A Short History of Trap pt. 2

While this was happening, Lil Wayne was already dropping mixtapes

We finished last time by branching away from the Geto Boys and into the clubs of Memphis with DJ Paul and DJ Spanish Fly. We probably won’t be talking about the Geto Boys very much again, so if you got emotionally invested after that first article, I’m sorry.

Sorry you’re a punk ass bitch.

“But then why mention the Geto Boys at all?”

Well, first and foremost, the Geto Boys are one of the first big groups out of the south. They paved the way for a music scene that would give rise to phenomena from Outkast to the idea of pushing mixtapes. More important, however, is the fact that modern trap music finds its roots in early horrorcore rap. While trap artists today have moved away from the gratuitous and disturbing lyrics pioneered by the Geto Boys, the trap aesthetic has been shaped by their “scarier” songs. When I talk about Three 6 Mafia later in this post, I’ll mention how their darker, more haunting production laid the real foundation for trap music. Those early tracks, however, find their lyrical roots in that 1989 album, Grip It! On That Other Level. Before I can talk about Three 6, however, I need to talk about DJ Paul, and I can’t talk about DJ Paul without talking about DJ Spanish Fly.

See? I wasn’t just rambling. All this stuff ties together pretty neatly, actually.

Let’s start with DJ Spanish Fly. He was DJ’ing at the Club No Name and Club Expo, catering to a fairly diverse crowd:  the old guard of traditional disco-ers, and the younger groups of bass-heavy hip-hop lovers. Spanish Fly would follow a DJ named Ray the Jay, a top 40 disco/R&B DJ and a bit of a hardass. Ray liked to run his dance floor with a bit of structure, and wasn’t afraid to call people out. When Fly played, however, people would get buck. His bread and butter were the more extreme tracks coming out of New York (Public Enemy), the West Coast (NWA) and now, the South with the Geto Boys.

While playing these tracks in clubs contributed in part to their popularity, music really began to spread with the rise of the mixtape hustle (as it’s become known). What would happen is, Fly would take songs that he knew wouldn’t get radio time due to explicit lyrics, and he’d throw them on a cassette that would get sold at the front door of No Name and Expo. These tapes started off as just compilations of songs that Fly was already playing, however, he soon started to slip his own songs onto the tapes. He figured that by putting one of his songs at the start of the tape, people would hardly notice some aspiring DJ’s track at the beginning. At best, they’d like it, at worst, they’d be a little irked. What Fly didn’t expect was for people to love his songs more than the others on the tape, but that’s exactly what happened.

The mixtapes were wildly popular, reaching as far as New Orleans and Atlanta and spreading Fly’s music across the South. This far reaching influence is what enabled Fly to take a song that had been panned by New York audiences and push it to New Orleans, where it would become the basis of an entire subgenre of rap. The track in question is “Drag Rap (Triggaman)” by the Showboys, which would be sampled by DJ Jimi for one of the first tracks of the New Orleans bounce movement: “Where They At”.

Bounce music has a few key elements: easily repeatable, shouted refrains, bumping beats, and the same god damn sample in almost every song. I’m not even kidding, the entire genre is based off of sampling this one track. That isn’t to say that bounce isn’t important: the so called “rising tide” of rap popularity in New Orleans lifted many ships, including Birdman, Cash Money Records, and a young man named Juvenile. While at this point Juvenile only has one feature on a DJ Jimi song, he would later form the group the Hot Boyz with Lil Wayne et al., greatly contributing to the latter’s success.

See, isn’t this cool? It’s all a big illuminati web.

So at this point, DJ Spanish Fly has done a lot, and if you’re a DJ Paul fan, you’re probably a little steamed. See, although I’ve spent the bulk of this post talking about Spanish Fly, DJ Paul has been pretty busy himself. He was on the club DJ scene, the same as Spanish Fly, but he was also producing tracks for local rappers like his half brother, Lord Infamous. This duo, dubbed the Serial Killaz, released a couple of tapes in the early 90’s. What’s important about the Serial Killaz, however, is that they’re the first glimpse we have of what Three 6 Mafia is going to look like.

