Trap music has been one of the most popular genres since the early 2010s, and it’s perhaps the most influential genre, too, inspiring new generations of rappers and producers worldwide. When it became mainstream, dozens of pop and hip-hop superstars got on the trap bandwagon and included the genre’s features in their productions.
The power and influence trap music has had in the industry as a whole is nothing short of extraordinary, with an impact that extended way outside the hip-hop realm to various genres, from EDM to Latin music and R&B.
What makes this genre so viral is its versatility, simplicity, and appeal to young listeners: a simple, straightforward music genre that requires nothing more than a mind ready to be galvanized by rough lyrics and beats.
Let’s take a look at what defines trap music, how it started, the most important acts, and in which genres we can find its influence.
A definition of trap music
Trap music is a combination of various styles blended together, mostly hip-hop, rap, dubstep, electronic house, and EDM. Though still considered a sub-genre of Hip-Hop, it’s common to find EDM producers and even Pop and R&B artists adding the characteristic trap vibe to their hits.
Regarding rhythm, the fast-paced hi-hats, heavy sub-bass, energetic snare hits, and deep 808 kick drum are the trademarks of trap music; the melody is secondary but used to further expand the song’s depth and expressiveness.
In terms of lyrics, trap music focuses most often on the dangers of drugs and violence in the neighborhoods. In fact, the word “trap” comes from Atlanta slang, referring to where drugs were kept hidden.
Though themes such as drugs and wild lifestyle are often found in trap songs, the genre is more about the sound and rhythm of a song, evolving and spreading to many genres but keeping the characteristic heavy bass and double or triple hi-hat beat.
Main characteristics of trap music
Introduced by the pioneer producers of trap, Lex Luger and Shawty Redd, the tempo used in classic trap was initially 140 BPM. However, after EDM producers started adding trap elements to their songs, the tempo’s range broadened and now can be anywhere between 100 BPM and 160 BMP.
The beats in trap music frequently include electronic kick, snare, clap, and hi-hat beats, as well as synth drum sounds from 808 drum kits like the Roland TR-808. Producers use reverb and distortion to achieve that gritty edge sound typical of modern Trap.
The triplet flow refers to hitting three notes on one beat. Producers make this to create that bouncing and erratic rhythm that Trap listeners enjoy. Triplets are also known as the Migos flow thanks to the hit Versace, where you can clearly hear the triplets repeatedly. Trappers often use triplets with syllables in a phrase.
Rolls and risers with transitions
Transitions are used in trap songs to connect different sections of a song. Any trap beat’s impact can be increased by using rolls and risers, adding silence or ambient sounds, and pitch shifts in the last beat of a bar to warn the audience that a new part of the song is about to begin.
The history of trap music
From rap to trap rappers.
Trap originated in the late ’80s and early ’90s in the Atlanta area, where rappers focused on the world of drugs, trap houses, dealers, and being trapped in that environment and way of life. At this time, rappers began to separate from the political and poetic lyrics of street life, creating the sub-genre gangsta rap, which later evolved into trap music.
Trap was born as a hip-hop sub-genre.
Trap music rose to prominence thanks to the mainstream artists who took the sound of trap and the lyrical themes outside the Southern United States. Rappers such as T.I., Young Jeezy, and Gucci Mane are considered the pioneers of trap, along with producers Shawty Redd and DJ Toomp, followed by the new generation of trap producers: Metro Boomin’, Lex Luger and Mike Will Made-It.
By the mid-2000s, a new wave of producers helped shape the modern trap sound. Producer Lex Luger, found on MySpace by rapper Waka Flocka Flame, became famous after producing the hit Hard in the Paint, becoming a leading figure in the trap music scene.
Evolution of trap
Trap has been expanding worldwide, reaching many kinds of producers who have started to mix the sound of trap with their own. Among the more popular sub-genres of trap we find EDM Trap and Latin Trap. However, you can hear trap influences in pop songs, among R&B singers, reggaeton, and even among artists with no hip-hop background like in electronic music and K-pop.
Around the 2010s, electronic music started using trap elements to make songs more mainstream. DJs incorporated these elements in EDM tracks, creating a fusion of Hip-Hop, rave, and EDM, later called EDM Trap, to avoid confusion with the trap hip-hop sub-genre. Traptechno and trapstep are common names given for mixes made by producers and DJs worldwide.
EDM trap features the typical sound of the Roland TR-808 drum machine in the beat and the build-ups and breakdowns typical of electronic music.
The combination of EDM and trap has proven successful, introducing into the club scene a new energetic sound, with hip-hop and EDM producers working with DJs and artists in both genres, like DJ Snake, who worked with Lil Jon on the hit Turn Down for What.
