“The Impact of Trap Music on the Greater Atlanta Community”
December 1, 2017
Hip hop music has begun to blossom from a largely misunderstood and nonintellectual genre into a reflection of the trap many young musicians and rappers find themselves in. Rappers who find themselves being systematically abused, whether it be because of their upbringing, skin color, or some other undefined factor, have started to adopt the distinct sound and delivery of the unique subgenre of hip hop – trap music. Easily recognized by its maximalist sound, crude subject matter, and downright vulgarity, trap music is often misinterpreted by those who aren’t “in the know” as something lacking intellect and maturity. The argument can be made, however, that the musicians and rappers making trap music are cleverly and accurately depicting their respective communities to a wider and even national audience. The “trap” is the systematic disadvantage unfortunately forced upon millions of Americans who will never be able to work their way up to success as easily as more advantaged Americans. Recently, artists such as 2 Chainz, 21 Savage, and the rap group Migos have been gaining popularity while representing their home city of Atlanta, Georgia. These artists have used their popularity and fortune as a platform to promote their ideals and bring relief to those who aren’t able to find success just by artistically sharing their struggle. 2 Chainz’ pink “trap house” in Atlanta began as merely a tourist attraction but has recently turned into a haven for the less fortunate, hosting HIV screenings and holding affordable classes. This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Atlanta, however. Chance The Rapper from Chicago, Illinois made national news headlines when he donated one
million dollars to Chicago public schooling. This act accompanied with his highly religious lyricism and general positivity has changed the way many perceive hip hop and rap, which is a step towards trap music turning from a counterpublic to a public. Another artist, Kendrick Lamar from Los Angeles, California, has made a similar impact. His introspective lyricism depicting his hellish childhood growing up in Compton, California and his ability to communicate the difficulty he has found in having fame and recognition have also garnered hip hop new public respect. Kendrick’s most recent studio album DAMN. has received multiple Grammy nominations, and his previous project To Pimp A Butterfly was very critically successful. While this research paper will be solely focusing on how hip hop started and has developed in the Atlanta area, it is important to recognize national rappers because of their collaborations with Atlanta rappers and the steps they’re taking that could be adopted by Atlanta rappers. It is clear that an effort is being made by “main stream” hip hop talent to expose Atlanta trap musicians to listeners across the country and the world. Rapper Childish Gambino, also known as comedian and actor Donald Glover, has taken a different approach in depicting the Atlanta struggle in his hit television series Atlanta. This approach is more intensive and gives watchers a visual accompaniment to the difficult-to-imagine lyrics being presented in trap music. The root of this issue is that there are systematic issues keeping young lower-class people and African-Americans from finding success, and there is nothing being done about it. Trap music has become a reflection on the lifestyle forced upon millions of Americans who revert to life’s simplest pleasures such as drugs, sex, and materialism as a way to ignore the fact that things are truly bad and they aren’t going to get better. With this lifestyle comes crime and addiction, which are unfortunately not as frequently rapped about and portrayed. This research paper will try to understand why some do not feel inclined to listen to trap music and to convince non-believers
that trap music is having a major positive impact on cities such as Atlanta as it shines a light on the issues faced by millions. This paper will also give a brief history about Atlanta’s history with hip hop and how over the years it developed into what is known as trap music today.
Atlanta has a thorough history with hip hop and is slowly becoming the capital of rap, especially in the south. Hip hop started to become popularized in Atlanta in the 1980’s. This is largely because of the expansion of Bronx hip hop popularity and the emergence of rappers like MC Shy-D who brought their styles from New York to Georgia. The group Tag Team garnered popularity with their hit double platinum album Whoomp! (There It Is) adding to the popularity of hip hop in Atlanta. These songs were easily accessible and relatively “mainstream” and radio-friendly. The Atlanta rap scene really started to take form by the mid 1990’s after the rise of LaFace Records and their respective artists such as Outkast and Goodie Mob. These artists started to develop the iconic “dirty south” style that has become synonymous with Atlanta music. Dirty southern rap soon developed into “crunk” music which was developed almost solely by produced Lil Jon. Instead of having an aggressive style like the genre that came before it, crunk is defined by its upbeat sound and its popularity in the Atlanta dance club scene. Lil Jon’s development of crunk music and the prominence of LaFace Records in the 1990’s paved the path toward the rap that is now being produced in Georgia. Instead of producing its own styles, the Atlanta rap scene is more of an amalgamation of previous styles from places like New York and Florida. Until recently, Atlanta was a melting pot for other styles that seemed to blend together. The recent popularity of trap music might be what sets Atlanta over the edge and makes it the rap capital of the United States.
