Commentary

From UGK to Chief Keef: A look at the history of trap in rap and its subsequent influence on drill

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These days, you're more likely to hear the word "trap" in a trendy dance club than an underground hip-hop club, but long before trap was affiliated with a certain style of dance music, it was championed by a few hard-nosed rappers whose lives, in accordance with the genre's very name, were stuck in the drug houses of American ghettos. Before the trap was a musical trope, it was a literal trap and a means of survival.

Trap, as it is known in rap circles, is only tangentially related to trap as it is known in EDM circles. DJs such as Flosstradamus, UZ and Baauer have borrowed elements of aggressive trap-rap production -- the rattling hi-hats, booming 808s, snapping snares and towering, almost classical melodies -- to ramp up the energy of their epic drops. Other than a few musical qualities, electronic trap and trap rap have little in common.

The roots for trap rap, which will henceforth be referred to simply as "trap," or "trap music," were sown in the South during the '90s with gangsta-rap acts like Memphis's 8 Ball & MJG, NOLA's Master P and Port Aurthur's UGK, many of whom financed their rap dream with illicit activities like selling drugs and pimping. The music then didn't sound like trap music as we know it today, but it was trap music in a broad sense -- music about life with no possibility of upward mobility.

Some time during the late '90s in Atlanta, the term "trap" began to refer specifically to the crackhouse, and rappers such as OutKast, Ghetto Mafia and A-Dam-Shame began to include the word in their music. OutKast, one of the cleaner acts to gain mainstream attention at the time, used the word in "Spottieottiedopaliscious:" "United Parcel Service and the people at the Post Office didn't call you back because you had cloudy piss, so now you back in the trap -- just that, trapped."

While OutKast warned its listeners to avoid the pitfalls of the trap, other rappers embraced the drug life, calling themselves "trap stars," boasting about how much "work" they could flip because, well, everybody deserves to take pride in their job. For a while, trap was a derogatory term for generally ignorant rap -- which is unfair, because these MCs were simply rapping about the life they lived, what they perceived to be their only career option. Needless to say, rapping about that life eventually became fashionable, and as the millennium turned, it became difficult to distinguish which of the rappers were geniune reporters and which were performance artists.

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Noah Hubbell