The reason I didn’t mention DJ Paul first is that he was influenced in part by the bounce scene Spanish Fly helped originate. DJ Paul even made a song sampling “Triggaman” (with Spanish Fly). When the bumping, bass driven bounce sounds met the dark and evil atmosphere generated by Infamous’ lyrics, however, it gave rise to a new sound all together. Heard on their second mixtape, Come With Me 2 Hell, Paul’s production carried the heavy bass sound that was becoming typical to the south. He layered them, however, with thinner, more atmospheric synth melodies. These tracks, as far as I’m concerned, are the first to start to sound like the trap music we know now. When you add in the sometimes-realistic, sometimes-occult, and always-gruesome lyrics of Lord Infamous, you have not only the basis of Three 6 Mafia, but of trap as a whole.

Enter da JOOSE MANE

It’s fun to say. Don’t even lie.

So I’ll be honest, I don’t know for sure how/why Juicy J met Lord Infamous and DJ Paul. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that they just heard each other’s work and one of them reached out to collaborate, but that’s a strong maybe.

This, I assume, is the kind of in depth analysis you come to this blog for.

Moving on.

Juicy J somehow meets DJ Paul and Lord Infamous, and they decide to start making music together. Originally forming the Backyard Posse, they took the early 90’s to release music and refine the lo-fi horrorcore sound that was being practiced by the Serial Killaz. DJ Paul (who’d been playing piano since he was 11) took care of most of the synth work during production, allowing the group to retain the eerie sounds of early Serial Killaz tapes, with Juicy J on the drum machine. Juicy J’s drums are generally more crisp and contained than the booming low ends used by DJ Paul, opting instead to use rapid fire hi-hats to round out his production in tracks such as “Smoked Out Loced Out”. This track also marked the group’s first formal release as Triple 6 Mafia and worked as a great segue just now.

Why the change? Well, it all started with Lord Infamous referring to the group as Triple 6 Mafia in a Backyard Posse track. The group decided that the name did a better job of representing their dark, satanic sound, while having the added benefit of being pretty frickin’ sick. The would change their name once more, adopting the Three 6 Mafia moniker before the release of their debut album, Mystic Stylez.

Mystic Stylez is an album out of time: with some minor tweaks to the rapping style and better mixing, it could pass for an album released in any year between 2000 and 2010. Trap music is strongly rooted in this album; its lyrics and its style are the first concrete expressions of the cinematic trap sound we know today. It is, by any definition, the first trap album. While it was relegated to the underground by explicit lyrics and gritty production, Three 6’s single “Da Summa” got some radio play. This attention was shared between Three 6 Mafia and the sound they pioneered: the ruthless, booming music of Memphis.

Other sounds were forming in the South, however. Chopped and screwed tracks were flowing out of Huston, while Outkast was in the process of making Atlanta one of the epicentres of the hip hop world. In New Orleans, the bounce movement would soon begin to grow into Crunk. It was all of these sounds that would lead a man named Jonathan Smith to begin DJ’ing at Phoenix Nightclub, and it was Atlanta’s booming club scene that lead Jermane Dupri (then-President of So-So Def Records) to Phoenix Nightclub on the search for new acts. Rather than finding a new act, however, Dupri found a DJ with incredible taste. It wasn’t long before Jonathan began working in A&R at So-So Def, and it wasn’t long after that before he became their in-house producer: Lil Jon.

To all my dedicated followers (looking at you, Mom), sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I have a good reason, though, I promise. See, I’ve spent the past little while Beautiful Mind-ing the walls of my room with some of the worst Microsoft Paint mixtape covers the late 90’s had to offer.

I’d become obsessed. My friends couldn’t understand me. My girlfriend said, “I love you,” and all I could muster in response was a whispered “skrrt”. I was a hollow husk of a man. This project has consumed me. What project? Allow me to begin…

A Short History of Trap, Part 1

It’s older than you think.

Our story begins in the Fifth Ward of Huston, Texas, in 1988. Long before ad-libs, auto-tune, and yelling your name at the beginning of a song, a few rappers got together to release an album. Making Trouble, by the Ghetto Boys (at the time consisting of The Sire Jukebox, Bushwhack Bill, Prince Johnny C, and DJ Ready Red) was, well, forgettable. While the song “Assassins” is widely regarded as one of the first horrorcore songs in rap, featuring disturbing lyrics depicting graphic acts of violence, the album went largely unnoticed in the music community.

