History of Trap Music

by Piero Scaruffi

TM, ®, Copyright © 2019 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.


During the 1990s, hip-hop spread outside of its traditional bases (New York and Los Angeles), reaching the far corners of the globe. In particular, Outkast, the duo of Andre "Dre" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, and Goodie Mob, fronted by vocalist Thomas "Cee-Lo Green" Callaway, were representative of the rise of Atlanta's hip-hop music; and UGK (Underground Kingz), the rapping duo of Bun B (Bernard Freeman) and Pimp C (Chad Butler), was representative of Texas' hip-hop scene.

[Note: these are additions to my History of Rock and Dance Music ]

Meanwhile, around 1991 in Houston, a dj called Robert Davis and known as DJ Screw invented a technique of "chopped and screwed" mixtapes to mimic the effect of "sippin' sizzurp" (codeine cough syrup), an increasingly popular drug. A group of rappers known as the Screwed Up Click (including Marcus "Lil Keke" Edwards, Kenneth "Big Moe" Moore, Cedric "E.S.G." Hill, John "Big Hawk" Hawkins and his brother Patrick "Fat Pat" Hawkins) began rapping on that music. In 1994 Big Hawk, Fat Pat, DJ Screw, Lil' Keke and Koldjack formed the group D.E.A. and released the album Screwed For Life. DJ Screw died in 2000 of an overdose, after releasing dozens of mixtapes, but his style lived on and became influential in the age of trap music.

Trap is a style of rap music that is characterized by the Roland TR-808 hi-hat triplet snares, an iconic sound first introduced by DJ Mantronik's single Bassline (1986). Afrika Bambaataa had used the Roland TR-808 in Planet Rock (1982) but the device mostly failed to find a market, precisely because it didn't sound like real drums. Ironically, in 1983 Roland had stopped making it. Luckily this meant that the device could easily be found in second-hand stores or just purchased new at discount prices. And poor djs started using it to create distinctive sound effects. For example, Los Angeles' dj Egyptian Lover (Greg Broussard) used it to create sound effects for his signature song Egypt Egypt (1984). When he performed in Miami, he taught the trick to 2 Live Crew, who used the TR-808 to shape their Throw The D (1986). They then found a way to boost the decay knob and created Me So Horny (1989) and Banned in the U.S.A. (1990). Among those who learned the trick from 2 Live Crew was a young dj from Atlanta, DJ Toomp, who went on a tour with them. New Orleans' dj Mannie Fresh (Byron Thomas) too pioneered the frenzied hi-hats with Juvenile's album 400 Degreez (1998). Atlanta's producer Shawty Redd sculpted Terence "Drama" Cook `s debut album Causin' Drama (2000) with frenzied hi-hats.

Trap music lay dormant for a few years. Texas' posse UGK (short for Underground Kingz) initiated trap music on Too Hard to Swallow (1992) with tracks such as Pocket Full of Stones, followed in Memphis by both the duo 8Ball & MJG with On the Outside Looking In (1994) and the group Three 6 Mafia with Mystic Stylez (1995). Three 6 Mafia launched the subgenre of Memphis crunk with the album Chapter 1: The End (1996) that featured the song Gette'm Crunk. Cruck predates the boom of trap music with a similar sound.

At first the genre didn's spread at all, but Atlanta producers and rappers turned it into a sensation. First came Aldrin "DJ Toomp" Davis through his partnership with rapper Clifford "T.I." Harris that began on I'm Serious (2001) and climbed the charts with Trap Muzik (2003). "Trap house" was also the word by which drug users referred to the buildings where drug dealers sold their ware; and T.I.'s lyrics focused on the trap house, just like the lyrics of UGK, 8Ball & MJG and many others, but T.I. popularized the term, a term already used by Goodie Mob in Thought Process (1995) and by OutKast in SpottieOttieDopaliscious (1998). Then came rapper Mario "Yo Gotti" Mims with Life (2003). Then came Atlanta's rapper Jay "Young Jeezy" Jenkins with a mixtape titled Trap or Die (2004), produced by Tyree "DJ Drama" Simmons, and with Let's Get It - Thug Motivation 101 (2005), mostly produced by Demetrius "Shawty Redd" Stewart except for Standing Ovation produced by the classically-trained Chris "Drumma Boy" Golson. Shawty Redd also produced Trap House (2005), the album that launched the career of rapper Radric "Gucci Mane" Davis. Jeezy and Gucci collaborated on the single Icy (2005), produced by Xavier "Zaytoven" Dotson. Note that at the same time a similar hi-hat pattern was becoming popular in metalcore. Lexus "Lex Luger" Lewis produced the crunk/trap album Flockaveli (2010), including the hit Hard In Da Paint, by Juaquin "Waka Flocka Flame" Malphurs, characterized by supercharged 808 hi-hats. Luger then produced several trap hits such as Rick Ross' B.M.F. (2010) and the Kanye West and Jay-Z collaboration H.A.M. (2011). The careers of younger producers such as Leland "Metro Boomin" Wayne and Michael "Mike WiLL" Williams started in trap music.

Trap's subgenre drill was launched by Chicago's producer Tyree "Young Chop" Pittman with rapper Chief Keef's I Don't Like (2012). Confusingly, a subgenre of house music originating from Chicago was also called "trap". Influenced by the chopped-and-screwed technique of DJ Screw, this electronic trap became popular after Flosstradamus (the Chicago-based duo of Curt Cameruci and Josh Young) released the EP Total Recall (2012) and remixed the Major Lazer single Original Don (2012), and after New York-based dj Harry "Baauer" Rodrigues had a hit with Harlem Shake (2012).

Crunk had been launched by Three 6 Mafia's Chapter 1 - The End (1996) in Memphis and by Jon "Lil Jon" Smith's Get Crunk Who U Wit - Da Album (1997), co-produced with DJ Troomp in Atlanta. Crunk became a national sensation with Li Jon's best-selling album Kings of Crunk (2002). Crunk hits began to climb the charts, notably Crime Mob's hits Knuck if you Buck (2004) and Rock Yo Hips (2006), and Chris Brown's Run It (2005).

TM, ®, Copyright © 2002 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.

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