What Is Trap Music? Hip-Hop And Rap’s Favorite Sound

We trace the history and the future of the most popular sound in hip-hop and rap.

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Trap music began as a subgenre of hip-hop music mostly coming out of Atlanta, though the style, lingo, and instrumentation quickly proliferated to other scenes and cities. It began in the early 2000s, with the ‘trap’ referring to the place where drug dealers would keep their supply. Rappers like T.I., Young Jeezy, and Gucci Mane were instrumental in bringing the scene to Atlanta’s wider audience, which was coming off the high of Dungeon Family, Goodie Mob, Cool Breeze, Kilo Ali, Ghetto Mafia, and OutKast in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The early days of trap music

T.I. – 24s
UGK – Diamonds & Wood
8Ball & MJG – Paid Dues
Master P – Mr. Ice Cream Man
T.I. – Dope Boyz
Three 6 Mafia – Tear da Club Up
Young Jeezy – 22’s or Better
Lil Wayne – Go DJ
OutKast – Git Up, Git Out
Gucci Mane f/ Mac Bre-Z – Go Head

T.I. is often cited as the founder of the term “trap music,” naming his 2003 album Trap Muzik, which followed his 2001 debut album, I’m Serious. Trap Muzik featured beats from DJ Toomp, a young Kanye West, Jazze Pha, and contributions from legendary duo 8Ball & MJG and Houston star Bun B.

The genre, though it has evolved to mean many, many different things in this era, began with a few key tonal and lyrical signifiers. The typical BPM or tempo of a trap beat is about 70 beats per minute, which allows for double-time and triple-time hi-hats to be emphasized. Producers like Shawty Redd and Lex Luger brought the trap sound to Atlanta rap, though this quality didn’t really take off until Migos pioneered the triplet flow, giving their music a narcotized feel that sounded equal parts fast and slow.

If you’re seeking to figure what trap music is, you also need to go back to the chopped and screwed days of DJ Screw in Houston, a sound that proliferated out to New Orleans and Master P’s Cash Money Records record label. The sound was adopted by Mannie Fresh, who was the Cash Money in-house producer, and a legendary beatmaker who used Roland drum machines like the TR-808 kick drums and bass snares to achieve his sound. Though the sound has gone everywhere, it began and remains an Atlanta institution precisely because so many of its seminal artists came from the city. The music was about traps in Atlanta and the communities the rappers grew up in. From there, the sound developed to incorporate more themes.

The sound was built out even further by Waka Flocka Flame, who worked alongside Lex Luger to turn trap closer to mainstream pop music. It’s the melodies he incorporated on songs like “Hard in Da Paint” that would work their way into anthems by stars like Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and more.

Songs that took trap music to the next level

Waka Flocka Flame – Hard in Da Paint
Drake – Started From The Bottom
Young Thug – Pacifier
Future – March Madness
Migos – Versace
2 Chainz – I’m Different
Travis Scott – Upper Echelon
Fetty Wap – Trap Queen
Rick Ross – Trap Trap Trap
Chief Keef – Love Sosa

The EDM side

Backing up a bit, in the 2010s, the genre evolved with EDM DJs and dance artists adopting trap like Bauuer, and rap artists lacing their lyrics in reverb and distortion. Other EDM artists like Flosstradamus worked with rappers and dance artists alike to create their sound.

Bauuer – Harlem Shake
Flosstradamus -Came Up
RL Grime – Tell Me
TNGHT – Higher Ground
Lil Jon – Turn Down For What

Trap in the mainstream

Albums from Drake, Young Thug, Fetty Wap, and Travis Scott helped bring trap to the mainstream and the Billboard Hot 100, with pop artists even bringing the styles of the sound into their music. Indeed, rappers all over the world began embracing trap styles, including young MCs like the late XXXTentacion, Latin trap artist J Balvin, superstar Cardi B, country rapper Lil Nas X, Kodak Black, Gunna, the late LA rapper Drakeo the Ruler, and Buffalo-based Griselda MCs Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, and Benny the Butcher. Though the sound has developed in many ways since its inception, the roots of the genre are still based in the trap houses from ATL that helped create the worldwide movement.

Kendrick Lamar – HUMBLE.
Rae Sremmurd – Black Beatles
Post Malone – rockstar (Feat. 21 Savage)
Lil Uzi Vert – XO Tour Llif3
XXXTentacion – Look At Me!
Playboi Carti – @ MEH
Sheck Wes – Mo Bamba
Migos – Stir Fry
Lil Baby – Heatin Up (Feat. Gunna)
Roddy Ricch – The Box

Looking for more? Discover the history of hip-hop in 20 essential songs.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. UptoWord

    November 19, 2022 at 12:24 am

    I love trap music! It’s so catchy and I can’t get enough of it.

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