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Coverage: Latin Trap is taking over the world

Everyone dances to the rhythm of trap music in the clubs, but do you really know everything about this genre that seems to take over the world?

Coverage: Latin Trap is taking over the world

For some years now we have heard a rhythm on the dance floor that we all believe we recognize. You can listen to it at nightclubs and on the radio, and it has captivated both Latin America and the rest of the world. However, until very recently we are talking about it. But, what is it? What is that musical genre that we dance slow but that sounds aggressive? I am talking about Latin Trap. In LatinAmerican Post we talk to an expert and here we tell you what it is and where it goes.

Leer en español: Reportaje: El Latin trap salió de la calle para tomarse el mundo

What is trap?

When I ask this to Santiago Cembrano, a musical journalist specializing in rap and hip-hop, he first clarifies: there is no dictionary definition. The musical genres are usually defined according to the musical experts, but also according to the listeners, the audience. "Sometimes," he told me, "it's more important what the people at home and in the club think is Latin Trap, not what I think it is."

After clarifying this, he told me that trap really exists as a subgenre more than rap, because that's how it was born. However, the Latin Trap is not associate with rap by the people in Latin America and even outside of it. Here it has taken a different turn and moves in circuits different from those of rap. 

What would be "the definition of the people", then, would be different from that of the expert, since in Latin America trap is associated more with reggaeton than with rap. And so said Santiago, who told me that in North America rap occupies the commercial space that reggaeton occupies in Latin America: it is what is danced in the clubs.

The rap in Latin America continues to belong in a certain way to the underground circuit, something that does not happen in the United States, where this is the mainstream genre. The trap, then, has always made its way in the commercial circuit, in North America associated with rap and in Latin America with reggaeton.

But what is it that defines this genre? A theme? a rhythm? Its name refers to a theme: trapping, which means selling and cooking drugs to survive. Thus, this genre would be linked, in its origin, to a street theme and a social reality. According to the magazine DJmag, "the trap brought rap music to a new sonic dimension: with dark energy, a gothic feel, street culture (weapons, drugs, strippers)".

However, according to Santiago, "now it is more linked to a sound than to some themes". How is this? These themes undoubtedly also obscured the sound, the rhythm. In technical and formal terms, the trap could be defined by its sounds of 808 (that is, produced by a Roland-TR808 rhythm machine) and its beat at 120BPM (a specific speed that is a somewhat slow rhythm).

Santiago said that many believe that any double tempo is trap, which is not entirely accurate but, again, it is perhaps what the public believes is what defines the genre. This may be why it does not even matter what the lyrics are, but the sound by which we identify this genre.

Santiago also said that it is very difficult to define the trap, because "it is an umbrella term that they use to define many things". And in this coincides with Bad Bunny, one of its biggest representatives in Latin America, who said in an interview for Billboard that "everyone is going to give you a different definition of trap."

This genre, then, is that which we cannot yet define, but which we listen to on the radio or on the club and which we identify, which makes us begin to dance without realizing it.

The history of trap

As I mentioned, the trap was born as a subgenre of rap. Although it seems to be a relatively new genre, this millennium, rap has its origins in the nineties in Atlanta.

According to the musical journalist Myles Rymer for the Chicago Reader, the trap was for a moment a category in which experts put "everything that is wrong with hip-hop today", that is, "a trap", like the one that makes the jíbaro who gives the first dose in the "trap", a place where drugs are trafficked. Thus, trap was born as an acid rap that addresses violent themes, it is a place rather than a genre.

Thus the trap continued during the early 2000s, but this time it was also among well-known rappers from the southern United States, many with alter egos of gangsters and traffickers, whose lyrics spoke of the exchange of drugs and life "in the neighborhood". Thus, these rappers began to link these themes to a sound. The music about life in trap now had a personality that went beyond the lyrics.

By 2010, trap was conquering the world. It sounded on the radio and topped the commercial rap charts. The producers and rappers no longer so "of the street" were interested in the genre and began to releasing tracks that played these themes and also songs with the rhythm of 120BPM and the sounds of 808.

It may interest you: Stop criticizing reggaeton! Even Beyonce loves it

The Latin American phenomenon

How did this aggressive and uncomfortable music come to Latin America? How did it come to sound in the clubs? For Lary Over, a Puerto Rican artist, "dembow and reggaeton opened a market for Latin Trap, they consolidated an audience," he said to the Miami New Times. And, as Santiago said, trap moves in Latin America in a circuit different from that of North America.

For several decades now, reggaeton had taken over the Caribbean. Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic did not stop producing artists of this danceable and openly sexual genre. So, in that sense, it could look like the trap that was brewing in Atlanta. It was a genre that bothered us, but we could not stop listening and dancing at the rhythm of it.

These two genres that were cooked each to the north and south of the continent in the nineties are similar in the sense of playing heavy themes, "de la calle", according to the Puerto Rican artist De La Guetto for Billboard. However, at first, trap was moving away from the Latin and tropical sounds and that scared people.

