There’s been a lot of talk about 2016’s musical significance. And rightfully so—it was a momentous year musically, specifically for Hip Hop. Kanye, Chance, and Frank looked us in the eye, waved emphatically, and yelled, “Hey! Remember me?!” Yes, Kanye, we see you. A Tribe Called Quest reminded the world why they’re regarded as one of music’s most influential and timeless groups. We were introduced to bubbling stars, like Atlanta’s 6LACK, 21 Savage, and Lil Yachty. *Fists clench as he writes the latter name.* You get the point—2016 served us well (musically). But living in the past is for unadventurous cowards; we should excitedly gaze into the future. Which begs the question: What will the 2017 Hip Hop landscape look like?
2017 is going to witness an incredible, borderline exponential, trap increase in regards to artist volume, and the sub-genre’s Hip Hop sovereignty. Some of you might be sitting there saying, “Yeah, no shit Zach—you really cracked the DaVinci Code while helping Nicolas Cage uncover the national treasure.” While you might think a trap takeover is inevitable, and is already underway, you might not realize the degree to which it’s happening. We’re in the midst of a perfect trap storm.
Disclaimer: This article might seem long, and I know you’re tempted to quit out and spend the next two hours peeping IG, but please bear with me as I break down trap’s impending pop music breach. It’ll be worth it. I think.
First, let’s look at some of today’s biggest, most influential artists (not including producers): Chance The Rapper, Kanye West, Drake, Gucci Mane, Kendrick Lamar, Migos, Young Thug, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky, Future, Rae Sremmurd, and Beyoncé (I know she might seem out of place, but it'll tie in). Of those 12, we can confidently categorize five of those artists/groups as trap: Wop, Migos, Thugger, Future, and Rae Sremmurd. But, that still leaves seven artists, including some of the list’s most influential: Kanye, Drake, Chance, Beyoncé, and Kendrick—safe to say they don’t directly fit the trapper profile. We’ll return to this latter group; let’s dissect the former.
For the purpose of this argument, I’m going to call the five listed trappers, “The Modern Royal Trap Family.” Obviously, T.I., The Dungeon Family (who aided Future’s break), UGK, Three 6 Mafia, Jeezy and Outkast precede the aforementioned individuals, but they aren’t really relevant today. And of course, there are other popular modern trappers, but I only have so much time, and your attention spans are only so long. Of the five listed trappers, Gucci is the father, Migos, Rae, and Thug are his disciples—or as he would say, “all of these rappers are all my children”—and Future is that fun cousin you smoke weed with, and love seeing at barbecues.
It’s no secret: Wop is incredibly influential. He bridged trap music from its infancy into its current domination by providing a lovable face with an ice cream tattoo, 3,000 trap projects (not even sure if that’s an exaggeration), and 1017 Brick Squad Records—a name synonymous with trap. They’re Young Thug’s former label, and they’re shaping the trap derivative, drill, through signee Chief Keef. Also, one of their bigger names, Waka Flocka, heads its subsidiary, Brick Squad Monopoly—home to a host of emerging trap artists. Now, you might be thinking, “Well, they no longer have Young Thug, so you’re basing most of this argument off Waka? Yeah, okay buddy. Whatever you say.” Hear me out.
This sub-genre’s content revolves around the suffocating grasp of “the trap,” materialized as drug-laced, ominous, violent, street tales. That was true when Pimp C and Bun B were pouring up, and it’s true today. However, trap’s current mainstream draw doesn’t so much derive from the content—although it’s instrumental to its DNA—as much as it centers around the unmistakable production: 808s, kick drums, hi-hats, synthesizers, strings, and more. Trap instrumentals stick out more than LeBron James in a sea of Asians.
