Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012
Newer than: Moombahton.
"It's a lifestyle." "It's the next dubstep." "It's a euphemism for a crack house." "It's a type of music where rhyming 'nigga' with 'nigga' is apparently acceptable because of the raw and gritty nature of the songs." "It's easy to hate." "It's the latest in a cycle of hipster appropriation of black music." "It's one of the newest sounds on the Playa." "It's something I'm trying to get as far away from as possible." "It's something you should really look into for your column." All these and more are the kinds of responses you can expect to receive if you ever go out looking for the meaning of "trap." Not since dubstep was first adopted by American producers has there been a more polarizing genre. Yet, beyond all the hype, what is trap music anyway? As you can imagine, this all depends on who you talk to, what you read, and which parties you attend. This was immediately clear when I arrived at Trap City, San Francisco's premier trap event, last Saturday.
Officially speaking, trap music got its start in the South -- specifically, Atlanta. The term "trap" is a slang term that refers to the rougher parts of the southern metropolis. Popularized in the mid-'00s, trap was a brutally realistic form of hip-hop that described a life spent on the edge dealing hard drugs just to get by.
In many respects trap music is nothing new. The collected works of Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame, and T.I. have been club fodder for many years. The novel element is the way in which this music has crossed over from its original context to fuse with dubstep, moombahton, electro, and other related genres. Poke around the Internet for a while and it should be fairly clear that trap has left Atlanta and has found its way to the underground American rave circuit. Nowadays, trap music is the side-room soundtrack for dubstep shows, and increasingly a main event all of its own.
I arrived outside of 1192 Folsom late. It was around midnight, and the line to get in stretched from the doorway down to the corner. Taking a spot behind two chain-smoking girls in hipsteresque turbans, I was surprised to observe that those in line were quite different from what I imagined a "trap music" crowd would be like. The bulk of the street scene resembled the sleazier side of North Beach, with pinstriped shirts and spiked hair on the guys and impossibly short, tube sock-inspired dresses on the girls. The rain started up again. I looked at my watch and then back at the line. We weren't moving anywhere.
"Okay, party bus people to the right, everyone else stay where you are." And with those magic words, the line disappeared as an entire bus worth of people realized they had cued up for the wrong bar. It might have been anti-climactic, but it meant that I was giving $10 to the door girl only moments later. Inside the club, things were much sparser. The bar was nearly empty, save for a few people ordering drinks. Instead, the action was concentrated on the dancefloor. Resident Stylust Beats played a manic set that stretched through intense car alarm noises and into the familiar cool pressure of Snoop Dogg's "Drop it Like it's Hot." Hidden behind the jigglings of two go-go dancers, he moved around and occasionally threw in surprisingly complicated turntablist tricks. Over the course of the next hour, the intensity remained locked on a peak plateau -- the only dynamics offered came from a drop or segue into some well-known track. It would have been tedious if it wasn't for his scratching.
Say what you will about the music, but one of the most interesting things about Trap City is how diverse the party is. It does fulfill the hybridized promise of the music, with a mixture of ravers, burners, tech-types, decked-out club girls, and backpacker hip-hop heads that seemed genuinely novel in a West Coast kind of way. The number of different intermingling groups lent a unique feeling to the party.
This carried into the back room, which was noticeably less packed, but contained a group of dancers who got so into it that some took their shirts off. A remix of DJ Asssault blared out of the speakers with a haze of codeine and pneumatic piston noises, "ASS, TITTIES, ASS, TITTIES, TITTIES. GOTTA GET MY DICK SUCKED." The energy of the song was amplified by the goofy moves of the DJs, who danced around grabbing at invisible cartoon tits in the booth.
"Go on, take that photo! I hope their dad sees where they are now!" said some onlooking computer programmer as I tried to snap some shots of the girls on the platform. There was definitely a weird social dimension to parts of the evening. At one point some girls just stopped what they were doing for a half an hour and began surfing the Internet on the dancefloor. Elsewhere, people put all their jackets in a giant pile and danced around them like some weird pagan ritual to North Face and Patagonia. This wasn't what you would call a "cool" party in any conventional sense of the word. But, somehow, I don't think that's really the point. I looked at my watch and realized it was almost 2 a.m. Apparently, so did everyone else, as the club was looking pretty sparse aside from the diehards.