"When I first started doing Trap in 2005, 2006, people thought I was crazy. [They would say] the people want more Latin music, more tropical," he said. Thus, although the reggaeton, with its sexual and obscene lyrics, was gestating in the Latin American Caribbean, its rhythm was cheerful and colorful and seemed contrary to the dark and murky sound of trap.

Some reggaeton singers, who had a past in rap before becoming commercial music artists, began to have influences from the trap and to implement it in their songs. However, while this was happening the reggaeton became increasingly commercial, and therefore more censored and even more romantic. So these two genres seemed to move away and not be able to coexist, even though the artists would like it.

Bad Bunny said in an interview for Billboard that in the beginning, Latin Trap was nothing more than an imitation of the "gringo". "What people were doing was a small imitation of what American artists were doing. They took American hits and turned them into their songs."

Ozuna, on the other hand, believes that American influences, attributed to the artist Messiah, gave a new touch to the reggaeton and introduced trap in the Caribbean circuit.

"This is something I've talked about a lot with Karol G," Santiago tells me, "and that is that reggaeton had to soften up on its themes to be commercial, to be less obscene in its lyrics." That is why, according to him, trap could enter this circuit, because it meant a return to the origins of reggaeton, it revitalized it.

"It gave back to the urban genre that sexuality, that fire that was even obscene and violent but that was not as censored as reggaeton today [...] people were attracted to that personality much more front of the trap." 

Ozuna stated that the song "La ocasión" returned to Latin Trap as a global phenomenon, it internationalized it, since it was the first truly commercial Latin Trap. Four reggaeton greats, De La Guetto, Arcángel, Anuel AA and Ozuna, joined Mabo Kingz in 2016 to release this song, whose lyrics were no longer about what trap was about in its North American origins.

The Latin Trap, then, adapted this genre to its own context. As Santiago said, it meant a return to the origins of reggaeton and so were its lyrics: violent as trap, but adapted to the sexual awakening that had driven reggaeton in the Caribbean years ago and not the drug issue.

That same year he released "Cuatro babys", song of the album Trap Capos: Season 1 of Noriel , that Maluma sang in the company of Bryant Myers and Juhn. The song generated much controversy and indignation among the public. This was a song of Maluma, one of the most commercial reguetoneros of the moment, that in addition was a coach in a contest program for children.

It was, then, a musician who moved in the pop circuit and participated in a trap song. This bothered many, but what many did not know is that this genre had been cooking in Latin America for some years and that it was not something new in reggaeton, but precisely a return to its origins.

For Santiago, then, the success of Latin Trap can be summed up in two factors. On the one hand, it was a new sound brought from North America that was attractive to producers and artists, as both could experiment with new beats and new rhymes. On the other hand, it was attractive to the listeners, because it exploited topics that seemed new.

In Farruko's words, Latin Trap "is the expression closest to what the street is right now, to what is being lived outside." For Ozuna, Anuel AA is the biggest representative of the Latin Trap, because he represents what originally defined the trap with its hard letters.

Thus, the Latin Trap made danceable a genre that was dark and violent, brought to the club a social reality. It got the influences of the Caribbean rhythms and managed to make it dance.

As can be seen, Latin American artists are aware of the American influence and the rawness of their lyrics, but they have already appropriated the genre and embrace that obscenity that both attracts the public and at the same time makes them uncomfortable. Unlike the North American phenomenon, in the Caribbean, these hard and "street" themes became a party.

You can also read: Oasis: What you should know about J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s album

What's next for the Latin Trap?

"I think trap is a receiver of influences, but it is also influencing other genres," said Santiago. Initially, since it is produced digitally, trap began influencing above all electronic music, which is more associated with Europe than with Latin America.

In the case of our continent, said Santiago, rather than influencing other genres in its entirety, Latin Trap is influencing specific artists of other genres. This genre, which was born in Puerto Rico, has already traveled to the southern cone.

Independent bands like El Cómodo Silencio de los que Hablan Poco in Chile or Louta in Argentina have been influenced by the Latin Trap in their last albums. In the case of the first, the band has a project with Gianluca, one of the exponents of trap. The second band has clear influences of trap in its last record.

In the case of Colombian rap, influences go from one side to the other. While trap was born as a subgenre of rap, now the influences also go in the other direction. Now not only the reggaeton singers borrow items from the trap, but also artists such as Crudo or Doble Porción, who move in the rap circuit, seem to embrace this new genre.

In this sense, although it accepts its Anglo-Saxon influences, the Latin Trap has already become a genre in itself, which moves in independent circuits of American rap. It has unique characteristics and a personality that makes it a versatile genre, with the obscure of its origins in the nineties Atlanta, but also with the tropical and partying rhythms of the Caribbean of this millennium.

Like other Latin American rhythms, it is becoming a portal to enlarge and diversify the genre, as well as to take it to all parts of the world. That's right, Latin America works as a platform that receives influences from international rhythms, makes them their own, transforms them and puts the world to dance.

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Rodríguez Pabón

Translated from "Reportaje: El Latin trap salió de la calle para tomarse el mundo"

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