This led the Ghetto Boys to drop two members, Sire Jukebox and DJ Johnny C, in favor of two other MC’s, Scarface and Willie D. These are two rappers who had their roots in more extreme rap sounds, which would lead to the group fully adopting a hardcore rap/horrorcore sound for their sophomore effort, Grip It! On That Other Level. On this album, the Ghetto Boys double down on their violent and vulgar lyrics. Songs like “Trigga Happy N***a” and “Mind of a Lunatic” feature graphic depictions of rape and mass murder, and builds off of the aesthetic set in place by “Assassins”. While these tracks didn’t prevent the album from receiving positive reviews, they did prevent it from receiving radio play. That probably would have been it for the Ghetto Boys, respected within the hip hop community but blocked from the radio, were it not for a certain producer who’d just made his way to L.A. to found Def American Recordings: Rick Rubin.

Are you keeping track of all these names?

Rubin was drawn to the Ghetto Boys by their struggle to find mainstream success. A firm opponent of censorship, Rubin thought that the Ghetto Boys were making good music and should be treated as such. This led him to sign the group to Def American Recordings, rename them the Geto Boys, and produce a self titled remix album for the group. The Geto Boys, a 1990 release under Def American, remixed ten songs from Grip It! and one from Making Trouble (the previously mentioned “Assassin”). Due to the reuse of multiple tracks from Grip It!, the album generated similar controversy to its predecessor. Most significantly, Def American moved distribution to Warner Bros. Records for all future recordings, splitting from Geffen Records over a refusal to release such an explicit album. Although Warner Bros agreed to release the Geto Boys, they did so on the condition that it would contain an extra explicit content warning, in addition to the standard “Parental Advisory” sticker. The warning read as follows: “Def American Recordings is opposed to censorship. Our manufacturer and distributor, however, do not condone or endorse the content of this recording, which they find violent, sexist, racist, and indecent,” which is the 1990 way of saying this album is frickin’ radical.

While The Geto Boys only built on the lyrical foundation of Grip It!, the evolution of the trap sound is apparent even between the two albums. Rubin places more emphasis on erratic bass drums, giving the live instrumentation a deeper, more club suited sound (in hindsight). While the album is still closer in production to groups like Run-DMC and Public Enemy than Young Jeezy and T.I., their lyrics laid a groundwork for the dark and gruesome aesthetic that would shape future hardcore rap artists. This didn’t change the fact, however, that they were rapping about, oh, I don’t know, women being murdered while having sex, to say one. This led to The Geto Boys receiving its club play time through DJ’s, perhaps none as important as DJ Paul and DJ Spanish Fly.

 

 

No Jokes Allowed: My Savage Mode Review

When 21 Savage brought in Metro Boomin on his 2015 Slaughter King mixtape, he was rapping with a sense of desperate entitlement. “Man, I feel like I deserve this shit,” he raps to begin the hook, his voice rising from hushed gravel to a volatile, higher pitched tone that reflects his age (21), and more importantly, his lack of conviction. “Deserve”, the song in question, is a reflection of a young MC demanding affirmation for talent he knows he has. Over Metro Boomin’s dark, cinematic production, Savage stakes his claim to VIP status in the trap game, and waits anxiously for a response.

It wasn’t long before he got impatient, releasing two videos and four songs in the first six months of 2016. He was named a member of the XXL Freshmen Class, and released Savage Mode, an EP produced entirely by Metro. This is the same Metro Boomin who, in those six months, had earned credits on albums such as The Life of Pablo (Kanye West), Purple Reign and EVOL (Future), and Views (Drake). If 21 Savage was waiting for affirmation, it`s fair to say that he`s received it in the form of two industry heavy hitters (Metro and Future, who has a feature on the track “X”) signing their names on this project.

