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What is Trap Music? Full Explanation With Examples

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Trap music, in essence, is rap music that describes life around the trap (for those of you not hip enough to know, that’s a house used for drug deals). Trap rappers focus primarily on drugs in their lyrics but are also known to include other elements like their life experiences, general life on the streets, and the struggle for success in life. It’s an incredibly fast-tempo style of music, regularly getting up to over 170 beats per minute. 

In this article, we’ll be defining trap music, discussing its history and relatively fast rise to the mainstream, and talking about some of the biggest names in the history of trap music. 

Defining Trap Music

Trap music is a subgenre of hip hop that originated in the Southern United States during the 1990s. The name comes front the slang term “trap,” used to refer to a house used for selling drugs. Most of the lyrical content in trap music involves drug use, the production of drugs, and selling drugs. It can also incorporate other elements of living life on the streets. 

Urban dictionary, everyone’s favorite place to find definitions for things that aren’t understood by others has a pretty great definition for trap music, which I’ll be paraphrasing below. 

Trap music is a branch of rap music that’s all about life on the streets. Typically, trap lyrics focus on the process of manufacturing, selling, and using drugs, but it can contain other aspects about the streets. The name “trap” comes from the slang term (also “Trap” by the way) for a place where drugs are sold illegally. The genre originated in the Southern United States with Atlanta, Georgia typically credited as the birthplace of the genre. It’s known for having a high beat per minute count, coming in at a fast pace, and lots and lots of bass. 

It’s also important to note that there are two genres of music that have been called trap music in recent years. EDM trap music is an electro-dance style of music that was heavily influenced by the rapid rise in popularity of trap rap music in the 2010s. It was initially just referred to as trap music, which led to a lot of confusion. We will be discussing EDM trap briefly in the history of the trap music section. However, I wanted to go ahead and point out that this article is mainly focused on the trap music that emerged from gangsta rap.

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Key Elements of Trap Music

Trap music differs quite a lot from the traditional hip hop that came before it. It uses synthesized drums, originally the same kind that were made by the Roland TR-808 drum machine. For the most part, trap music will use complex hi-hat patterns, long decays, tuned drum kicks, and very few instruments aside from snare drums and double or triple-timed hi-hats. 

For the most part, all of the lyrical content of trap music centers around life around the trap. Getting money, violence, street life, and the artist’s life experiences can also be incorporated into it. 

The general tempo of trap music is fast, but it does have a range. Some of the instruments may be tuned as low as 50 beats per minute (but programmed to 100 beats per minute) and can range up to 88 beats per minute (programmed to 176 beats per minute). A typical trap music song is closer to 140 beats per minute.  

History of Trap Music

Trap music got its start in the early 90s. As rap grew, numerous subgenres began to emerge. Gangsta rap brought the dangerous lifestyle of people living in impoverished neighborhoods to the public eye. Just as rap music evolved into gangsta rap, gangsta rap evolved into trap music. Early producers of the genre included Lil John in Atlanta Georgia where the term trap originated, along with Mannie Fresh in New Orleans and DJ Paul in Memphis.  Both of the latter two worked with acts from Georgia like Outkast, Goodie Mob, Three 6 Mafia, and Ghetto Mafia. 

One of the earliest trap records to release came out in 1992 in the form of UGK’s Cocaine in The Back Of My Ride. In 1996, Master P released the single Ice Cream Man from his fifth studio album of the same name. Around this time, fans and critics started referring to appears who primarily focused on drug dealing as trap rappers. At the same time, David Drake of Complex magazine wrote that “the trap in the early 2000s wasn’t a genre, it was a real place,” officially coining the term trap for the music that talked about the trap. 

UGK - Cocaine In The Back Of The Ride

Trap music began to emerge as a mainstream genre in the early 2000s as rappers released hit songs that discussed life in the trap and struggling for success. T.I., Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, and Rick Ross all crossed over to produce hit songs that made trap music more popular, and trap records began appearing regularly on radio stations outside of the southern United States. 

