Depending on who you talk to – and I myself yield to the most common hip hop historian opinion – the actual honest-to-god trap sound has been around since the early-90s. “First wave” trap included artists such as Master P, Goodie Mob, and Ghetto Mafia; the music was characterized by a low 808 bass, a pondering, slow tempo, double-time or triple-time hi-hats, and a wide use of instruments to create an ominous atmosphere. The rap lyrics tended to be bleak and gritty as well; the term “trap” itself started as a reference for where drug deals took place and the dealing itself – it was the quickest way to make real money and that’s a hard thing to give up. The songs often painted a deep and haunting picture of how hard street life could be and the measures one might do to survive, and it was the south’s largest contribution to the general darkening of hip hop in the 90s. For better or worse it can be placed next to the east coast’s hardcore hip hop and the west coast’s gangsta rap in that time period.
As you may have noticed, “first wave trap” covers a fairly wide range of southern hip hop at the time, so it’s not entirely uncommon to consider it more of a stylistic choice rather than an actual sub-genre. The second wave of trap in the early 2000s saw a standardization in common song characteristics, and from THAT we move into the formation of an actual sub-genre. I have decided to formally call this Trap Rap to both represent the modern sound and delineate out the older hip hop that’s just sort of “trap style.” The term trap by itself becomes a general bucket containing multiple sub-genres sharing general sounds and patterns, similar to “bass music” or “psy.”
Trap Rap zeroes in a bit tighter to a very particular style of drum with additional sub-bass, fairly standardized slow tempo ranges, and an easily recognizable tone to the single melody and perhaps extremely low-key counter melody. Toss something vast sounding such as horns with heavy reverb, start spitting good game, and you’re dropping some great Trap Rap. In many ways the tracks in this sub-genre are the very purest and distilled forms of what trap has always been an expression of; the somber side of life when you have very few means to an end.