By Darryl Smith Jnr
It’s safe to say that hip-hop, specifically rap music, is here to stay.
After over 40 years of existence hip-hop has made its way into becoming, according to Spotify’s analysis, “the most listened to genre in the world”, proving that rap music has come far from its beginnings in the low income housing projects of America, to being a force to be reckoned with, within music. Naturally with a progression of a genre, you begin to see new forms of that genre beginning to place. In rock you have Heavy metal and Glam rock, or in R&B you had the New Jack Swing scene as well as the Neo-Soul scene. These new forms of old genres are often referred to as sub-genres and will usually last for a few years and eventually fade out due to various reasons.
Sometimes, one may look at rap music and believe it all to be the same, however just like with Rock and R&B music, this is not the case. Rap music has its sub-genres that range from socially conscious rap to gangster rap. Two total opposite styles of performing rap music that may or may not deliver totally opposing messages, depending on the artists you choose to listen to. Now here’s where you’re not-so-everyday rap fan may get confused. When it comes to the sub-genres of rap music, those sub-genres can have a sub-genre; this is the case with gangster rap.
When it comes to the sub-genre gangster rap you have another sub-genre, known as trap music. Trap music encompasses all of the basic forms of gangster rap music from telling the stories of the harsh realities of the urban life in America, to challenging social authority in a way that members of all urban communities can relate to. But what makes Trap music different from Gangster rap is deeper than just words. First and foremost the word and the culture originates in the southern part of America. Mainly Atlanta is given credit for the creation of the music and the word “Trap”, which speaks to a house in urban America that is usually occupied by individuals who take part in the selling of, as well as making, illegal drugs; mostly crack-cocaine. Therefore trap music speaks directly to those individuals who spend majority of their time in what’s known as a “Trap House”. Big Boi of the duo Outkast has a line in their song “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” from their 1998 album Aquemini that speaks directly to what the trap house is, what it does to an individual, and why one might choose that as their occupation. Big Boi states, “…the people at the post office Didn’t call you back because you got cloudy piss/ So now you back in the trap/ just that, trapped”. The line signifies the trap house as being exactly what it is, a trap for individuals who may have made the wrong choice earlier in life and now they have walked themselves into a risky situation.
Nevertheless, regardless of the risk that comes with being in the trap house, the music that has grown out of this culture is just as addictive and informative as its daddy sub-genre, gangster rap. However, artists who are of the trap culture rarely speak of it in a negative light and often times glorify the life they live inside of the trap, along with the things that come with that life, such as; death, violence, drug addicts, and even prison. One of the most famous trap rappers is a man who goes by the name Gucci Mane, known for his hit songs that detail life in the trap house like; “My Kitchen”, “Trap House”, and “Kick A Door”. In fact, Gucci Mane lives for the trap so much that he has been given the nickname of “Trap God”. As the “Trap God” Gucci has taken the culture to new heights inspiring other trap rappers like Future, Chief Keef, and even Fetty Wap whose hit single “Trap Queen” dominated just about every party and urban radio station this past summer.
However, there’s more to it than just the music coming out of the trap house. One can argue based on what I given you so far that trap music has been around since the 90s, maybe even before, with groups like the Wu-Tang Clan who talk about houses in which drugs would be sold out of, going to jail and committing various crimes. However, I would argue that Trap music doesn’t come around till about 2004. What makes Trap music different from what was being done in the 90s is the actual sound of it. This is why artists like Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy are often noted as the beginning of trap music, as they produced lyrics over these beats that were edgy, hard hitting, and quite frankly gave you the feeling of being just as gangster as Gucci Mane & Young Jeezy.
The production of trap music is basically the sound of the brass, triangle, triplet hi hats, loud kicks, snappy snares and low-end 808 bass samples. This all work around a rapper’s voice, whose lyrics usually lack depth and just cut straight to the point. An example of this is Gucci Mane’s song “Trap House”. Where the beat is a basic 4/4 time signature with a heavy bass, consistent snare kick, and very energetic melodic synths to work around Gucci’s simple lyrics. Some example lyrics from the song “trap house” are, “Choppa on the floor, pistol on the coach/ Hood rich so I never had a bank account/ Junkies goin’ in, junkies goin’ out/ Made a hundred thou’ in my trap house”. The lyrics are straight to the point as Gucci Mane describes the basic lifestyle that comes with the trap house as well as the reward. However, the lyrics are only 50% of the song, what’s most captivating is the beat which has a bounce to it that both hypnotic and addictive when listening.