When looking at the top selling Atlanta rap artists, more recent names appear toward the top of the list. Names like 2Chainz, B.o.B, and CeeLo Green have complete control of the
Atlanta rap leaderboard. These commercially successful artists have been able to tap into a market that speaks not only to fellow Georgians, but a nationwide audience. Skeptics wonder if artists such as Migos and 21 Savage will be able to garner success on a nationwide level such as their predecessors, but recent collaborations with commercially successful rappers and producers such as Big Sean and Metro Boomin’ have put local Atlanta rappers in the national spotlight. Whether or not these artists are aware of their exponentially growing popularity is unknown, but their lyrics and recent projects indicate that they are attempting to share their struggle. That is, of course, the goal of trap music, to share the struggles of inner city citizens and eventually “set them free” from the systematic trap that they’ve found themselves caught in. Trap music may develop, but it’s difficult to hope that it will be necessary for much longer. The continuation of the popularity of trap music is an indication of a brighter future for many Americans as those unaffected will become aware of these struggles, but the expansion of trap music falling upon deaf ears does nothing but higher elevate trap artists economically and ensure previous hip hop fans new releases. That is precisely the reason that it is encouraging to see trap rappers become more personal and emotionally raw on their most recent records, unlike the notorious and infamous materialism rap that defined the genre since its inception. An example of introspective trap music is 21 Savage’s most recent collaborative project with producer Metro Boomin’ and rapper Offset from Migos. On this project, Without Warning, 21 Savage released a song called Rap Saved Me. At first listen, this song seems no different from any of the other songs he has released in the past – braggadocios rap flaunting drugs, cars, and women. Upon further analysis of the song’s lyrics, however, accompanied with the song’s telling title, 21 Savage seems to be making a statement about how none of the lavish amenities available to him now would have been possible without becoming one of the figureheads for the movement he is conveying. He
has a unique perspective because while he has a platform and material success, it is all new to him. He has escaped his struggles simply by artistically portraying them to the people who already understand and sympathize with them. That is one of the struggles with trap music, it isn’t being listened to by an audience that has the power to do anything about the situation. Those listening to trap music likely find relief in hearing that someone else relates and empathizes with their struggle, but that does nothing to solve it. Trap music needs to be recognized instead of being put down by those who are more fortunate simply because of its sometimes vulgar nature. A combination of recognition and more eloquently delivering messages of struggle are going to be important in changing the common public perception of trap music. It’s important to address why trap rap is often ignored and what artists can do to change their perception in the public eye.
It’s simply unfair and impossible to want everyone to listen to and actively enjoy any genre of music, let alone trap rap. Anyone with sensitivities to cursing, portrayals of lavish and grandiose lifestyles, and references to drugs and alcohol is sure to find issue with trap music. This is simply because those with sensitivities to these topics haven’t been forced to accept these things as stress relievers used to cope with a life of disadvantage and difficulty. Trap musicians who aren’t using their platforms as a way to spread the struggle of those listening shouldn’t be scrutinized or put down even though they may be indirectly hurting their cause. Those who are using their platform as a method to convince others to listen to their struggles should take inspiration from musicians like Kendrick Lamar who simply shares his experiences growing up in a negative environment. Kendrick Lamar’s first studio album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City received outstanding critic reviews for its raw authenticity and honesty. If more trap rappers would start becoming comfortable with letting their public persona stop in order to better
communicate their struggles, the trap music agenda would be more easily met and achieved. Unfortunately, anyone not rooting for the trap music movement to succeed is unlikely to overanalyze and search for portrayals of struggle such as 21 Savage referring to his new discovered success as “coming from the gutter” or 2Chainz proclaiming that if it weren’t for his struggle, he wouldn’t be himself. Anyone not willing to listen to trap music isn’t going to want to listen to the meaning to the lyrics. Making more commercially accessible music with clear references to the struggles faced by people in the “trap” is what is going to truly help the trap music movement as more and more people will be exposed to it. Hopefully trap music fans will understand the change in the music and appreciate the fact that it’s going to help their cause in the long term.
Atlanta has a thorough history with hip hop and has helped shaped rap into what it is today. Atlanta is also a city that has been the capital for a lot of social change and reformation, so it seems appropriate that in today’s political and social climate that it’s very possible that Atlanta will be the source of change in culture and even economics and politics if trap music’s agenda is eventually met. Until the issues being discussed on rap tracks are talked about on a national and political level, trap music will not be successful in achieving its underlying purpose. Rap music has always been a catalyst for social change and recognition of problems, and trap music seems like the next logical step in making some type of social change. Supporting the trap music movement isn’t just important because the music is enjoyable, but it’s at the very least admitting that there are systematic problems and disadvantages placed upon fellow Americans who are listening to the same records, projects, and songs. It will be interesting to see what kind of music trap music ends up having on a socially systematic level, and hopefully more and more people
start to support it as more and more records are released by those who escaped the trap that they communicate.
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– Carmichael, Rodney. “Culture Wars” (2017)
– Sarig, Roni. “Third Coast” Da Capo Press (2007)
– Vice. “The Evolution of Trap Music in Atlanta (2017)
– Reed, Kristen. “2 Chainz’s pink ‘Trap House’ | A ‘genius’ marketing sensation” (2017)