The problems with blackness born out of Trap music –why we need a nuanced narrative in the genre.
We find the origins of a widely accepted blackness woven into the fabric of the Hip-Hop industry. While the portrayal of black culture has come a long way since the days of minstrel shows, the conception of blackness, as derived from Hip-Hop, can often be similarly shallow. Blackness and Hip-Hop are not synonymous, however, blackness, as understood by those removed from black experiences, tends to be precisely that–a manifestation of Hip-Hop culture. Popular trademarks such as staple dance moves and modern vernacular are seen to be the sum of a race and culture as perpetuated by the industry. That has led many to misconstrue their conception of blackness. Most notably, we see the conception of blackness drawn from themes found in the sub-genre ‘Trap.’
Trap music is notorious for spreading, almost exclusively, messages of violence, misogyny, alcohol and drug abuse, and abandonment. These are black truths, yes. But they are also human truths. They are lived experiences reserved for nobody in particular. Yet continually, these themes within Trap music help to remove nuance from an external and internal understanding of blackness.
As a child, I remember sprawling myself on my couch for hours listening to MTV Jamz. Not because the music was particularly great, but because it was one of the few places where I could see myself in the music industry. A young, black, ambitious male. The only caveat in this recognition of identity is that the people who resembled me sang about violence, drugs, and money. Meanwhile, the people who didn’t rather indulged in stories of heartbreak and summer parties. The juxtaposition subconsciously solidified my understanding of blackness. I saw the mould that I was ‘supposed to fit’, and for years I tried to fit it.
Blackness doesn’t fit a mould. Nor is it defined by any singular characteristics. However, the Trap ‘industry’ has demonstrated that it has the breadth and influence to convince society otherwise. A classic example is found in the industry’s obsession with heteronormativity. When chart-topping rapper Lil Nas X revealed his homosexuality, critics across social media tried to completely strip his credibility as a Hip-Hop artist. The industry has convinced us that being gay, black, and a Hip-Hop artist are mutually exclusive.
Migos. Gucci Mane. Travis Scott. Cardi B. These household names probably trigger some sort of memory. Whether it be a concert, an associated meme, a certain vulgar lyric, or even in my case, the ridiculous adoption of ad-libs in conversation–including, but not limited to, the religious affirmations of 21 Savage, to the violent onomatopoeia of Chief Keef. Artists with such magnitude have etched their dominance into some aspect of our lives. ‘Trappers,’ contribute to an ever-evolving black concept, however, they themselves don’t represent all that blackness has to offer. Blackness is beautiful because of its individuality. Its richness. Its ambiguity. But we find the central themes of Trap suffocating the individuality which makes it so unique.
This is at no fault of the artists or genre itself. Truthfully, we can’t pinpoint one perpetrator. What we can do is move forward in a direction where thematic diversity is the first thing industry executives look for in ‘trapper’ content. Every artist with a platform deserves the opportunity to speak more than the cookie-cutter truth.
Truth is what listeners resonate with most. It’s what I resonate with most in music. But it in Trap, it seems to be scarce. ‘Trappers’ rap about near-identical experiences. The absence of nuance in the genre is more than suspect, it’s intentional! Depictions of blackness in Trap purposefully reinforce negative public views and attitudes toward black people, creating barriers for social advancement. Too often we see rappers fall off and lose everything because of their undying persistence to live the ‘Trap lifestyle.’ Because of themes we find in Trap, we too see many blacks, especially youth, aspiring to attain unsustainable lifestyles. How do we counteract this? With narrative depth. With more lived truth ingrained in the music that dominates our radio.
Trap music, in principle, is beautifully authentic. In execution though, it sometimes sounds a bit predictable. You’re diving in the car, you hear a new Trap song, and before the chorus hits, you find yourself singing the ‘next’ lyrics to a song that you’ve never heard before. Sound familiar?
The genre can and has showcased the triumphs of blackness, the struggles of blackness, and the perils of blackness. But sometimes there’s limited creativity in the way the story of Trap is told.
The narrative of blackness is driven both by creators and listeners.
To the creators: find merit in speaking your truth, and never feel as though you must personify a circumscribed spectrum of ‘Trap’ qualities. To the listeners: understand that blackness exists beyond your interpretation. All media, not just music, can and should choose words, images, and angles that give a fuller, more nuanced narrative of blackness. So the next time you belt your lungs out to the newest Travis Scott hit, remember: remain curious, challenge meaning, and echo messages of positive blackness. Blackness in its individuality, richness, and ambiguity.