As stated earlier, trap music is a sub-genre of a sub-genre. It is another form of gangster rap, however, it differs when it comes to sound and subject matter as trap music often times glorifies the things that someone would see as evil or just plain stupid. For example the lyrics above where Gucci Mane actually brags about not having a bank account, something that can be looked as being financially irresponsible. However, what matters most to regular artists doesn’t really matter to a trap rapper as they come from a world that is dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, and most young men don’t live to see the age of 18. The sound that comes with this often times is so hypnotizing that an individual can completely ignore the words and be swept up in the bouncy beat and hard hitting bass, feeling like the sound of a champion rather than a drug dealer. Trap music invites all listeners into the trap house and completely ignores all of the opinions one may have of their lifestyle as the music creates both revenue and an outlet for an artists to tell a more gruesome side of the “ghetto American story”.
- Mane, Gucci. Trap House. Gucci Mane. Big Cat Records, 2005. MP3.
- Spottieottiedopaliscious. LaFace, 1998. CD.
- The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
- “What Is Trap Music? Trap Music Explained | Run The Trap.” Trap Music Blog Run The Trap The Best Hip Hop EDM Club. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out
By Liam Swan
With the terms EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) so liberally used in contemporary music journalism to segregate electronic music further than ever before, one inherently important question comes to mind; are the terms EDM and IDM legitimately defined and are they required?
Even in the early formations of progressive rock, Jim Morrison of The Doors undertook a very bold speculation on the future of music in the 1960s, claiming that eventually there would be ‘one person with a lot of machines’ to produce popular music. Ironically, the dawn of electronic music started ever so soon with the birth of artists and bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk in the late 1960s and early 1970s, hailing their use of synthesisers to produce melancholically progressive tracks such as “Autobahn” to what could perhaps be perceived as colder, more robotic sounding tracks like “Numbers.”
With such artists eventually circuiting Europe and beyond, a popularisation of producing music through a heavy use of electronic equipment emerged quite rapidly leading up to the 1990s. Take “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division for example. Although defined by post-punk aesthetics of rock, the song essentially owes itself to its heavy use of synth to maintain its melodic rhythm throughout the song. Stephen Morris, the drummer of Joy Division, even went as far as stating that “if I ever start a band, I’d like them to sound like this” in reference to his first listening of the Krautrock band, Neu!
Following this circulation of what has been formally labelled as Krautrock & electronically infused artists from Germany, the production of music through an electronic means, to me, seems like a fusion of differentiating, or even similar genres to form new styles of sound through electronic instruments; the likes of which can be seen in bands experimenting with genre, much like Joy Division throughout the post-punk period of rock. However, although this defining structure of genre may hold true, for example, with rock being a fusion of country and blues music, the popular use of the terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ as genres promotes a certain ignorance of genre classification the music industry has never seen before.
When I say ignorance however, I don’t necessarily mean to undermine the intelligence of certain electronic music journalists, but instead to promote a certain awareness to the origins of artists placed under these umbrella genre definitions. As an example, FACT published a list relative to the usage of the ‘IDM’ term with what they claim to be the best ‘IDM’ tracks to have emerged from the music industry since the genre’s supposed conception. One of the many artists thrown into this pile, known as Apex Twin, made it abundantly clear that he finds such a term to be “really nasty to everyone else’s music” and that “it’s basically saying ‘this is intelligent and everything else is stupid.’”
To an extent I believe Aphex Twin is correct. Labelling one kind of music as ‘intelligent’ and another outside the genre creates a certain snobbishness surrounding what could be seen as a ‘higher’ form of music with a much more acquired taste. That’s not to say the genre was born with no reason. I can understand why the music journalism world required such a term when artists such as Aphex Twin emerged with tracks like “Come To Daddy” and even Squarepusher with “Come On My Selector.”
Tracks which, although produced through electronic means, do not conform specifically to genres such as ‘Detroit Techno’ or Chicago House’ which were becoming popularised around Europe during this period. Genre terms such as ‘Drill n’ Bass’ have been used to an extent in relation to such tracks, but when referring back to such artists, the term IDM is unrightfully so used as an umbrella genre term. With the term being so liberally used in music journalism today however, a certain skepticism surrounding such a dumbing down of genre classification comes to mind.