The first wave of trap music included rappers like DJ Toomp, Fatboi, Drumma Boy, and Shawty Redd. The early producers of the new genre were mainly Lil Jon, Mannie Fresh, and DJ Paul. 

T.I. claimed to have coined the term trap music and paved the way for the genre in a 2012 interview. Most of the claim lay on his second album titled Trap Muzik. You can read the quote here:

“With the exception of Outkast, let me think, Goodie Mob… with the exception of that, before I came in the game, it was Lil Jon, Outkast, Goodie Mob, okay so you had crunk music and you had Organized Noize. There was no such thing as trap music, I created that, I created that. I coined the term, it was my second album, Trap Muzik it dropped in 2003. After that, there was an entire new genre of music created. An open lane for each of you to do what you do, and live your lives, on T.V., and be accepted by the masses. The masses have accepted you ’cause I opened the door and you walked through it. Don’t forget who opened that door, cuz.“

Rick Ross - B.M.F. ft. Styles P (Official Video)

By the end of the 2000s, there was a second wave of popular trap artists that were regularly topping the Billboard hip hop charts. Lex Luger gained a huge amount of popularity as a trap music producer, putting out more than 200 songs between 2010 and 2011. Mainstream rap artists were picking up the trap music sound more and more frequently, evidenced by Rick Ross’s B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast).

Chief Keef - Love Sosa

Young Jeezy, Chief Keef, and Future all released songs that kept trap music relevant on hip hop charts in the early 2010s. Keef’s music, including the hit song Love Sosa would inspire an entirely new genre of rap called drill music, a style native to the South Side of Chicago. 

Katy Perry - Dark Horse (Official) ft. Juicy J

From there, trap music became one of the most culturally-relevant genres, even influencing artists outside of the hip hop scene. Beyonce’s Drunk in Love, Flawless, and 7/11 all had trap music influences. Lady Gaga dropped a trap music-inspired song on her 2013 album Artpop in the single Jewels ‘n Drugs. Even pop artists like Katy Perry got into it, releasing Dark Horse in 2013 alongside rapper Juicy J. That one ended up reaching the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100

Desiigner - Panda (Official Music Video)

2015 marked the year trap music exceeded the boundaries of music and entered popular culture as a whole. Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen surged to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his next two singles also made it to the top ten of that chart. Desiigner ended up being a sensation in 2016 with the release of Panda, topping the United States Billboard Hot 100 chart and inspiring a massive series of internet memes. 

Migos - Bad and Boujee ft Lil Uzi Vert [Official Video]

Rae Sremmurd and Gucci Mane’s Black Beatles would inspire the viral mannequin challenge while also taking the number one spot on the Hot 100. Then in 2017, a collaboration between Migos and Lil Uzi Vert gave us Bad and Boujee another Hot 100 number one (getting tired of me saying that yet?). 

Cardi B - Bodak Yellow [OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO]

2017 saw the return of 2 Chainz as he released his fourth album Pretty Girls Like Trap Music and it was also the year Cardi B rose to popularity for the song Bodak Yellow. In an interview with Rolling Stone that year, 2 Chainz said “We’re the pop stars. Trap rap is pop now. People’s ears have adjusted to what we have to say and how we say it” when asked about the incredible rise in the popularity of trap music. 

In promotion of his 2018 album, T.I. opened up a trap music museum in Atlanta, Georgia that’s worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood. 

Lil Nas X - Old Town Road (Official Video) ft. Billy Ray Cyrus

A final note before wrapping up, Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road was one of the biggest crossover hits in history. It mixed country/western music and trap music together to produce a single that would debut at number 19 on the Hot Country Songs chart before being removed the week after. It also debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for 19 weeks, smashing all previous records that came before it. 

Like 2 Chainz said, as of today, trap music really is basically pop music. It’s insanely popular, culturally relevant, and has emerged as one of the most commercially successful genres in modern music. 

