Photo: KnowInsiders
Photo: KnowInsiders

If you Google the phrase “best trap songs,” you are likely to see a lot of EDM music by white male artists. For the true pioneers and artists of authentic trap music, the recognition is hardly there, and this goes way beyond search engines. This narrative is not uncommon, especially in American music.

Once again, people of color are left out of the historical narrative, similar to the way Elvis Presley is widely regarded as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

What is Trap Music?

Trap music is a music genre that originated in the early 1990s in the Southern United States. It is typified by its aggressive lyrical content and sound, where the instrumentals are propelled by 808 kick drums or heavy extended sub-bass lines, double-time, triple-time and other faster time division hi-hats, layered synthesizers, and “cinematic” strings.

The term “trap” was literally used to refer to the place where drugs are hidden in a car, where deals are made and how it is difficult to escape the lifestyle. The term originated in Atlanta, Georgia where rappers Cool Breeze, Dungeon Family, Outkast, Goodie Mob and Ghetto Mafia were some of the first to use the term in their music. Fans and critics started to refer to rappers whose primary lyrical topic was drug dealing, as “trap rappers.” David Drake of Complex wrote that “the trap in the early 2000s wasn’t a genre, it was a real place”, and the term was later adopted to describe the “music made about that place.”

Where does Trap Music Come from?

Trap music first emerged coming primarily from the south, a genre filled with a hard attitude that you can feel in the sound of the brass, triangle, triplet hi-hats, loud kicks, snappy snares and low end 808 bass samples that are used when composing tracks. The percussion samples of choice when making trap music usually originate from the Roland TR-808 Drum Machine. When speaking of the “originators” in the trap music game, southern rappers like Waka Flocka Flame, Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy, Three 6 Mafia, and Manny Fresh come to mind. As well as some of the iconic trap music producers like Lex Luger, Zaytoven, and up and comer Young Chop.

However, the new “trap music movement” or “EDM Trap” genre that is evolving has seen the use of techno, dub, and dutch house-like sounds incorporated with the inclusion of the original Roland TR-808 drum samples and vocal samples used by the originators. A number of stylistic offshoots of trap developed, which in the latter half of 2012 gained a rise in viral popularity and made a noticeable impact on dance music.

To simply break it down, Trap music would be best described as a combination of:

• 1/3 hip hop (tempo and song structure are similar, most tracks are usually between 70 -110 bpm) – with vocals sometimes pitched down

• 1/3 Dance Music – High pitched Dutch synth work, Hardstyle sampling, as well as a plethora of trap remixed of popular EDM songs

• 1/3 dub (Low-frequency focus and strong emphasis on repetitiveness throughout a song)

The History and Evolution of Trap Music

Photo: MasterClass
Photo: MasterClass

Trap originated in the Southern part of the United States in the 1990s, specifically Atlanta, Georgia. Some of the most well-known early trap artists in the 1990s were 8Ball & MJG, Three 6 Mafia, UGK, Ghetto Mafia, and Master P.

As trap music developed in the 2000s, the influence of electronic dance music (EDM) evolved the trap sound. The electronic beat element of EDM became more pronounced in trap, producing new trap beats that sounded similar to trance house music. In 2012, EDM producers such as RL Grime, TNGHT, and Baauer increased trap’s popularity by incorporating trap beats into their sets. These EDM producers released a compilation album called All Trap Music in 2013 and it quickly became the biggest selling EDM trap album ever.

Trap music continued to gain traction in the mid-2010s and crossed over to the mainstream with hits like Fetty Wap’s 2015 mainstream hit song Trap Queen. Today, trap artists continue to make new music, and the style has influenced music production for mainstream hip hop artists like Drake, Cardi B, Migos, and the A$AP mob.

What does trap music mean?

But before we get into how we are witnessing the erasure of the pioneers and contributors of trap music in the mainstream, let’s get into what trap is, for the uninitiated. Trap is characterized by busy hi-hats, heavy sub-bass, gritty, and super rhythmic snares, and deep 808 kick drums. It employs several layers of monophonic ideas and a melodic accompaniment expressed with synthesizers.

3 Characteristics of Trap Music

Here are three common characteristics of trap music.

1. Synth beat: Influenced by club music and dubstep, the trap is distinguished by a trilling, electronic triplet drum beat which allows artists to alternate between fast and slow rap styles. Trap beats make use of synth drum sounds from 808 drum kits, especially kick, snare, clap and hi-hat electronic beats. Trap beats also use distortion and reverb effects to give the sound a gritty edge. The speed of the trap beat typically falls between 130 and 170 BPM.

2. Triplet flow: Trap music is typified by the triplet flow where artists hit three beats in the space it would normally take to hit two. This creates a rolling, irregular rhythm. Trap’s triplet flow is also sometimes referred to as the Migos flow, because of the artist Migos’s song “Versace,” in which the word “Versace” is repeated in a triplet flow in the chorus.

3. Rolls and risers: Trap beats can be distinguished by using rolls and risers—modulations in volume or pitch to transition between phrases of music-making for abrupt shifts.

6 Famous Trap Artists

Trap music is a major influence in hip hop today. Here are some of the best trap music artists:

1. 2 Chainz: Along with Dolla Boy, 2 Chainz started as part of the trap duo Playaz Circle, which was one of the earliest trap duos. After they split, 2 Chainz released his first solo album, with three of his singles reaching the Billboard Hot 100.

2. Gucci Mane: Gucci Mane was one of the pioneers of trap music in Atlanta. His debut album Trap House from 2005 peaked at 20 on the R&B Billboard Charts. He has worked with artists including Drake, Lil Wayne, and Mariah Carey.