It is this, I propose, which is stifling musical growth inside and outside of the mainstream music industry. Think of it through the eyes of a massively popular artist like Aphex Twin; if you were a musician of such a calibre, would you like to be thrown into a pile of other musicians, whose music may not even remotely sound like your own? Or be labelled as ‘intelligent’ compared to other musicians who you may enjoy listening to?
When EDM as a genre term is considered, it fall under the same problems which IDM suffers in terms of classification alone; why is EDM labelled as ‘electronic’ dance music rather than just dance music? If this is such a concerning feat, why aren’t most popular forms of rock considered just dance music rather than rock? I alone have been to countless live rock gigs such as Echo and The Bunnymen this year and there were countless people dancing. Although I’m understanding (to an extent) of the genre classification of dance, it serves as an injustice to, once again, label certain artists under an umbrella genre when they may not sound remotely similar.
Artists such as Emancipator are more often than not labelled under the EDM genre term, when their sound is much more ambient and atmospheric than the kind which you’d want to get up and dance to. Seeing them in 2013 in Leeds, everyone around me demanded an encore of “Soon It Will Be Cold Enough To Build Fires,” which may seem strange based on the fact they don’t project a ‘dance’ sound through their tracks, but this is essentially why these people came to see them; to become lost in their music. Drug culture played an inevitable role in this through the smell of weed lingering in the air near the stage, but this aspect alone rejects the notion of the all-encumbering EDM classification through a relaxed vibe in the crowd. There was even a rejection of what is often seen as a mindless set through a willingness to be physical with their instruments; one playing an electric violin, and the other furiously hammering buttons to produce ambient drones.
In my personal opinion, as totalising terms ‘EDM’ and ‘IDM’ seem counter-intuitive to what they set out to achieve. Music journalists who use such terms should be ashamed of their own lack of respect and knowledge of the genres of music which they classify as these terms rather than what they’re actually influenced by. It’s a massive shame to see artists like Aphex Twin and Emancipator be viewed through a lens which distorts what their music is about, to what it’s not.
[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out
Matthew Bannister (2006) ‘”Loaded”: indie guitar rock, canonism, white masculinities’, Popular Music, Vol 25, Iss 1, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S026114300500070X
Matthew Bannister (2006) White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Indie Guitar Rock, Aldershot: Ashgate [Google Books link]
Samantha Bennett (2014) ‘Explainer: indie music’, The Conversation, http://theconversation.com/explainer-indie-music-28321
Stuart Borthwick and Ron Moy (2004) Popular Music Genres: An Introduction, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (especially chapter 10) [Google Books link]
Wendy Fonarow (2006) Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music, Middletown: Wesleyan University Press (especially chapter 1) [Google Books link]
David Hesmondhalgh (1999) ‘Indie: The Institutional Politics and Aesthetics of a Popular Music Genre’, Cultural Studies, Vol 13, Iss 1, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/095023899335365
Over on the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast was a germane discussion of the future of music technology. It also covered some of the historic ways in which music tech has changed our relationship to the media we consume. Check out the show notes:
How can we make sure artists get a fair deal in the age of streaming? Can electronic music ever be truly live? Tech Weekly goes under the bonnet of the latest tech developments in music with Imogen Heap and Tim Exile
From the gramophone to the iPhone, music has always had a symbiotic relationship with technology. But with the proliferation of streaming services and the collapse of sales, the digital era has increasingly disenfranchised those making the music itself. Now with the rise of musician-developed apps and software, artists can take back the reins creatively but what about economically?
We talk to musician Imogen Heap about her visions for “fair-trade music” enabled via blockchain technology; electronic artist Tim Exile talks us through his latest software, Flesh, which injects an element of chance into electronic music performance, and Peter Doggett give us a whistlestop tour of some of the biggest tech innovations that transformed music over the last 100 years.
You can find an link to an mp3 file of the show here
Apple’s recent foray into digital music streaming points to dramatic shifts in the digital music landscape. This time last year iTunes saw a 13-14% decline in sales revenue while service like Spotify were pushing for growth (even if they aren’t yet making a profit or paying all artists exactly what they think they deserve). Indeed, many commentators are proclaiming music sales to be dead as we shift towards a perpetual access model over ownership.
