I am writing this piece listening to my line up of so-called “Trap songs”. First on the list is Megu by Titi Deewani and shortly Kijanah and his Hakuna Stress will follow. I am a music fan and I listen to anything if it works for me, it should stick right? Even if it doesn’t I can revisit it to make sure my mood didn’t influence my decision. Remember that previous sentence as you read on!
What is Trap music really? What do these rappers mean by “I am trapping”?
Trap has come to be defined by the 70 to 100 BPM (Beats per minute) Read here for that technicality. For others, the definition is by the content or message presented: fun, drugs, braggadocio all delivered on a sloppy beat. “Trap is just less rapping with dope ass beats making more sense or the beats are the bait” I once heard one person argue.
Trap music is based on use of the 808 Roland drum machine, pitched and re-
sampled hiphop/rap vocals, pipe flutes, gangsta synth leads, and various FX. – Urban Dictionary
Trap music fist emerged coming primarily from the south, a genre filled with a hard attitude that you can feel in the sound of the brass, triangle, triplet hi hats, loud kicks, snappy snares and low end 808 bass samples that are used when composing tracks. The percussion samples of choice when making trap music are usually originate[d] from the Roland TR-808 Drum Machine.
The Boom bap heads always have an issue with trap music. If you have listened to the vibrant Ntinda Movement (NTM) lately their music is called Trap. The 808’s are dominant, the cow bell is used here and there, a Lex Luger sample too and the sound is often narrowed to turn up music or songs for the club. Internationally DJ Mustard is almost the go to guy or Metro Boomin for an exclusive trap beat. Locally; we have Dustville because of Baru, Sliq Teq with Dizzy Dust Records and one passionate “trapper” Ledra for tempo Music: all have their hands around this “millennial” sound.
Globally trap is defined along the promiscuous life styles of rappers on this popular sound. For as long as your head mobs the rapper can go ahead and mumble. It is true the more creative the beats have become the lesser lyrics there are. Future any one, Kevin Gates any one?
Let us define trap music if possible in the comment section.
If the T in Trap is for trap as a verb; objectively Ugandan Trap is a sound that documents the world these artists are trapped in. Hip hop aims at liberating you when you get involved, to offer an outlet to voice a message right? I would like us to look at Trap as Triumph rap – why? Because those who use it to voice their fears, observations and disillusions -they are triumphing over those very things that hold them back. Would you rather they give up the craft and hit you with actual metal bars? I think I would rather mental bars.
There is a debate that comes: is gravity hip hop and is Trap even hip hop. But what is your definition of hip hop.
Trap is a subgenre so they say. It is one way to refer to a sound that doesn’t conform to the ordinary sound (which one is the ordinary?). I know for a fact every club song is being referred to as a trap song even if some of its elements borrow from soul and disco. Anything “without” a message is trap. Sliq Teq’s Hair Down with Felippe was a single off his unreleased Trap House Memoirs. Think about the EP’s title for a moment. Did you listen to Hair Down? He spoke of his affection for a lady he wishes to care for and cherish always. How TRAP is that? Atlas, a few months ago dropped his I rather Be with you and with a well thought story of a gangster like dude with the pimp in him. He can go to extremes to rescue a lady from an abusive man. She doesn’t care whether he has a lady: She rather is with him. You could think of this as a polygamous tendency anyway but – How TRAP is that?
Reason why I brought Atlas in the picture is that he is a self-proclaimed African Trap Star. He has done typical trap mentality inspired tracks like Free Chapo (which isn’t a typical trap sound though). Any trap rapper likes to elevate themselves – isn’t that what any emcee does? “I am lyrically Nuvey/ that means my sh*t is brand new/Hip hop hurray!” The big challenge is when promising rappers will let the stereotype define them by accepting to be the drug dealers on songs or rather portray the same feel watch: 6AM in Nairobi and, notice Flex D’Paper feel like Tony Montana in Scarface – but we all know the story and how it ends!
Pryce Teeba dropped his Kambajulire Mixtape in 2015 and had one really popular song – Side Zeno. This tape if you asked me: “what you would call most of the tracks?” , I would tell you the answer you already know – TRAP! A Notable track is Kalimagezi featuring Ruyonga. May be Ruuu made it a less Trap a song? I find this subgenre thingy even disturbing to some point. Kalimagezi documents street knowledge, for you to survive you need to be wise = “kalimagezi”. Wise men and women plan and do things uniquely well.
