It’s one of the most searched words by young people on YouTube. It gets
millions of views on Spotify every day. According to the international
ranking of the most famous music streaming platform, trap tracks were
amongst the most listened to in 2018, and the trend continues to grow. A
mix of music and words that becomes kind of the soundtrack to the lives of
young people and teenagers, but also pre-adolescents, who are always
connected through their smartphones and headphones, and spend hours and
hours listening to trap tracks.
What is trap music?
Trap was born in the South of the United States in the early nineties and
is, in essence, a subgenre of rap, or rather of hip-hop. The word trap
began to spread in youthful slang during those years, and to be used
frequently in the lyrics of some rappers including Cool Breeze, Dungeon
Family, Ghetto Mafia and Outkast.
It is used to indicate the trap houses, the old abandoned houses in the
ghettos of Atlanta where drug dealing and consumption were common, and
where, many of those who entered, ended up being trapped in that
“lifestyle”. The name of this genre of music refers exactly to a trap.
Thus, from the stories about the events in those apartments, the
characteristics of a new musical model began to be defined, the main topics
being, specifically, drugs, drug dealing and money; while in terms of
sound, the ‘classic’ rap, in trap, changes due to the contribution of
synthesizers and electronic drums. The sound becomes a product of
synthesis, almost entirely made on the PC and you do not need great
virtuosity to become a trap singer. Even the voice, in fact, is corrected
through the use of AutoTune, a software that serves to create vocal
effects, but is also used to cover any errors in intonation and mask the
defects of the voice.
Trap mania: not only music, but also video
Over time, trap music has progressively moved away from ghettos, and has
become increasingly popular. This is due to the growing fame of rappers
such as T.I., Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, Young Thug and Migos, but also
because already established singers have begun to play trap songs.
Nowadays trap music can be considered a real mainstream phenomenon
worldwide, which has achieved incredible ratings and reached the first
places in the lists of international hits.
Of course, it has gradually lost the connotation of underground music and
the lyrics have gradually diluted the discourse on the desire for
redemption. What remains however, to characterize the genre, in almost all
the most famous singers’ songs and as an indissoluble marriage, is the
reference to the original environment, the set, the atmosphere of the trap
house as a symbol of a lifestyle built on drugs, sex, easy money, women as
sexual objects, designer clothes and ‘high-fun’. These are all
characteristic elements of a storytelling style that acts as a “soundtrack”
to the life of many young people.
The construction of the image of the trapper, image that then guarantees
profits and success, is in line with new model of the music market and
passes, inevitably, through the videos of the songs. The videos describe
visually the lyrics with more or less detail. Houses, luxury cars, jewelry,
expensive watches, designer clothes are shown; drugs are consumed, women
are ‘used’. Often the trapper’s neighbourhoods are the backdrops; the
message is that even from there (often on the outskirts of the city) you
can be successful, with music. With music you can make money and buy
clothes from the most expensive brands, go around with gold chains around
your neck and get wrapped in a cloud of smoke.
The drugs are among the protagonists of the videos and stories of the
trappers. Two drugs are the most common, marijuana and purple drank, which
is obtained by mixing codeine syrup and soft drinks. This is a cocktail
with sedative and psychoactive effects which are rather easy to achieve,
also because not all countries require a prescription to buy this medicine.
The use of these substances is present in almost all videos by trap singers
and characterizes many of the texts. It is declared without inhibitions by
artists, even in interviews and stories on Instagram. The relationship
between drugs and new music is certainly not a new phenomenon. It has
always existed, just think of the link between drugs and parts of the rock
world in the seventies and some elements of disco music in the ’80s, just
to name two examples. Nothing new, then, as well as the desire for
redemption that music has always tried to interpret in some way, along with
transgression and youth rebellion, a search of affirmation in autonomy and
liberation from the dominant culture. The novelty, in this case, is perhaps
in the numbers, and therefore in its diffusion.
The trappers’ videos stream on Youtube and get millions of views, as well
as on Instagram. This type of music is overwhelming the net, through all,
but not only, social channels. To count the clicks on the music platforms
you need six-figure numbers.
Trap: passing fashion or a new cultural phenomenon?
Is trap music, which was born to give voice to a social unease, turning
itself into a cultural phenomenon? Yes, trap music and everything it
represents, is becoming a cultural phenomenon. And taking this as a
starting position for further reflection can perhaps serve to grasp the
real dimensions of the phenomenon, not only from a quantitative point of
view, but also from a qualitative one. This was the starting point for
studies and research which have been carried out since the beginning of the
year 2000, and took into consideration, for example, how rap music has gone
from condemning drug use to exalting it and evaluating the relationship
between this type of musical attitude and the actual increase in drugs
among the same group of young people interested in listening to rap music.
study carried out by researchers at the University of Berkeley
, California, was published in 2008 and showed how the number of references
to drugs in rap music has progressively increased since the genre
revolutionized popular music. In more recent songs, references to drugs
were three times more likely to have themes of glamour and wealth than in
previous titles, and seven times more likely to emphasize drug use as a
form of entertainment or as an accompaniment to sex.
Trappers are role models for young fans who follow them. Listening, but
also just hearing without paying much attention to the meaning of the
words, humming sentences, which are repeated obsessively in the mind,
certainly influences the way of speaking; and so everyday speech borrows
from that slang. Expressions that could previously have been considered
vulgar are ‘normalised’ and it is already almost in everyone’s lips. By the
same token, we also get used to thinking that facts correspond to words,
that life is a pure rush. And yes, because the word is performative, even
more so because of the communicative power of those who use it. The
successful singer represents a reference model, if not an idol, for the
many who ‘receive’ the message and who, humming and humming, end up
imitating its gestures, language and way of presenting themselves.
Trap music is not only enjoyed by young people, but also by very young
people for whom it seems to have a particular appeal. The youngest,
especially, are captivated by this type of musical proposal because it
offers a model to get noticed and to build an identity, in an evolutionary
phase characterized by the process of self-construction. The trapper is
basically a model of exhibitionism, in which the very young people identify
themselves, in search of approval, chasing as many likes as possible.
Often, with the help of social networks, this type of music is listened to
in a superficial way but this should not lead to diminish the problematic
aspect represented by the repetitiveness of certain language and certain
concepts, especially in view of the fact that our perception of the world,
and of relationships, happens, inevitably, through words. Therefore, the
characteristic expressiveness of trap represents a privileged tool for
observing reality, which often refers us to an image where the success of
appearances predominates, where the logo becomes a fetish and is brandished
to affirm an identity, of which, perhaps, we are still desperately looking
The role of adults
The risk that many adults see is that it is easy to ‘get lost’ between
music and words. But giving up and hiding behind a barrier, with which to
defend oneself, does nothing but increase the distances and wide the
differences that the trap music is pointing at. Such an attitude leads to
“fulfil the prophecy” of the message conveyed by the trap music ideology.
While, considering the real dimension of the phenomenon can help to
increase the awareness that an ‘accompaniment’ in decoding messages is
needed. It is necessary for adults to begin to decode the visual and
textual inputs of this music together with younger people, in the family
and in schools, without demonizing it, but helping at finding the
underlying meaning and highlighting the danger of certain messages.