MAM: Future Bass

General Info
Parent: Trapstep
Children: None (Yet)

Ahh, this is a fun one. It wouldn’t be far off the mark to call this the Happy Hardcore of bass music. The tempo isn’t necessarily all that different from other trap sub-genres, but BOY does it dial up the sugar-coating.  (Sometimes literally; one artist – Slushii – puts a neon slushie-style drink on every piece of cover art.) It shares many characteristics of Future Trap with some very key differences: this sub-genre is simply happy. Sky-high chipmunk vocals, soaring melodies in the upper register, and that near-universal buzzy pad sound that feels feathered as it pulses in and out. Future Bass also tends to stutter and jitter more than any other bass music genre, making it a delicate thing to wield at a club or party dedicated to dancing.

I like it, though. It’s a modern broken-beat sort of sound that could easily play in a coffee shop on a Sunday morning and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already playing in car commercials. I’ve never really been certain why the name ended up being Future Bass, but it’s used widely enough at this point that it’s not really worth making an alternative. It’s enough for me that it’s in a separate sub-genre; one of the ways I determine a need for a different categorization is if there’s a large sub-section of music that’s allllllllmost like something else but would cause people to look up in utter surprise if you dropped it out of nowhere.

For better or for worse the overall happiness means this is also the most commercially palatable part of trap, although more often than not it’ll lure a new listener to all forms of bass music in the end. This is also one of those sub-genres with a gold standard: if you like Slumberjack or Marshmello then you’re a fan of Future Bass.

Samples: JuicyJames – 933 | Muto – Through the Fog | Slushii, Marshmello – Twinbow | Super Square – Push

MAM: Future Trap

General Info
Parent: Trapstep
Children: None (Yet)

Future Trap is what most people are actually thinking of when they hear the word “trap.” It’s the more popular, aggressive, and clubby cousin of the Trapstep sound with song construction running up to high degrees of complexity and a sound palette of almost anything used in electronic music as a whole. Most of the inherited rules of Trap Rap get completely tossed out the window, but the songs never lose that certain something that rattles your teeth and makes you nod your head in a way only trap-based music can. The songs are almost always faster by default or tend to be played faster, which gives rise to the increased club use and visibility in that scene. (If someone asks me to play “trap” and the crowd averages younger than 30 I will immediately reach for Future Trap.)

Naturally this is the top-end of bass music’s energy level, it makes for great peak time material.  It pays to build in and out of it, however – it can be jarring to drop without warning or without matching the general tone. There are certainly songs that hit a grey area between Trapstep and Future Trap, but by and large you can group them confidently. Future Trap tends to have a great deal more swing, the bass lines jump and buzz loudly, and the trap-style rhythms can easily lack the trademark massive sine-wave bass as they stutter all over the place. It’s also fairly easy to separate from Future Bass as it just doesn’t have that trademark saccharine, although Future Trap can absolutely be upbeat. The future isn’t ALL dirt and sadness, after all.

If you find yourself feeling like large chunks of Future Trap sound similar to various forms of dubstep, congratulations! Most dubstep musicians fled to Future Trap after the great dubstep crash of the mid-2010s. While there are certainly a series of things you can use to tell them apart, a lot of the time it’s as simple as asking how important the wobble is to the song as whole. If it’s the main point and most of the song gets out of the way of the wobble – it’s some form of dubstep. If the wobble has integrated itself as a piece of a greater whole and not stolen center stage – it’s Future Trap. If the wobble note structure has been applied to a distinctly higher pitched non-wobble bass then it’s DEFINITELY Future Trap. (I’ve included a Future Trap song by Skrillex to illustrate my point.)

While I’m not crazy about dubstep in general, I do love what it’s contributed to other sub-genres – and its contributions to Future Trap are part of the very reason I love Future Trap.

Samples: Retrohanz – No Regrets | Skrillex – Beats Knockin | Ahee – The Real Thing | T-Mass & Enthic – Can You Feel It | Eptic – Cosmic

MAM: Trapstep

General Info
Parent: Trap Rap
Children: Future Trap, Future Bass

Trapstep is an interesting one; it actually exemplifies what I meant in the Trap Rap article about the sharper codification of the sound of second wave trap. Trapstep is sometimes called “Trap Music” because it focuses on the musical content and forgoes formal rapping, but the differences do go much deeper. The fairly low-level rules of Trap Rap loosen, the rapping is dropped, and as a consequence the overall song and sound complexity increases to make up the difference.  Only to a point though – this is still an aggressive, primal genre at its core. The songs are more likely to vary wildly in tempo mid-song, and it’s common to hear singing, crowd-hyping chants, and exhortations to clap booties and drop it down low.

It’s relative easy to spot where Trap Rap ends and Trapstep begins, you can get halfway through the sorting process just by examining the base tempo. While the genre can reach down to the 60-70bpm of Trap Rap it averages closer to 100bpm and sometimes soars to the 120+bpm range that Future Trap and Future Bass tend to sit in. It’s more serious than Future Bass and doesn’t sound anywhere near the level of dubstep that Future Trap has. Let’s go with…it’s more “subtle” than Future Trap? That works.  The samples I’ve chosen this time represent more of the breadth of what Trapstep can cover vs an expression of the purest core concepts.

At the most reductive level Trapstep can represent a good baseline for the mood of your set. It’s the bass music equivalent of Funky House, Uplifting Trance, or BounceTek; it’s the meat and potatoes that handle the heavy lifting. If you’re starting at either high or low energy and want to move around it’s the middle ground that bridges things together. It’s flexible enough that both hip hop fans and dance music fans will recognize it as trap-style music, and if you pay careful attention to the song construction you can transparently peak in and out of a more purist hip hop set with the right surrounding textures.

My favorite aspect is that  it tends to have the double heartbeat bass drum that leads hips into a twerk-style rhythm; that’s catnip for a dance floor. There are always at least two breakdown and heavy drop sections so you’ve got a nice window to either fall into and/or out of the track if you want to and enough possible hot cue points to run a circuit of mashups. It’s worth staying on your toes, however – the cleanest mix points are almost always only 15-20 seconds out from the end of a track.

Samples: Hardwell – Badam | DMZ – Attuku | UnicornDie – For a Day | Nextro – Aliens


MAM: Trap Rap

General Info
Parent: Dirty South
Children: Trapstep, Global Trap

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.

Samples: Dustin Dynasty Nelson – Stackin | Infernal Dice – I’m in the Game | TWRK – Hands on It