The word ‘trap’ originates from the term ‘trap house,’ run-down buildings used for drug dealing. However, the ‘trap’ that comes with them casts a much wider net. The rough streets of 1990s Atlanta produced a new generation of artists reflecting on the drugs and violence that caught so many. Their lyrics found a home with Rolan’s TR-808 drum machine, and the trap sound was born.
Early 1990s trap rap was strongly influenced by the drug-dealing lifestyles prominent in poorer areas of the American South. Trap as we see it today would emerge closer to the 2010s, when ‘trap rap’ became a widespread phenomena often far removed from its geographic origins. This new wave of trap brought an irreverent, dark, and braggadocious attitude that resonated with the financial and social worries of a new generation. Trap was also an appealing sound for many fresh artists, who could produce their beats with only their own computer needed.
The Roland TR-808 drum machine was a big influence for how trap developed as a style. Trap took early inspiration from gangsta rap, crunk, and New Orleans bounce, all of which frequently used the 808. Like trap, they also often used simple production, basic beats, and a digital-sounding hi-hat. Today, the booming bass kick drum and rapid fire hi-hat triplets are unmistakable elements of trap, and staccato vocals delivered over sparse production help round out the sound. Trap lyrics still often talk about aspects of the drug-dealing lifestyle: parties, women, violence, and money.
T.I. – “24’s”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2003
Atlanta rapper T.I. was one of the first artists to use what would become known as the classic trap beat. His second studio album Trap Muzik launched him into the spotlight with tracks like “24s”, where he brags about the size of his car’s rims.
Gucci Mane – “Icy”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2005
When Gucci Mane called his album Trap House, he was attempting to establish himself as one of the forerunners of the genre. In the end, he was one of the first artists to really solidify the sound.
Rick Ross – “Hustlin'”
Carol City, Florida, 2005
Rick Ross puts his Miami touch on the trap beat with an even heavier bass and wavering synths imported straight from the G-funk era.
Waka Flocka – “Hard in Da Paint”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2009
Waka elevates himself above the crowd in “Hard in Da Paint” with hard-hitting lyrics and aggressive call and response vocals.
Young Jeezy – “Ballin'”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2011
Even well after the sound had gone global, Atlanta rappers were still cranking out new trap hits like “Ballin”.
Future – “Tony Montana”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2011
Future has been called the original mumble rapper, and it’s pretty easy to hear why in “Tony Montana”
Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”
Paterson, New Jersey, 2014
Fetty Wap’s feel good song about his “Trap Queen” added dense orchestration and synth pads to the classic trap beat.
Gucci Mane – “Peepin Out The Blinds”
Atlanta, Georgia, 2017
Twelve years after he established himself as one of the genre’s innovators, Gucci dropped “Peepin Out The Blinds”, proving that he was still at the top of his game.
Scarlxrd – “HEART ATTACK”
Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England, 2017
It was only a matter of time until artists like Scarlxrd started experimenting more drastically with trap-based sounds. “HEART ATTACK” has a bass so fuzzed out that it almost sounds like a heavy metal power chord. Here, the trap metal sound was born.
Migos & Drake – “Walk It Talk It”
Lawrenceville, Georgia, 2018
Migos keeps trap alive with this track that teeters on the edge of drill with its particular staccato vocal delivery.
Recayd Mob – “Plaqtudum”
Some of the most exciting trap tracks today are being created by international artists, like the Brazillian group Recayd Mob and their hit “Plaqtudum”.
Travis Scott – “Highest in the Room”
New York City, New York, 2019
“Highest in the Room” debuted at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, marking Travis Scott’s second US number-one single and further establishing him as one of the world’s best trap artists.