It’s 12:30 A.M. on a Saturday night in Isla Vista, California, and sweaty, drunk young adults fill apartments and houses to what feels beyond their capacities. Trap music is a significant part of the party scene in the college town: a square-mile of houses and apartment complexes hosting four students in every two-person bedroom. Students cram into these spaces, drink an excessive amount of alcohol, and grind to bangers like Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga” or 21 Savage’s “X.” Nights like these are usually very memorable (if blurry), and are often followed by mornings where twenty-something year olds laugh while piecing together what might have happened. Most people wouldn’t typically describe cramped spaces, sweaty bodies, and blurry memories as ‘appealing,’ so what’s the reason for the willingness to commune in this way? The dirty, grimy, nasty music. Trap music, as a subgenre of hip-hop, is a movement that makes any party really turn up. For some reason, trap that features 808 bass, hi-hats, and bomb, siren, and gunshot sounds has become a trend amongst this generation’s party-goers, and I’m convinced it’s because of its infectious sound that enchants strangers into rapping and dancing together.
This version of “trap” originated in Atlanta, Georgia, where rappers from the mid-1990s, such as Outkast and all of Organized Noize, used the term to name a place where drugs and a drug-dealing lifestyle were hard to get away from. Trap eventually developed into a genre, and Southern rappers from the early to mid-2000s, such as T.I. and Gucci Mane, began to take on personas of living life “in the trap” by describing their struggles for success. Since then, trap music has continued to develop, arising mainly in different forms in Atlanta, Houston, and Memphis. A decade later, trap music now appears on mainstream Billboard music charts. Trap music’s popularization suggests a globalization of the genre regardless of its beginnings, and it continues to make an appearance in different ways across the United States.
Up until March 17, 2016, Webster Hall in New York City, New York hosted an event called House Party. Entertainment for these events often included DJs popular for remixing trap hits, such as DJ Just Blaze and Va$htie. The event lasted for around two years, which is a significant amount of time at this venue. I traveled to New York City and got to experience House Party for myself on a Thursday night in the summer of 2014. I heard A$AP Ferg’s “Work REMIX” probably about ten times throughout the night; but, the response of the crowd to it was undeniable. Ferg’s opening line, “I gotta close the window before I record ‘cause New York don’t know how to be quiet,” would have people whistling “oooh” and looking around the room at each other while hitting a light Bernie to the opening beat. After three barks, the beat fills itself out, and as Ferg says, “Coogi down to the socks like I’m Biggie poppa,” the whole crowd would hit their dance moves harder and sing along. This happened not only every time this song came on, but for multiple trap songs that the crowd recognized, like “All Gold Everything” by Trinidad James and “Versace” by Migos.
My experience in Portland, Oregon was completely opposite of anything I had yet to experience with trap music. I just recently went to Portland during the spring of 2016, and the music scene is massively different because there is a dearth of hip-hop, nonetheless trap, fans. A good amount of the bars in Portland play music ranging from German metal to indie folk, and most bars avoid playing mainstream music like trap, which is largely consumed. However, one of my first nights there, I went to a bar called Dixie Tavern. Although it’s called a “rock & roll tavern,” the night I went, the DJ decided to play trap songs, starting with Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” (which is famous for getting even the shyest party-goers to dance). The moment this song came on, people began to dance, and afterwards, the DJ continued to play trap-oriented songs to keep people on the dancefloor. I didn’t have any bar experiences similar to what happened at Dixie Tavern for the remainder of my time in Portland, and I believe it’s the most fun I witnessed during my time there.
Although people might not recognize the name Fetty Wap, they will most likely follow accordingly when you say, “Baby girl, you so damn fine, though.” Starting with “Trap Queen,” and continuing to release tracks like “My Way,” “Again,” and the ever-popular “679,” his music quickly became a movement. At the zoo, people might smirk at the first kid to say “I got broads in Atlanta” under his breath at the panda exhibit. This is because of the song “Panda,” a success in itself for awarding Desiigner the privilege of being the first rapper from New York City since Jay-Z to top the Billboard Top 100. Other trap artists like Future and A$AP Rocky complicate the genre by releasing haunting tracks that everyone knows, like “Low Life” and “L$D,” which contrast greatly with their bangers that everyone knows like “Fuck Up Some Commas” and “Fuckin’ Problems,” respectively. Trap music’s variations create diversity in the genre, but it is undeniable that the genre influences party-goers in this generation in a similar manner: it breaks barriers between strangers by starting a conversation through song and dance.