Lambos, Bandos and Damn Poles: In Defense of Trap Music

imageFetty Wap’s “Trap Queen”, a song about getting fly, cooking pie and getting high with his anonymous baby, has inexplicably sparked the American public’s devoted interest. Already, I’ve been hit on with the opening line “I’m like hey, wassup, hello”. About a week ago, I read a Tumblr post by an angsty white guy claiming that all he thinks about is “girls, hiking and trap music”. Yesterday, I saw a tweet, written by a friend of mine  that said “There’s a reason trap music exists. There’s a reason that ‘all they talk about it money drugs and women’. I hate simple minded people.” His last tweet, by the way, detailed his inability to sew due to the lack of cooperation on the part of his sewing machine.

Essentially, trap music has garnered an obnoxious ubiquity. It is assuming presence. Among whom this pervasiveness reaches, however, is important to note. All of those I mentioned before to evidence trap’s celebrity maintain two common traits; their appreciation for the emerging sub-genre of hip-hop and their whiteness. Their “take-the-culture-leave-the-stigma” whiteness.

Recently, my mother texted me an article titled“ ‘TRAP QUEEN’ AND OTHER BLACK SONGS WHITE PEOPLE LOVE WAAAAAAAY MORE THAN WE DO”. The list included “Single Ladies”, “Niggas In Paris”, “Hey Ya” and many others, all songs that held a lasting importance in my own musical maturing but I’d since let go of because of the tragic accuracy of lists like these. It’s the racial version of that overused hipster mantra: “I liked it before it was cool”. Once white mainstream media has demonstrated its pulsating enthusiasm for a black, pop-phenomena, it loses its relevance and celebration in the culture that birthed and raised it. As pretentious as this practice may sound, it’s tragically enough, a habituated response. Given the sheer volume of occurrences of blaxploitation (everything from Elvis Presley to Iggy Azalea), the submission of blackness to whiteness has become typical. On the other hand, one could read this abandonment of iconography and art as an almost subconscious and collective protest against the fundamentalism of cultural appropriation. None of this is to say that white people who like Beyonce are insensitive racists, but I am trying to make a few basic points for the purpose of this essay: that in this case, my arrogance is justified, cultural appropriation is real, and that because of this black people gave up good ol’ one eyed Fetty to white people. As a person of color, I am kind of expected to follow through with this tradition of cultural discard. Let them have it, I am told.

 With “Trap Queen” and trap music more generally, this reality was a possibility that I’d flirted with accepting as truth but had blatantly ignored out of a deep seated love for “Trap Queen” and a hopeful thesis: that the lyrical genius and genuine history of trap music would prevent the genre from cultural appropriation.

This hope, a black girls momentary confidence that something she loved could avoid the inevitable fate of white supremacy, is what my defense of trap music rests on.

But first a quick explanation of trap music. The “trap”, a term that originated in Atlanta, Georgia, alludes to a place where drugs are made and sold. Referring to it as a “trap” is an attempt to explain how difficult it is to break away from this way of life. Trap music is a subgenre of hip hop that sprung from the Atlanta rap scene in the early 90s (think Outkast and UGK) and reinvented itself in 2012 with artists such as Future and Chief Keef heading the movement. So my thesis goes as follows: the lyrics are gritty tributes to a quintessentially black existence; the impoverished, drug-ridden south. Trap is impenetrable to the inexperienced, both listeners and musicians alike, thus creating a black art that cannot be stolen by whiteness.

Now, I come from an upper-middle class household. I have a white father who also grew up in an upper-middle class home. My mother went to both Wesleyan and Yale. I live in Berkeley, a town whose major exports and imports are pretentiousness. My peers and I live on a reliable supply of Kind bars and chia seeds. Two weeks ago a friend of mine who is on a three week backpacking trip in Europe literally complained about the lack of vegan options. According to my own argument, I am in no way qualified to speak extensively on the exclusivity of the trap.

Regardless, I cannot dissuade myself from heavily identifying with the genre. It details a version of blackness that while elusive, dominates the context with which we understand the African-American experience. It plays to the stereotypical image of the poor, dangerous black male. No matter how much I distance myself from this iconography (chia seeds my weapon against stereotypes), it will always be the first thing that people think when they see the color of my skin. I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve been praised as “eloquent” and “articulate”, a reliable look of incredulity accompanied with the backhanded compliment. I use my academic language and big ideas as an armour so people know that I am not “that kind of black girl”, the kind who frequent shows like “Maury” and Worldstar videos like Sharkeisha. So even though the trap is not something I can tangibly point to in my life, it still eclipses my experience as a person of color.

What’s also valuable to recognize here is the role that white privilege and white supremacy play in creating the conditions under which things like the “trap” flourish. Centuries of systematic oppression have left black communities in environments such as these, forced into these practices for survival rather than accolade and innovation. The trap is a product of a fascist ideology that needs to be dismantled and then honored rather than danced to and memed into social palatability by those who benefit from the racism of this system.

Our societies debilitating privilege placed upon light skin will keep the trap from ever finding any relevance to white people. And for this reason, I thought trap music to be among the few things that black culture could hold on to. While this has been proved abundantly incorrect, that fleeting idea was powerful. I think that I can give Zoo Wap props for attempting to end white supremacy.

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