1017 Brick Squad and Brick Squad Monopoly house the majority of today’s hottest trap producers: Lex Luger, Southside, Sonny Digital, Zaytoven, and 808 Mafia (production team started by Luger and Southside). They ostensibly encompass trap’s production landscape, excluding Mike WiLL Made-It, Metro Boomin, and DJ Esco—who are both close Gucci/1017 affiliates. It’s safe to say that Wizop is a pioneer; he’s one of trap’s most powerful puppeteers. His extensive history makes him a proprietor of trap’s surging dominance, manifesting in his assistance and collaborations with fellow trappers, AKA his children. Gucci is leading a revolution.
Since 1017’s 2007 inception, Gucci’s recruitment of trap’s hottest talent has solidified his grip on the sub-genre’s modern movement. Laying these foundational cultivating bricks (I make myself laugh) has aided him bleeding trap into mainstream music; it’s made him one of the most desired featured artists for trap’s newest faces.
After his long awaited 2016 prison release, Gucci released two joint projects with Lil Uzi Vert and Future (along with three solo releases), and was featured on Rae Sremmurd’s viral hit, “Black Beatles”—which has over 337 million YouTube hits and over 275 million Spotify streams. Topping Billboard’s charts for seven nonconsecutive weeks, “Black Beatles” has done the impossible: make white families appreciate, and even celebrate, trap music.
If you were anywhere on social media in Fall ‘16, you’ve seen countless renditions of “The Mannequin Challenge”—an incredibly dumb and played out viral sensation of people maintaining poses to “Black Beatles.” Despite the exhaustion and voluminous failed iterations, white families’ portrayals of the challenge emphasizes trap’s ballooning influence. Think about trap circa 1992. You really think upper-middle class white families were joining hands around the Thanksgiving table reciting “I got a pocket full of stones”? Fuck no. They were too busy jamming out to Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway.” Rae Sremmurd, with Gucci’s help, successfully brought trap to white America—a feat that rivals the moon landing. To a certain extent, this can be perceived as gentrification, but let’s just marvel at its transcendence. White families are listening to trap music…
Hold up. Can we just rewind and really examine that for a second? When I was a kid, my parents caught me listening to DMX’s “Ruff Ryders Anthem.” Not only did they catch me, they found the song’s lyrics that I printed out. Not only did they find the lyrics, they then proceeded to read me the song—line by line, word. for. word.—to maximally humiliate me. It worked. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to hear your Jewish mother read, “That's how niggas get down, watch my niggas spit rounds / Make y'all niggas kiss ground, just for talkin' shit, clown”? My face was redder than Chris Farley’s in Billy Madison when one of the kids chucks a sandwich at his head (“I’ll turn this damn bus around! That’ll end your precious field trip pretty damn quick!”). But now? Families are actually participating in their kid’s rap consumption! If any of those families performing the challenge actually listened to the lyrics, specifically Gucci’s verse, “Came in with two girls, look like strippers in their real clothes / A broke ho can only point me to a rich ho / A yellow bitch with green hair, a real weirdo / Black man, yellow Lamb', red light go,” well, we wouldn’t have families listening to trap music like they were going out for family bowling night. I’m sure Pimp C was in the spin cycle underground during that phenomenon. That argument alone should prove trap’s injection into mainstream music, but let’s keep going. Another indicator of trap’s growing popularity is its international allure.
Quality Control signees—and perhaps Hip Hop’s hottest group—Migos, have released an onslaught of hits that has catapulted them from three kids with a dream to international superstars. Currently 51st in the world in Spotify monthly listeners (~13.8 million), Migos’ style, flair, and skill feed their undeniable influence—they created “the dab;” they were featured on Donald Glover’s hit show, Atlanta; they’re consistently viral meme material (rain drop, drop top…). To me though, the biggest indicator of their rising success is their international presence. On December 10, Migos performed for a welcoming, energized Nigerian audience. It was all business as usual, until their hit “Bad and Boujee” came on, transforming the audience’s welcoming, energizing disposition into full-blown absurdity. Words can’t do it justice—watch the video below. Not only does this incredible reaction signify Migos’ international presence, it signifies fans stomping on language barriers to celebrate and understand the awesomeness that is Migos. Essentially, trap music is becoming the rap version of EDM. In addition to being team Quality Control, they also recently signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music label, further emphasizing their ascension, and trap music entering the mainstream. Which brings me to dissecting the aforementioned latter group of influential artists that don’t directly fit the trap profile (Kanye, Drake, Chance, Beyoncé, and Kendrick).
