How Kanye West, Just Blaze, and James Franco (??) are actually legitimizing an icky dance-music trend
Harmony Korine's upcoming Spring Breakers stars James Franco as an eccentric hustler (with quite a few tics in common with pure-of-heart Internet absurdist Riff Raff), who links up with four high-school girls/bank robbers (played by Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine). Judging by the trailer, "Badlands meets Jersey Shore directed by Michael Mann" seems like the shorthand schlockmeister movie pitch for the thing. Also, somehow, Gucci Mane is involved? The music in the trailer is a chaotic sprint from trap music to big dumb dubstep and includes Gucci Mane & Waka Flocka's "Young Nigga" and Skrillex's "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites." Trap rave, the obnoxious sub-sub-sub-genre which mixes the glitches, drops, and all-encompassing doom of Atlanta-rooted, strip-club, drug-deal stomp with the post-everything thrills of Soundcloud refix culture, has its own movie, it seems.
Following "Behold! (Exhibit J)" earlier this month, Just Blaze released "Higher," a Jay-Z-sampling, expanding-and-contracting dance track co-produced by Brooklyn trap rave beatmaker Baauer, best known for 2012's massive "Harlem Shake." Just Blaze and Baaauer are also touring together. Over the weekend, it was announced that Hudson Mohawke, best known to rap fans for Cruel Summer productions like "Mercy" and "Bliss," and a hip hop-informed electronic producer in his own right (last year's project with Lunice, TNGHT, is a flashpoint for trap rave), signed to Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music as a producer. Here are three examples of trap rave penetrating the mainstream, mostly free of the supposed hipster scourge that created "trap" as party music in the first place.
Contrast these mainstream nods to trap's cool-signifying qualities with Lady Gaga's Waka-white girl twerk debacle "Cake," and maybe you will feel a little better. "Cake" found Gaga sort of rapping over a Lex Luger-like facsimile. And in the Terry Richardson-directed creepo clip, she awkwardly shook her ass with her friends in an Instagram fog. It seemed heavily influenced by Los Angeles hipster-trash lightning-rod Brooke Candy, particularly her song and video "Das Me," released about a month before "Cake." Photos of Gaga sporting Brooke Candy-like dreadlocks have even appeared. Think about that narrative for a moment: From trap-rap in the early 2000s to trap as dance music last year to an obsequious hipster tastemaker to Lady Gaga. You'd be wise to percieve "Cake" as existing only to underline the questionable elements of the trap-rap sound when it is balled up into party-music production.
Here are dance producers from all over the world stripping Atlanta-derived trap music for parts, including SMH-worthy sounds like gunshot percussion, and referring to this "new" music as "trap." It's important to remind listeners that trap rap (and the trap as a physical space birthed by an endless, pointless drug war and a lack of options for the working class), is not something that should be sloppily co-opted. But it also seems doubtful that anybody out there is confusing trap rave — dance music that toys with the elements of trap-derived hip hop — with trap music. That just isn't happening. One won't replace the other. It is mostly an insensitive hipster redundancy. The best piece of criticism on trap rave remains this meme, which shows a chest-tattooed goober with an asshole face, arms crossed. Text at the top and bottom of the image reads, "I'M REALLY INTO TRAP / YOU'VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF IT BEFORE."
Plus, rap music and whatever forever-mutating strand of dance that's happening right now have been in conversation for a couple of years. Trap Rave wasn't a joking-not-joking genre tag yet, but Girl Unit's "Wut," an unabashedly ATL-influenced U.K. bass track from 2010 istrap rave before anything was trap rave. And for most of the 2000s, U.K. dubsteppers (you know, the "respectable" ones) were heavily influenced by American hip-hop and R&B production. It was only a matter of time before a give-and-take would develop between the two genres (for the evolution of trap from a DJ's perspective, check out Skinny Friedman's "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dubstep"). If dance-music freaks gravitated to the aggressive lurch of dubstep, why wouldn't trap-rap instrumentals, hovering around the same beats-per-minute and providing the same elbow-throwing rewards, work for them, too? You cannot mitigate the excited ears and bodies of young people ravenously looking for more dope shit that makes them dance. And if trap rave is going to become a thing — and it's arrival seems inevitable, really — there are far worse ways than via a headscratcher Hollywood film by an art-fuck weirdo (and rap nerd), plus Just Blaze, and Kanye West's record label. This is a rare case where the appropriators get their gentrified sound snatched back by the appropriated. That's something to celebrate.