Trap Influenced EDM

Best of Trap Nation Mix 2021

In 2013, a new style of EDM began breaking into the mainstream music world, spearheaded by producer DJ Snake. The style was a fusion of rave, EDM, and hip hop that capitalized on the booming popularity of both trap music and big room house music. It was just one example of trap music influencing another genre and creating something new. 

Trap EDM music is roughly defined as incorporating rap with elements of electronic dance music like build-ups, drops, and breakdowns. It uses techno, dub, adn electro sounds with the famous Roland TR-808 drum samples alongside vocal trap rap samples. 

Initially, it was just referred to as trap by fans and critics, which led to the term being used to address the music trap rappers were producing and electronic producers, confusing a boatload of people. Eventually, it was labeled EDM trap to distinguish itself from the trap rap genre. Trap-techno and TrapStep have also been used to describe the music. 

As a genre, EDM trap has steadily gained popularity since 2013, with most of the music playing at 140 beats per minute and incorporating ridiculously strong bass drops. The perfect example of the two genres aligning was the 2013 release of Turn Down For What, a collaboration between Lil Jon and DJ Snake that turned into one of the best party jams of 2014.

Biggest Names You Should Know

Waka Flocka Flame

O Let's Do It (feat. Cap)

Waka Flocka Flame is one of the preeminent trap rappers of the early 2010s. He broke into the mainstream music world with singles like O Let’s Do It, Hard In Da Paint, and No Hands. He’s had an outstanding career in the hip hop scene, but one of the funniest things he ever did was a stunt with Rolling Stone Magazine that claimed he was running for president in 2016 despite being too young for it. A solid campaign base included legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum age, and bettering student education. Oh, and Ric Flair would be his vice president 

Lil Jon

DJ Snake, Lil Jon - Turn Down for What

Lil Jon has had an incredible rap career, but for this article, it’s his contributions to trap music that counts. As a music producer in Atlanta, he was perhaps the most influential individual in the early days of trap music, helping to define the genre and produce music that made it into the eyes of mainstream audiences. 

Mannie Fresh & DJ Paul

Mannie Fresh - Real Big (Official Music Video)

Alongside Lil Jon, Mannie Fresh and DJ Paul were the two biggest producers to influence early trap music. The two frequently collaborated with Lil Jon and Atlanta-based rappers, essentially creating the genre of trap music and were instrumental in turning it into the worldwide sensation it is today.

T.I.

T.I. - Whatever You Like [Official Video]

It’s hard to leave T.I. off this section of the article. He believes he’s responsible for the emergence of trap music as a genre, and it’s sort of hard to disagree. He was involved in the scene during the early 2000s, working alongside trap artists to produce crossover hits that generally popularize the genre in the first place. 

Zaytoven

Zaytoven - Mo Reala (Official Music Video) ft. Future

Zaytoven is a trap music producer that’s worked on projects alongside the likes of Gucci Mane, Future, Migos, Lecrae, Lil Yachty, Chief Keef, Boosie Badazz, and Waka Flocka Flame. He would become 1017 Brick Squad’s in-house producer, but has seen quite a lot of success working within the hip hop genre as a whole. Zaytoven is one of the biggest and most important producers in the trap music scene today.

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Final Thoughts on Trap Music

Whatever you think of its origins or namesake, trap music was the type of genre that let artists express themselves and include their personal experiences, opening the eyes of many people to the situations many impoverished communities deal with every day. It took some time to really get going, but it would emerge from gangsta rap and become synonymous with the rap, hip hop, and pop music we have today. 

Trap music is essentially the most culturally-relevant genre of the modern day. It’s spawned its own genres like drill music, influenced genres that have nothing to do with the hip hop scene, and been the biggest influencer of popular culture in recent years. The list of artists incorporating trap elements at this point is nearly limitless. 

A focus on real-life experience, hard-hitting beats, and overall widespread appeal is what got trap music to the state it’s in today.

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