O Let’s Do It,” and “Hard In Da Paint.”

Flame’s passion and aggression…

These are at the center of his appeal. He’s in your face, sometimes over the top, and obnoxious. Then again, his heavy subject matter calls for such dramatics. And he pulls it off with the right amount of seriousness, which makes you take him seriously. 

He’s since dropped another album that features collaborations with Drake, Nicki Minaj, B.o.B, Trey Songz, Ludacris, Travis Porter, and Meek Mill.

What is Trap Music? – Examples

Let’s finish off with three tracks that fall under the Trap banner. 

Life Is Good by Future (feat. Drake)

Album: High Off Life

The track opens with nothing but fast high-hats and Drake’s flow that narrates a life of all work and no play. His signature laid-back style makes you think it’s a low-key tune for cruising. 

Future then completely turns the whole flow on its head. The mix is suddenly filled with various elements, including droning synths and thumping bass.

There’s a swing feel to the rhythm, which will get you bouncing like Drake and Future bounce when they serve people their burgers in the music video. 

Still Moving Bass by Rick Ross

This one’s an ego booster and an angst-inducer, for sure. Rick’s usual aggressiveness is all over the original. And, after GTA got hold of it, it’s practically dripping in grime and funkiness.

There are drums, aggressive-sounding synths, and a rollercoaster rhythm section that might start your head hurting if you listen to it after a few drinks. Since the full verses from the original were retained, you can rap along while you’re pounding away on the dancefloor like a Jackhammer. 

White Inversion by Post Malone

Album: Stoney

While Malone has expanded his palette a lot since his very first single has all the markings of a good Trap tune. The song was included on his debut album and became a Top 20 Billboard Hot 100 hit. 

This track is proof that Trap doesn’t have to be hard and aggressive to make the cut. It remains one of Malone’s biggest hits, and at its heart, it’s a retrospective tune that is great for just chilling to. The song was streamed more than a million times within a month of getting released. 

Are You a Fan of Trap and Rap Music?

If so, find out our thoughts on the Best 90s Hip Hop Songs, the Best 2000s Rap Songs, the Best Sad Rap Songs, the Best 2000s R&B Songs, and the Best 2000s Dance Songs for more great song selections.

Of course, you’ll need to hear those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Bass Earbuds, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best iPhone Earbuds, and the Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones you can buy in 2023.

What Is Trap Music? – Final Thoughts

If you were unsure as to what Trap music is, hopefully, this has helped you gain some clarity on the matter. 

As mentioned, since it’s still a developing sound, the attributes and conventions I’ve discussed may be challenged and broken completely. In the end, it’s all in the feel and style; you know a Trap song when you hear it.

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear heat and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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