Among the most famous song in EDM Trap are TNGHT with Higher Ground, Baauer with the billboard hit Harlem Shake, RL Grime with Tell Me and Came Up by Flosstradamus.
What differentiates trap from EDM trap is the more electronic approach of producers, applying the Roland TR-808 drum samples to electro, dub, and techno sounds in their mix.
In Puerto Rico, Latin trap was influenced by the original southern trap and local genres reggaeton and dembow. Following the original trap scene, Latin Rap’s lyrics speak about street lifestyle, drugs, sex, and violence.
Reggaeton singers sought to connect Spanish-speaking audiences to American hip-hop and R&B by introducing elements of these genres to their music. Besides the defining sound of trap beats, Latin traps include a mix of rapping and singing with the (over)use of autotune and Spanish lyrics.
Over time, Latin trap beats grew more popular among Latin rappers, and Arcángel, De La Ghetto, and Anuel AA became the pioneers of Latin trap and expanded it to many countries in Latin America and Spain.
Other names started to appear among the most popular Latin trap singers toward the close of the 2010s, including Bad Bunny and J Balvin, who were guests in the 2020’s Super Bowl Halftime Show with Shakira and J.Lo, performing Latin trap for the first time in a national event.
Latin trap has received much criticism from listeners due to its aggressive and explicit lyrics. Despite that, today Bad Bunny is considered the top Latin Trap artist and was listed as one of the most influential people in 2021. He’s also been on top of Spotify’s Top Artists Global since 2020.
Trap in pop
Trap owes its popularity in other genres thanks to its distinctive sound and rhythm.
We can hear trap trends in Pop music in some tracks like Lady Gaga’s Jewels N’ Drugs, featuring trap pioneer TI and rappers Too Short and Twista. The song Dark Horse by Katty Perry featuring rapper Juicy J is another example of trap-meets-pop music.
Recently we’ve seen many pop singers embrace the sound of trap in their music. Among some of these Pop artists, we can hear Taylor Swift (End Game), Selena Gomez (Fetish), Halsey (Without Me), Why Don’t We (What Am I), Ellie Goulding (Close To Me), and Lauren Jauregui (More Than That), to name just a few.
The most representative artist implementing trap sounds in Pop might be Pop-R&B singer Ariana Grande with her album Sweetener, which has many tracks influenced by trap rhythms.
Speaking of R&B, many singers have also borrowed the trap bass lines and triple hi-hats to create the characteristic gritty sound and mix it with contemporary R&B. Such sound can be heard in Beyoncé’s 2013 homonymous album.
Trap in K-pop
Trap music has made its way from Atlanta’s streets to the hip-hop, R&B, and pop scene, and now has made the big jump to South Korea in the K-Pop genre (which is another genre currently paving its way into the West).
The Duo G-Dragon released their single Good Boy with Taeyang from BIGBANG, a trap hit that has been compared to DJ Snake and Lil Jon‘s Turn Down for What. Later the boy group BIGBANG also released an EDM trap-influenced track titled Bang, Bang, Bang, which was a huge success in South Korea.
Another example of K-Pop catching on to trap is with crowd-favorite girl group BLACKPINK and their single DDU-DU DDU-DU and Come Back Home by 2NE1.
K-pop seems more influenced by the EDM side of trap rather than hip-hop, unlike Latin trap and pop which both appear to be more influenced by the original trap rappers. Still, all the elements that define the genre are there.
Most famous trap artists
TI – 24s
I’ve got to start with TI and his second album, Trap Muzik, the album that essentially made him the godfather of trap music. You might disagree with TI claiming he invented trap music (Wikipedia hedges on this one), but the album is still a genre milestone.
Gucci Mane – Icy
Gucci Mane is another trap pioneer; his debut album in 2005, Trap House, was produced by the legendary trap producer Shawty Redd. His famous mixtape releases made him extremely popular in the Atlanta trap scene, along with TI and Young Jeezy.
Young Jeezy – Soul Survivor
Young Jeezy is the third member of the “trap trinity”. His debut album, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, helped expand trap to a mainstream audience.
Future – March Madness
Future is another trap rapper from Atlanta who stays true to the trap origins with tales about drugs and wealthy life with autotuned vocals and classic trap beats.
Final thoughts on trap music
Whether you like it or not, trap music won’t leave the Billboard charts anytime soon. Fueled by the success of rappers and producers across all genres, Trap represents the soundtrack of the new generation of artists and listeners globally.
Like all music genres, trap music is multifaceted and offers a wide range of different vibes, so even if you feel like it might not be your cup of tea, give it a try. You may find something that resonates with you.