I am not saying there are no blind sides to TRAP. In fact Trap music is one lane many have made so superficial, abusive, and misogynistic but if I ask don’t boom bap rappers offer the same sometimes? May be not? Art is art! There will be those making conformist art and those who will do rebellious work. The problem that comes with it is if the culture at the time is okay with oppressing the females then the tracks will reflect that. “My b***h is bad like my bad b*****s” – that’s dumb right? but read between the lines. When it is time to rebel – what is the rebellion leading to – more oppression and degrading staff?
Hip hop is supposed to be a culture of inclusion if we forget the trap that “Trappers” may get themselves in then what the hell are we as a culture?
We need to look at our own situation but still paying attention to originators right? Our cultural set ups are quite different. I was listening to The Combat Show podcast an Episode with Pras Michel (former The Fugees member) and he remarked about hip hop beyond America and in a paraphrase he said: it is even better, filled with passion. My point is, even gangster rap is good! But Are you rappers actually gangsters? What about; simply taking the attitude to a more civil level? Each studio operates like a gang (band) in Kampala but the things real gangsters actually do are distanced from the music world. They shouldn’t even be included. If so that’s where the real trap is, not in Ugandan Trap music with an uplifting voice.
The trap case is not a problem here in Uganda only. We can’t excuse the culture vultures that hip hop faces. YG is an American rapper who has a number of trap songs like Smokin’ and Drinkin’ featuring Kendrick. They speak of shinning and making it through life and resort to smoking and drinking as a means to cope. They explain this inclination to drug life – the reality makes their accessible to them not based on anything beyond them. To relate basing on what we described above in the beginning Trap is like any other art or subgenre of hip hop for that matter. Paint artists sometimes paint what is in their imagination, their reality and what they get in contact with. A rapper is an artist, trust me!
Mickey So-Low’s debut EP, Last Breed has its weaknesses like the whole idea of “bitches” but he recovers from that by clarifying what it means to be ghetto and not to get to him. Being a last breed more like saying a few remaining sane people hoping to make it in life. The Trap to me is the issues like poverty, peer pressure, disillusionment and other related issues. First the reality will be “I fucked six bitches in one night/ I am aight, took two puffs of that joint to clear my sight/” Hip hop is supposed to be a culture of inclusion if we forget the trap that “Trappers” may get themselves in then what the hell are we as a culture? Mickey So-Low on My Place is not the same Muntu Solow on Gone.
They will think all the so-called gangster life is a right, rite of passage into the business.
When references to Tony Montana, Pablo Escobar, El Chapo and the like are made I ask myself one question: Do we know how the story ends? Having a means to elevate where you come from and you do it the wrong way doesn’t help at all. You will be forgotten as soon as you are not trapping any more. The word trap is slang for doing, trafficking drugs and that’s the real TRAP for young emerging artists.
The artists shouldn’t be told what to do but they have a responsibility to promote values with the trap music
They will think; all the so-called gangster life is a right, rite of passage into the business. My drug of choice for hip hop is knowledge. The young rappers, who are quick to be judged, need that knowledge – they need to be guided. [Shout out Hip Hop boot camp]. Hakuna stress by Kijanah talks of a life that is stress free but a sane person: You need money, a job to be exact to enable you live without stress for at least a night and the stress pops back. Make music and get a job, make making music your job, not trapping your favourite drug(s) a line of duty.
The American Trap music is a double sword that I know well Ugandan teens want to replicate and want to make their reality. Yes there is a close resemblance but the rappers need to differentiate what is progressive not derailing! When Future is baking soda must you do the same? When Pryce says “Trap dealer bulyomu gwa’yogeroko/Tunda kush atayina kasa fala we’liko…” ([I am a] Trap dealer everyone talks about/ I sell marijuana one without USHS 1,000 wacky person damn you) must you be the same or you should hold him accountable? Pryce offers survival tips however – the irony is the reference is from Just a Beat , a boom bap driven track. Who is to blame when we are all trapped in this dilemma? The artists shouldn’t be told what to do but they have a responsibility to promote values with the trap music – which I think is one message critics forget to emphasise. As long as there isn’t mumbling lets support what is good!
For that matter looking for Everything by Ledra featuring KSL, MAFB to Trap out of the trap of thinking all trap music is not worthy – press play.
“Bobi Wine is a nice Trap Song” I should end with Felipe’s line on Just a Beat: “It’s just a beat let it play”
Until the next piece, Clear the Air series part Two will return and now over to you!
All views presented are of the author.