As I said, Kanye is establishing his trap footprint by signing Migos to his successful, popular label, GOOD Music, in addition to in-house trap producers, Travis Scott and Southside (seemingly every single artist has multiple label deals). Besides having one of the best sampling ears, Kanye also has one of the most acute ears for talent. He signed rap’s superstar, Big Sean, off the strength of Sean candidly rapping for Ye at a Detroit radio station. He’s the reason behind Cudi’s cult-like status. He gave the cocaine cowboy, Pusha T, a stage to prove his worth outside of Clipse—Push is now more popular than ever. He signed Desiigner after “Panda” dropped—which has over 146-million SoundCloud plays, and almost 527-million Spotify streams. Timelessly, Kanye proves his fortunetelling ability. Although Migos are a Blue chip investment, a Kanye cosign still validates an artist’s musical future—which is often so unpredictable and unstable. Ye is sternly pushing trap towards the mainstream, and the mainstream isn’t resisting. We also can’t forget about Yeezy’s feature on Gucci’s “Pussy Print.” As famous as Kanye is though, no one holds a candle to Drake’s transcendent popularity.
Call him soft, a bitch, or a poser, but it’s impossible to deny Drake’s mainstream appeal. Coming in at 2nd globally for Spotify monthly listeners at just shy of 38-million, Drake has his foot on the game’s throat. More impressive than his musical skill is his instinct and foresight. It can be argued that he’s the reason that Migos are famous, due to his verse on 2013’s “Versace (Remix)”; in 2014, he took a relatively unknown song, and blew it up into one of the year’s biggest hits (“Tuesday (Remix)”; and most recently, he purchased a Ferrari for Hip Hop’s anti-hero and mushrooming trap star, 21 Savage, in addition to recruiting him for a feature on his More Life single, “Sneakin’.” Drake always finds himself in the right place at the right time. 21 Savage and trap music are both the right place and the right time.
Savage has had a meteoric year. His 2016 joint EP, Savage Mode, with trap producer, Metro Boomin’, peaked at number 44 on the Billboard 200 list, with the hit, “X” featuring Future, going platinum. Trap music is driving music’s future. You can call 21 Savage Ricky Bobby. Drake getting buddy buddy with Savage potentially foreshadows increased trap music from Drizz, which will result in increased trap popularity—more radio plays, more club bangers, More Life. If it has Drake’s name attached to it, the world will eventually be attached to it as well. The original “Versace” has 13.37-million Spotify streams; the Drake remix has 21.6-million. The original “Tuesday” has 14.62-million Spotify streams; the Drake remix has 107.4-million. The proof is in the numbers. Drake is mainstream; mainstream is Drake. So if Aubrey’s focus shifts towards trap, I think it’s safe to assume music’s focus will follow suite. And if you’re still not convinced, the “Versace (Remix)” and 21 Savage involvement are far from anecdotal—Drake’s been establishing his trap footprint.
Him and Future teamed up for the hit EP victory lap, What A Time To Be Alive, and are celebrating one of the most successful joint tours in history; Drake was one of the first people Gucci hit up to collaborate with post prison (Drizz was featured on Everybody’s Looking’s “Back on Roads” and The Return of East Atlanta Santa’s “Both”—one of three features on a 13-track album). The OVO x trap merger is upon us. A sub-genre once claimed by Atlanta is now breaching international waters. (As Drake said on "Versace (Remix),"Born in Toronto but sometimes I feel like Atlanta adopted us.") This forest fire-like spread is also perpetuated by today’s other most popular, influential artists.