Check out the show’s description:
Nearly forty years ago, French polymath Jacques Attali wrote a book called “Noise” which predicted a “crisis of proliferation” for recorded music – in which its value would plummet. As music sales went into freefall at the turn of the century, his prediction seemed eerily resonant to up-and-coming singer/songwriter Sam York. Now struggling to earn a living as a musician, York visits Attali to help get an insight into his own future, learning that music itself may hold clues to what is about to happen in the wider world.
Along the way, York meets Al Doyle from Hot Chip and folk singer Frank Turner, who reveal that – despite being relatively well known – they still find it difficult to earn a living from their “stardom”. Doyle says he struggled to afford a one-bedroom flat in London. It’s a world away from the rock-and-roll lifestyle we might think successful musicians enjoy.
You can find a related BBC magazine article on this topic here
There’s an interesting radio documentary available to stream over on the BBC presented by Adrian Goldberg which focusses on the different musical tribes in the late 1970s/early 1980s. It explores the politics of British music in the punk/post-punk era.
You can find a description of the show below
Why was British music in the late 1970’s and early 80’s so tribal and so violent? If going to a musical gig now is about having fun and enjoying a “party” atmosphere, it used to be very different. It was an era when music was taken very seriously. For many, it defined who you were. Writer Paul Morley says: “Back then the music you liked was a matter of life and death.”
It was common for musical differences to end in violence. Peter Hook, of Joy Division and then New Order, says “There were riots all the time at gigs.”
And it was a time when politics played a much more prominent role in popular culture. Neville Staple of Two-Tone group, The Specials, recalls the havoc caused by the far right National Front. “We used to get a lot of conflict at our gigs …we always used to get the NF,” he says.
Adrian Goldberg looks back at a culture divided by haircuts, clothes, class and politics. What did this tribalism say about Britain then?
The programme includes contributors from Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order; Peter Hooton from The Farm; Pauline Black of Selecter; Neville Staple of the Specials; Clare Grogan of Altered Images plus music journalists Paul Morley, ex New Musical Express and Garry Bushell of Sounds. It also has a stellar soundtrack from the era.
Producer: Jim Frank.
If you are reading this then it’s highly likely that you are taking the module #med332. This is the place where I will be posting materials related to the module rather than Sunspace. Sunspace will only be used for hosting a few essential files (module guide) and for allowing assessment work to be submitted.
It’s easier to share material on this site! Be sure to check out the Facebook page too: https://www.facebook.com/popmusiccult
The International Association for the Study of Popular Music has a special issue out this month dealing with ‘music journalism’ which some of you may find interesting. Be sure to check out the article by Barbara Panuzzo dealing with women in hip hop.
There’s plenty in the bad catalogue to keep you occupied. It’s a free and open access journal so no nasty pay-walls!
[Full disclosure: the edition linked to here is co-edited by an ex-colleague and friend of mine, Martin James]
There’s a wonderful BBC Radio 4 series called Soul Music where people discuss pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact. This particular episode starts with the famous Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes track ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, with Teddy Pendergrass on vocals, and works it’s way through stories of spinal paralysis, the HIV epidemic, and the death of a service dog. This is the quintessential Philly sound.
Slate.com recently named this episode as #13 in their list of the best 25 podcasts of all time. It’s an emotional roller coaster:
The BBC Radio 4 show Soul Music investigates the emotional resonance of famous pieces of music. This installment, about the song “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” which was first performed in the early 1970s by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, with Teddy Pendergrass on vocals, features a trio of interwoven segments about death, loss, and faith. The episode connects the stories of Pendergrass, who was paralyzed in a car accident at age 42; the gay community in the U.K., which danced to a remix version of the tune while mourning the loss of friends during the AIDS crisis; and Sharon Wachsler, homebound by illness, who turned to the song during dark times. The song itself, heard in its different recordings throughout the episode, gains layers of meaning, becoming more haunting and beautiful each time we hear it.
There’s some other wonderful instalments. Check out the way in which Billie Holliday’s ‘Strange Fruit‘ acts as the backdrop to stories of horror and anguish during the era of race lynching, or Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong‘ and South Africa’s era of apartheid.