21’s change in attitude is evident from the moment he begins the first track of the EP, “No Advance“. Lyrically, the hook is obnoxious. While flowing well over Boomin’s driving beats, lines like “I smashed the stripper in a hotel with my chains on/ I’m playin’ with her kitty with my VVS rings on” would fall flat without 21’s exceptional delivery. With his measured baritone, 21 takes lines like above that constitute the meat of this album and lays them bare in a constantly captivating way. However, as sinister as 21’s voice comes across, he is equal parts dismissive. Lines from “I might toe tag him, I might body bag him” (from “Savage Mode”) to “She in her feelings on the ‘Gram, grow up” (from “X”) are presented in the same hushed tone, showing 21 to be not only flippant, but desensitised.

Savage Mode is both a description of and a result of growing up in the trap of Atlanta, Georgia. While there is no shortage of violent imagery on the album (songs such as “Bad Guy” and “No Heart” are standouts in this regard), 21’s experience goes farther than that. “My uncle taught me how to scrape the bowl/ And my auntie still smokin’ blow” he raps on “Ocean Drive”, the album’s closing track. “Ocean Drive”, with lyrics dealing with his drug addled blood relations as well as the constant violence faced by his “family” on the streets, and “Real N***a”, a love song that deals with stealing girls and relationship issues on tour, both add some much needed depth to an album that would have otherwise been cripplingly one dimensional.

Sonically, however, the album maintains a certain distance from these same experiences. 21 delivers the whole album as though he were a host on “Tales from the Cryptkeeper”, a tour guide through these stories of the madness of his youth. Metro Boomin accentuates 21 perfectly in this regard, with the former’s production adding an air of mystery to the album. The low end of these tracks is characteristic of modern trap music: hard, driving bass and drum lines that shake cars and deafen club goers. The melodies, however, are more reminiscent of an 80’s thriller movie. Piercing (yet quiet) synths echo in the background of Savage Mode, giving the whole EP the feeling that it was sampled from Super 8 or Stranger Things (which, if you haven’t seen, is my new favorite series on Netflix).

All in all, this album is haunting and enthralling. While 21 still has room to improve lyrically, his standout verses (such as the first verse in “Mad High”) more than carry the mediocre ones. If there’s anything that drags the album down, it’s the first (and second) listen. On the surface, many of the songs sound the same, making the first 35 minutes I spent listening to this album slightly boring. As the subtleties of Metro’s production presented themselves, however, I found each listen through to give me a little more. Whether it was a melody I hadn’t heard before, or a verse I had glossed over, this album has much more to give than what’s on the surface.

 

7/10.

I Can’t Roll My R’s: A Story of Envy and My New English Review

The next XXL Freshman album up for review is Desiigner’s most recent release: New English.

Desiigner started to get traction in December of last year, when he released the single “Zombie Walk” (feat. King Savage), which is featured on this album. But he didn’t really blow up until he dropped the best rap/WWF smash hit since John Cena’s iconic “My Time is Now”. I am referring, of course, to “Panda”.

Panda” was released shortly after “Zombie Walk” (on December 15, 2015), and managed to get Desiigner noticed by none other than Kanye West. Kanye would heavily sample Panda for the song Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2, which was released on his 2016 Jackson Pollock of trap and gospel, The Life of Pablo. A new signing and a number one spot on the Billboard 100 (in April) later, here he is: being judged on a blog that’s hosted for free.

Desiigner, you made it. Now on to the album.

New English showed something that I didn’t think I’d see from a 19-year-old trap artist who got huge overnight: restraint. The average length for a song on this album is somewhere around three minutes, if I had to guess, so even songs like “Shooters” (which had some of the most empty, pointless lyrics I’ve heard in a song since my Wiggles phase last month) didn’t wear on me too much before the album switched gears. The short song length gives the album a bit of a choppy feel, as you get tossed between different songs and tempos, yet with only slightly different beats.