Chance The Rapper is more soulful than anything; Beyoncé is a badass chick who has more loyal female (and male) followers than Oprah could’ve ever imagined; Kendrick is amongst a dying breed of lyricists, but is still regarded as one of today’s best artists. On the surface, their sole common factors are their unanimous acclaim and popularity (Chance is Spotify’s 160th most consumed artist; Beyoncé is 38th—without Lemonade on Spotify; Kendrick is 98th), and that they have zero trap affiliation—until this past year. Chance enlisted Young Thug and Lil Yachty for his Coloring Book hit, “Mixtape,” where Chance manipulates his voice to mirror a trap aesthetic. Beyoncé’s wildly popular, Grammy nominated hit, “Formation,” is doused in trappiness thanks to Mike WiLL Made It’s incredible production. Even Kendrick has entertained a trap direction through his “Goosebumps” feature off Travis Scott’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. These are three artists at the top of their games (Beyoncé and Tom Brady should have a reality show called, How Long Can They Possibly Be Good For?—it’s a working title…) who seemingly don’t have any trap affiliation, yet they’re starting to introduce it into their music, further exemplifying trap’s mainstream appeal.
As I suggested before, lyricism is unfortunately taking a backseat to production and melodies. Fans are getting lazier, paying less attention to lyrics, and have shorter attention spans. Hence the previous EDM comparison. It’s why trap’s derivative, mumble rap, is blowing up—especially thanks to guys like Future, Young Thug, Kodak Black, Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, and more—and is leading Hip Hop’s direction. J. Cole’s album 4 Your Eyez Only was highly anticipated after his surprise announcement, but when the sonics didn’t meet the expectations, fans sort of just forgot about it. (Yes, I thought it was a dope story, it went Gold, and has admirable streams, but which of your friends are still bumping it consistently?) If you’re an aspiring MC, which avenue would you prefer? One that requires significant, legitimate skill, or one that’s exploding in popularity, and relies less on thinking and more on image and sound. Lyricism is unfortunately taking a backseat to production and melodies. Hip Hop is taking a backseat to trap.
The 2017 trap exception stems from Kendrick himself, with Top Dawg Entertainment. TDE has one of the leanest, most lyrically inclined Hip Hop rosters, thanks largely to their supergroup, Black Hippy (composed of Kendrick, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul), and rising stars, Isaiah Rashad, Ari Lennox, and newest signee, SiR. But, like I said, they are the exception—far from the rule. You’d be hard pressed to find another group to rival any of trap’s movements: 1017, Freebandz, Quality Control, EarDrummer, etc. (Okay, I’m sorry, you’re right—I can’t leave out Dreamville.)
I can go on and on about trap’s inevitable takeover (my apologies if I’ve already done that), but you get the point: 2017 is going to continue trap’s exponential rise. Gucci is a free man who’s dropping more projects than ever, and is influencing “all his children;” the majority of Hip Hop’s rising stars are trap affiliated (21 and Lil Yachty are perfect strangers, yet are collaboratively dominating Hip Hop); trap singles are going viral, and dominating the mainstream; white families are bumping it; superstars, like Kanye and Drake, are deepening their trap footprint, and show zero signs of slowing down; lyricism is dying, production is excelling. All weather reports indicate a perfect trap storm.
Who knows, I could be completely wrong. New York might actually unite to lead a charge; TDE could have enough influence to command more lyrically inclined rappers; Chicago’s soulful flavor might be more savory than Atlanta’s trap. But given the evidence and the players, I don't think this assumption is far-fetched. As Johnnie Cochran famously uttered, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Unlike OJ infamously trying on those iconic gloves, trap slips into Hip Hop like Cinderella into her glass shoe. Hip Hop isn’t getting acquitted of becoming the new pop in 2017.