They are the music of an unhappy people, of the children of disappointment; they tell of death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wanderings and hidden ways.
— W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
Sometimes I really can’t believe this shit happened
Who woulda thought I’d make it rappin’?
I almost lost my life when I was trappin’
Numb the pain with the money, numb the pain with the money
Numb the pain with the money, numb the pain with the
— 21 Savage, “Numb”
For Lil Snupe (1995 – 2013), L’A Capone (1996 – 2013), Chinx (1983 – 2015), Bankroll Fresh (1987 – 2016 ), Lor Scoota (1993 – 2016 ), Da Real Gee Money (1995 – 2017), the many thousands gone.
The beat, when it drops, is thunder, and causes the steel rods in whatever you’re riding to groan, plastics to shudder, the ass of the seat to vibrate right up into your gut. The hi-hat, pitched like an igniter, sparks. Snare rolls crescendo in waves that overmaster like a system of finely linked chains snatched up into whips, cracking and snapping across the hull of a dark hold.
It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story.
— James Baldwin, “Many Thousands Gone”
Rubber band man, like a one-man band
Treat these niggas like the Apollo, and I’m the sandman
— T.I., “Rubber Band Man”
Howard “Sandman” Sims had a standing gig at the Apollo for decades as a tap performer who would “sweep” failing acts off the stage. It’s stuff like this that makes up what Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls “motivated signifying,” the inside joke that’s on you before you know it, the razor wit — always the weapon of the underdog. The pleasures of dialect, hotly pursued by the holders of capital, the clout chasers of Madison Avenue, enclose a self-referential universe, a house of belonging in sound and word. A statehouse of language for a stateless people. Trap is an extension, a ramification of that vocabulary of radicalized homelessness: people creating a living out of a few grains of sand, hustling, sweeping anything that can’t compete out of the way.
Trap, some definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary:
A contrivance set for catching game or noxious animals; a gin, snare, pitfall: cf. mantrap, mousetrap, rat trap.
transf. and fig., and in figurative expressions. Often applied to anything by which a person is unsuspectingly caught, stopped, or caused to fall; also to anything which attracts by its apparent easiness and proves to be difficult, anything deceptive.
A concealed compartment; spec. (Criminals’ ), any hiding-place for stolen or illegal goods, etc.; a ‘stash.’ U.S. slang.
I just wanna get that money
I just wanna get that money — flip that money
I just wanna stack them hundreds,
I just wanna spaz out — cash out
— Kodak Black, “Spaz Out”
Q. What is the subject of trap?
A. Money, a.k.a. skrilla, paper, green, gwop, currency, stacks, bands, bundles, racks, currency, fetty (confetti), ends, dead presidents, bankrolls, $100,000 in just two days, fuck-you money, fuck up some commas, money long, run up a check, fuck up a check; a master signifier in falling bills, floating, liquid, pouring down on bitches in the proverbial rain, exploding like cold fireworks, screen-printed or projected onto surfaces human and otherwise, occasionally burned, often tossed into the impoverished streets left behind, kids trailing the whip their arms outstretched, often bricked up in bundles held in a grip, or cradled to the ear like, say, a call from the highest authority in the land, or fanned out in a masking screen, or caressed, the cold frisson of Franklin morbidly displacing the erotic potential of sexual attraction.