Please trust that this piece has been written with due consideration. While the negative aspects associated with a domestic industrial drug complex have been omitted this it not due to ignorance, or insensitivity to reality. The painful truths of the drug trade are plenty familiar to the author, however they would only serve to complicate the matter at hand. And for your consideration in this piece, music, and it’s socio-cultural significance is being discussed. In order to talk about why this music appeals to us, it doesn’t benefit the conversation to focus our attention anywhere other than the music. By no means do I imply that we shouldn’t talk about the whole picture when talking about this music (because we should, and if you know my writing you know that I do), simply in this piece, the omission of the painful details was necessary in order to address the visceral terms of our connection to those details. Because ultimately, the music is what can move people to act to correct the institutionalized disproportionality that perpetuates the need for someone to strive towards having a Trap House.
It seems like right now, everyone knows what a Trap House is. A few years ago less people knew, and 10 years ago very few people knew. It’s easy to see why we’ve come to a place of broader understanding though. Americans have a longstanding love affair with individuals who choose to live on the wild side of things. All it took was a few famous-enough rappers, living lifestyles that deviate from the norm, and remaining charming in spite of their ill-standing with the legal system (50 cent is a prime example, Gucci Mane, and Lil Wayne as well). While most of us are tied to the conventions of society and governed by the rules (both written as law, and unspoken as mores) of our nation, we are forever enraptured by those who succeed at living without those conventions, and who manifest their destiny without abiding these very same rules.
And so, it’s not difficult to see why in a nation with a longstanding fascination with outlaws (Billy the Kidd, Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp, Jon Dillinger) the Trap House would pique the interest of our society. After all, it is the domestic manifestation of an entrepreneurial enterprise occurring only after a certain amount of success is achieved in the drug trade. A Trap House is what happens when you reach a certain amount of continued success as a drug dealer. It is the fortress of empire built in remote Wild West outposts where, fate, personhood, and the present collide violently every moment. In the Trap House there is only a faint aroma of the future though, as its inhabitants are individuals who live in the moment in monstrous proportions.
This unapologetic adoption of a lifestyle that is frowned upon, in order to achieve a coveted status within society is also not unfamiliar. It is the same mindset that artists, or anyone devoted to a particular task outside of convention must adopt. Thus, it is again not difficult to see why this music should carry relevance for many in our society. But, in the Trap House we find an example so far outside of the realms of the accepted that it cannot be misconstrued: the Trap House is a milestone in rugged individualism. It tells us that for some people, even if the government itself seeks to diminish their happiness, there will be no such forsaking. The Trap House shows us that even in these bleak economic times which seem hopeless to most, for those of us who choose to live outside of convention, and forge our own way there may be very tangible fruits for our labors.
A Trap House is marked by many different kinds of sights, smells, sounds, situations, et cetera. But the element of the Trap House which has spread to the general population is the sound of the Trap House. What we are given via music, is not just the music that plays in a Trap House, but also a sonic approximation of being in a Trap House. If you listen to Trap Music with any degree of thoroughness you’ll find that Trap Music is marked by a wealth of musique concréte—sonic punctuations such as police sirens; barking dogs; guns being loaded, cocked, and fired; fights; cars peeling out; et cetera. Through music, the audience is given a sonic portal that transports them to the Trap House. The sonic accoutrements found in Trap Music are not simply rococo flairs, they are analogues for what you hear when you’re in the Trap House. The feeling that Trap Music creates is similar to the feeling of being in the Trap House because the music is a direct reflection of what the composers hear while they’re in the Trap House.
The Trap House is indeed a testament to what can be done if you put your mind to it. And in the music we find a particularly interesting achievement. Traps, short for contraption kit, are a necessary part of Trap Music. And in the Trap House the manifest destiny of ambitious drug dealers collides with the manifest destiny of the contraption kit in an unexpected way. The Trap House is a realm where you are not making due as previous hip generations did, but forming the world to fit your desires. It is a monument to a certain degree of success, and it symbolizes the constant conversion of a rarified good into a revenue stream. It’s a total inversion of the inception of hip hop. If you look back to the Bronx, and the inception of the vernacular that is being stretched and transcended in Trap Music, you find folks who were making due with what was available. Herc invented the merry-go-round with what was available to him. And further, these artists were not just making due, but fighting for survival in a hostile environment. The pioneers of hip hop were indeed pioneers, existing in a wild and oppressive environment where they were forced upon the elements and basically left to die on account of ill-mannered authorities at both the local and federal level.
In the Trap House we still find the same environment created by local and federal governments, but the inhabitants of the Trap House have created a place that is insulated from that murderous outside world. And inside this house it isn’t about making due, it’s about doing whatever you want. And so, what happens in the beats is the product of people doing whatever they want, indulging their imaginations in ways not inhibited by the limits of a messy reality tied to our bodies, and tied to history. In the Trap House, sitting at Fruity Loops, Ableton, Reason, Logic, or whatever other software they use, the imagination sets the composer free. Technology lets the mind move beyond what the body can do, expressing latent inclinations that are otherwise silenced by reality’s shortcomings. A combination of isolation, technology, and empowerment creates a unique freedom that is the basis of these musical compositions. Nowhere is this freedom more apparent than in the traps, and more specifically the hi-hats.
If you listen to funk, soul, jazz, and rock music which are the foundations of hip hop you’ll rarely hear anyone playing in meters more subdivided than 32nd notes. 64th notes certainly have their place, but they’re not quite an element of the vernacular. That might not seem like much to think of, because most music traditions of the world follow the same metric constraints. But, if you go to India, and Classical Indian music you’ll find something that might change your mind. Classical Indian music utilizes 64th notes thoroughly, and even utilizes 128th notes regularly. This is because it is a rare musical tradition that has utilized the fingers as opposed to the arms as the motors for percussive motion. Just as a bullwhip focuses an unremarkable amount of energy into such a small space that it defies physics, so too does Classical Indian music make use of the fingers’ locomotion to push our minds past the brink of comprehension creating complex rhythms that exceed those that one might create using the traps.
I bring this up merely to point out that the musical mind is indeed inclined to create rhythms more complex than those we might create by traditional means. Traditional means here being the use of one person’s body to play the traps. The phrases of one person playing the traps have been the default vernacular of hip hop since its inception. Even in music generated on drum machines, the rhythms composed are approximations of the same rhythms that you would hear one person playing on a contraption kit, rather than the product of a composition tool not limited by the physical restraints of the body. Trap Music has codified the use of exaggerated hi-hat patterns that exceed the limits of the body, and fall outside of the realm of traditional hip hop drumming. The existence of this music is in many ways the product of impoverished black folks getting free, but it ultimately speaks to a larger trend in our nation. That of many folks trying to find a way to get free, regardless of their skin tone, finding hope in imagination, and working to convert that hope to something we can all feel.- Zachg