See, the production on New English isn’t bad. Tracks like “Interlude 1” and “Talk Regardless” work together to show that there is some musical depth to the beats (in this case, by prefacing “Talk Regardless” with a string interlude whose melody continues through the track). By and large, however, I’m hard pressed to find a beat that contributes more to this album than just a backing track. At best, this leads to songs where Desiigner can use his dynamic voice to set himself apart from other rappers on a generic trap beat (see “Make it Out”, the first half of “Da Day”, and “Panda”). At worst, it gives us dragging filler tracks like “Roll Wit Me” and “Overnight”. In both of those songs, Desiigner fades away into cliche production, either by weakly mumbling his verses (“Roll Wit Me”), or by having his voice overproduced until it sounds like an early cut of How to Love, or whatever that shitty Lil Wayne song was in 2009. It’s songs like these that melt together to make long stretches of the album feel like a single, dragging fill only punctuated by the odd braap. Annoying enough when it’s posted as a hashtag on Facebook by someone who drove a motor scooter for the first time, this ad lib is even more annoying when you hear 45 of them over the course of 45 minutes. I didn’t count. That’s a conservative estimate.

Disclaimer: Despite the title of this post, my distaste for Desiigner’s braap’s has nothing to do with my own tongue rolling deficiencies. It’s all strictly musical. I promise.

I want to say that this is a good album. I don’t hate it myself, and I found the few listens I gave it were pretty easy to get through. However, the more I hear this album, the more I realize that it’s carried by a few high moments. Songs like “Make it Out” show Desiigner’s potential as an MC, with the ability to turn his voice into a distorted, angry, hard-hitting instrument of its own. Later, he comes down to a softer drawl for songs like “Panda” and “Zombie Walk”, which gives me hope that the ten word songs littering this album are a temporary style.

See, there are little spots of excitement on this album, and because the rest of the album plays it safe, my opinion tends to be skewed upwards. Mostly, however, this album is dragged down by mediocrity, which is where Desiigner’s restraint failed him.

This album was a perfect release for Good Music (Desiigner’s new label): they paired a young artist up with an experienced executive producer, and made a by-the-rules trap album.

The only issue is that that wasn’t what made “Panda” an overnight phenomenon. I don’t know what did, but whatever it was was sadly lacking on this tape.

 

5.5/10

 

Lil Yachty, Lil Boat, and Lil Under Cooked Wontons

If I had to compare Lil Yachty’s second 2016 release, Lil Boat, to anything, I would compare it to an undercooked wonton.

Why would I do that? Am I hungry? Crazy? Or do I lack the professional writing skills to properly write an introduction statement to a music review? The answer is yes, and because it reminds me of an episode of Chopped where some IDIOT served undercooked wontons filled with delicious mac and cheese. She didn’t get eliminated (RIDICULOUS), but after firing off some tweets about affirmative action I started to realize the parallels to Yachty’s sophomore effort.

See, Lil Boat is a raw wonton. Yachty tries to open the album with an explanation of his two personas: MC Boat, a harsh, fire-spitting rapper, and Yachty, a sensitive young man with an ear for melody. There’s a solid opening verse, and I hear Yachty’s flow as MC Boat (which would turn into a highlight of the album), but about halfway through the song falls off. Yachty (as Lil Yachty) takes us into a slow, meandering “verse” that’s really just some autotune-d wailing. This song is a letdown for two reasons: it’s the first taste of how long a Yachty song as Lil Yachty can take, and it introduces a storyline that only serves to make the album more confusing. Those two problems would end up being the biggest drag on the album as a whole.

I’ve never been a huge fan of trap music. I like lyricism in hip hop, and so it was never a genre of music I was drawn to. When I started blasting Hotline Bling every night before I went to bed with my Drake body pillow, though, I figured I should give it another shot. I’ve grown. I can enjoy songs regardless (or in spite) of their lyrics. Lil Yachty’s half of the album, however, was a bit too much. The songs “I’m Sorry” and “We Did It” both fall victim to overproduced vocals, leading to two busy tracks (back to back) that grate on the ear and distract from Lil Yachty’s true talent: his ear for melody.

The song “Fucked Over” has a really catchy hook. It’s simple and direct, and it shows the potential that Yachty has to write hit songs that you can’t help but sing along to. It shows Yachty’s ear for melodies. The delicious mac and cheese. “Fucked Over” falls victim, however, to the same overproduction as “I’m Sorry” and “We Did It”, with Yachty’s voice being so modulated that it becomes hard to focus on the verse.