3. Fetty Wap: Though he was born and raised in Paterson, New Jersey, rapper Fetty Wap became a recognizable trap rapper with his hit song “Trap Queen,” which spent 25 consecutive weeks in the top ten on the Billboard charts in 2015.

4. T.I.: Trap music pioneer T.I. released his first album Trap Muzik in 2003, which introduced trap beats to a larger audience. Since then, T.I. has since won three Grammys and had seven albums reach the Top 5 on the Billboard charts.

5. Waka Flocka Flame: Originally from Queens, Waka Flocka Flame grew up in Riverdale, Georgia where he was exposed to early trap music. He became a part of Gucci Mane's crew 1017 Brick Squad. His debut album Flockaveli peaked at number 6 on the U.S. Billboard charts in 2010.

6.Young Jeezy: Young Jeezy was Trap music's first mainstream breakout star. His debut album ”Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101” went platinum a month after it was released in 2005.

Trap Music Today

Pop artists such as Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus sought out the producers and the trap sound became global, spreading to genres such as K-pop, and reggaeton. In 2017, rap and R&B surpassed rock as the most popular and biggest genre in the US, based off of album sales and streams. And trap is arguably rap’s most popular sub-genre. This means that millions of Americans are listening to music that began by exploring the cultural legacy of ongoing struggles of segregation, structural racism, and urban violence.

The overall focus of trap music today has shifted from the true lifestyle of those who are trapped to more or less the aesthetic that encompasses it. The newer generation of trap artists are often criticized for making music that lacks authenticity, individuality, and storytelling. And with this, there are many original trap innovators who don’t condone the direction of trap today, like Shawty Redd—who initially quit music for this very reason.

Redd said in a post-and-delete Instagram post, “I officially shut down my production company. I will not & can not affiliate myself with a generation that don’t know, & don’t wanna know!”

Jeezy vs. Gucci Mane

However, there are also OGs who recognize the need for unity and reconciliation between the older and younger generation of trap and rap artists. In November of 2020, Gucci Mane and Jeezy went head to head and hit for hit on the live streaming hit battle, Verzuz, broadcasted from Atlanta strip club Magic City, where they also addressed their 15-year long beef.

Beef in the rap community between artists, writers, and producers isn’t uncommon. The two initially fell out over ownership over their 2005 collaboration, “So Icy.” This led to the murder of Pookie Loc, an associate of Young Jeezy and an artist on his label at the time. Though Gucci Mane turned himself in, he said it was self-defense, and charges were dropped in 2006 due to insufficient evidence.

After 15 years of back and forth, Jeezy says on the livestream “The shit we came from in the street and the shit we been through, I brought you here to show you the world. We are the culture, what we came through and what we been through.”

Jeezy said after shouting out young rappers Pop Smoke and King Von, both who lost their lives too soon to street violence, “All these kids doing what they do because they saw us.”

The Verzuz event ended with the two joining together to perform “So Icy,” which was such a pivotal moment within the Southern rap community.

“Listen, all respect,” Gucci Mane said. “I appreciate you for throwing out the olive branch—I accept that. No disrespect. It’s all love.”


Identifying with the celebration and introspection behind trap music, SAINt JHN paid tribute to his humble beginnings in his 2019 song, “Trap,” featuring Lil Baby, which he performed at the 2021 VMAs. In the video below, he breaks down the lyrics line by line, referencing his Guyanese heritage and explaining that one thing that people who look like him have in common is their ambition to break free from being trapped.

Trap Music Museum in Atlanta

Photo: Trap Music Museum
Photo: Trap Music Museum

On the Westside of Atlanta, visitors can pay tribute to the rich culture of the genre at the Trap Music Museum. That pink car in the featured photo? That once belonged to 2 Chainz, and sat in front of the celebrated, now-defunct Pink Trap House in Atlanta. Now it is parked inside the museum. What began as a temporary pop-up established by rapper T.I., is now a permanent fixture in the city. Filled with items that celebrate the genre’s highs (T.I.’s Grammy is on display), and lows (one of the rooms is a replica of a crack cocaine cook site), the museum is an unflinching look at a style of music that is still evolving, but in danger of losing its roots.

In 2017 T.I. told Nylon magazine, “The thing that’s so special and important about artists like us is that we come from nothing. These environments that we speak of are just atrocious … and what we had to rise up of is unspeakable. So for us to take something that’s so gruesome … we took the crack epidemic basically, and the war on drugs, and a system that was set up for us to fail, and we made something out of it that was positive and that we could actually use to our advantage rather than falling victim to it. Those experiences, those accounts, those details of our childhood, we applied and used it for our music. Whether it was introspective or whether it’s celebratory, it seeds and fuels the music that we put out.”

T.I. and Tiny Controversy

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that T.I. has been in the news recently for a very different reason. He and his wife, Tiny, have been accused of sexual abuse by 11 victims. As of September 2021, the couple will not be charged due to the expiring statute of limitations. It’s important to hold both truths, that T.I. played an important role in preserving trap music, and that the actions he and Tiny are accused of are unacceptable.

12 Best Trap Songs That Have To Be On Your Playlist

1 – Harlem Shake – Baauer

2 – Jaguar – What So Not

3 – WAWA – Party Favor

4 – Dum Dee Dum – Keys & Krates

5 – Kinjabang – TroyBoi

6 – Ella – Wollymammoth

7 – DJ Snake – Bird Machine

8 – Purple Lamborghini – Skrillex & Rick Ross

9 – The Drop – Bro Safari

10 – Higher Ground – TNGHT

11 – The Next Episode – Dr Dre (San Holo Remix)

12 – Turn Down For What – DJ Snake & Lil Jon

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