The Theme of Trauma in Trap Music

Rap music is changing. The culture is changing. The way we consume the music culture in general is changing. Like all things, the music has to evolve and expand.

Trap music, ever since it’s birth in the Southern hip-hop scene, has continued to evolve and expand into the place it is now, arguably being at the forefront of the genre worldwide. Known for it’s distinctive production and lyrical content, trap has laid the foundation for other sounds such as emo rap (or what some people refer to as mumble rap despite it being considered quite derogatory, such as Lil Uzi Vert, Juice WRLD, XXXTENTACION), and even drill.

Drill is obviously a genre that we’ve seen develop a lot in the last 2 years or so, going from Chicago with artists like Chief Keef, being revamped into UK drill and given an even more commercial platform in Brooklyn and now taking over worldwide.

It’s important to summarise how far the genre has gone in the last two or three years, as 2021 is the first official year where we will get to see who will takeover the next generation of mainstream hip-hop.

What’s striking is that what a lot of the stars of commercial hip-hop have in common is their trauma. As American rapper Vince Staples once stated very bluntly, black trauma does sell in both good and bad measure. And no, of course not every mainstream rapper of the 2020s is destined to be black and speaking about their trauma. However, it is true.

A common thread that I’ve seen in some newer artists with large fanbases recently is the melodic trap sound that they use to express their life stories, with predominately piano-driven beats and conscious lyrics about the struggle that they faced growing up.

Examples include Polo G, Lil Tjay, Rod Wave, Lil Durk and Roddy Ricch. These are all artists who are rising up to the charts and all have similar appeals to their music. Their trauma is a story that many young people listening to music can relate to, especially if they identify with black culture despite its widespread appeal in recent years.

Hearing Polo G talk about how he was “in the trenches tryna see a life beyond that” or hearing Lil Tjay say “I just wanna be great and accomplish something ‘fore I go / But they don’t wanna see me accomplish nothing, boy, I know”, referring to the societal pressures put onto young black individuals mentally and physically which they choose to express in their music.

The reason why I believe this is a worthwhile thing to speak about is because this sound is a recipe that a lot of artists are becoming more and more successful in using to their advantage, as it appeases all the different sides of the culture without diluting the sound.

Versatility, check. Talent, check. Relatability, check. Poppy club songs, check. The piano is an instrumental that is simple yet effective in still being able to tug on the heartstrings of their listeners (I’m looking at you Dave).

In the UK specifically, the trap genre has made it’s way to the mainstream with artists like M Huncho, D-Block Europe and Nafe Smallz popularising the term ‘trapwave’ to describe the sound that has now smoothly blended its way into our own mainstream scene. Some of the younger artists making their way up the charts are speaking from a relatable perspective and show the effects that the previous generation has had on them mentally, in a method that’s easily accessible, and blends both pop and conscious sensibilities.

Seeing how trap has popularised itself as an easily accessible subgenre of rap on all fronts, I think people should keep their eyes on how the bridge between the UK and US will continue to twist and turn for the next ten years of mainstream music.

We’ve seen the grim realities portrayed in drill being popularised by artists like Headie One and Digga D, and it continues to break boundaries in terms of sound and commercial appeal (e.g. Central Cee, 98s). Now we will see rising UK alternative rappers, trap artists and drill artists and how the relatable but anthemic trauma of trap music will continue to expand and bleed its way into the UK scene.

Words by Ehsi Granite

Cover Photography: Charlotte Biancardi