MC Boats verses were some of my favorite parts of the album (see “Not My Bro” and “Intro (Just Keep Swimming)”), but the added persona takes more away from my enjoyment of the album than he adds. I felt as though I was following along with the album fairly well, however, after Up Next 2, the listener is informed that the first half of the album was entirely MC Boat. I had no idea. I was surprised, and that made it harder to take the narrative of the album seriously. The whole idea of MC Boat and Lil Yachty was so convoluted at this point it seemed easier to just ignore the concept all together.

But enough about the wonton.

It took me a while, but I eventually figured out why that woman wasn’t eliminated (and why some guy with perfectly cooked monkfish was). This chef had twenty minutes to prepare her dish. She’s bound to make some mistakes. But she did a lot right, and eventually served up what was a good idea with a few fatal flaws. Yachty is only 18. He’s going to write songs that get repetitive, and vapid lyrics, and make poor metaphors. That’s not the essence of what he’s served up here, however.

This album can be best heard in songs like Minnesota (Remix). Yachty teams up with three great MC’s, serves up a contagious hook with his childish falsetto and proceeds to fill out what would otherwise be empty production with a simple, effective verse. The production on this track is some of the most representative of the album’s overall sound: thin, light melodies over 808’s and hi-hat based drum lines that sound fresh off of a Rae Sremmurd track. This is the same sound that makes “Good Day” so infectious. Yachty’s high-pitched, breathy singing can work wonderfully with the high-pitched, breathy production of these tracks, and he uses this relationship to craft some of the catchier hooks I’ve heard in a while. In essence, Yachty serves up some delicious mac and cheese. Not enough of it to make this a great album (or even a good one, as far as I’m concerned), but just enough to make me excited for Yachty’s next mac-and-cheesy product.

And I’m allergic to milk.

4.5/10

Young Man Yells at Cloud

This is the post excerpt.

Cause I got locked out of my One Drive account! 😀

Did you laugh? No? Good.

I’m not your fuckin’ clown.

 

So I’ve been listening to the XXL Freshmen this year (starting with the freestyles) and I have to say, they are not too good. Not too great. And before you yell at me, I’ll save you the time: Yes, I’ve heard Malibu. Yes, some of them sang hooks and not verses. Yes, rap’s sound is changing. I know. That’s why I’m writing this, to raise awareness for the dozen or so rappers that are subjected, each year, to a gruesome a cappella freestyle showcase.

The way XXL treats these young men and women is horrid. They’re snatched out of their homes (some still teenagers) because they had a successful single, album, or mixtape. They’re interviewed. They sign a contract agreeing to one signature ad lib/3 lines in each verse performed for XXL (fucked up I know).

Then they get thrown to the fuckin’ dogs.

I’m dramatizing this of course, but I think that the XXL Freshmen this year warrant some discussion. Desiigner sang a hook about Timmy Turner for his freestyle. Lil Yachty’s was about as good as, well, about as good as you expect. It sucked to watch, because it felt like the magic was falling away from rap: it used to seem like the words were endlessly flying into the mic, now the tied together hankies have run out and these artists are left standing there with sixteen bars to spit and an empty fake thumb. It sucked at first, but then I started to listen to the albums, and the cyphers.

What these MC’s don’t have in lyrical ability, they more than make up for in having an ear for melody and catchy hooks. I would argue that Desiigner’s freestyle was one of the worst, but I’ve had Panda on repeat for weeks. It’s a strange situation. I guess I should have seen it coming, when Drake’s biggest hit is “Hotline Bling”. Not a great song when you just give the lyrics a read. Neither, in fact, is Love Lockdown, one of the singles off of 808’s and Heartbreak.

If you’re mad because I’m about to talk about Kanye, just honestly, go onto YouTube, and listen to Blame Game, and once you start to cry, google pictures of dog shit cause that’s ALL YOU ARE TO ME.

But yeah, so Kanye’s 808’s and Heartbreak didn’t do so well when it came out. Not great at all. However, now, it’s 2016 and non-church goers can vote or whatever, and we see the impact that this album (in all of its auto tuned glory) has had on music. From drill in Chicago to Desiigner’s FAKE hoes in Atlanta (look it up), we’re seeing a movement towards more melody in hip hop. Is that cool? Maybe. Probably. We’ll see, because the first thing I’m doing on this blog is reviewing a project from each XXL Freshman aND AWAAAAY WE GO