The Rise of Trap and What It Means For Women
Updated: Jul 21, 2018
Trap beats, categorized by their unique blend of rolling hi hats and stuttering kick drums, have garnered an astronomical amount of commercial success over recent years. As well as being heavily prominent across electronic dance music, the trap beat has become a common element in pop hits across the charts; with everyone from Taylor Swift to K-Pop stars BIGNBANG jumping on the bandwagon. The trap beat, however, found its origins in hip-hop, having been pioneered by American producers such as Lil Jon and DJ Paul. Trap rappers, such as the indisputably successful Atlanta three-piece Migos, are currently serving as some of the most influential figures in the media across the globe. Accompanied by varying degrees of success and misdemeanours, these rappers are defined by partnering the combo of hi hats and kick drums with an array of less-than-culturally-beneficial lyrical themes and representations.
The rise in popularity of the trap beat arguably correlates with increasingly explicit representations and themes within hip hop, demonstrated by a study by the University of California that found drug references within the genre having increased by sixfold over the last two decades. But the increase of culturally-detrimental themes has done nothing to lessen the genres success; quite the opposite. In 2017, for the first time in history, hip hop/R&B; officially became the most consumed music genre in America. Consumption of rap music increased in the US by 25 percent from 2016, recording the second-largest growth of any music category. Latin trap music has recently reached similar levels of success, with five of the top 30 music videos on YouTube's chart in November 2017 involving prominent Latin trap artists such as Bad Bunny, Chris Jeday and Karol G, who accumulated more than 170 million views total at this time. With one of the most prominent themes in American, UK and Latin hip hop being the incorporation of outright misogynistic and male-gaze driven ideology, it is not surprising that artists are facing backlash in countries less accustomed to these representations in the media.
Colombian rapper Maluma’s 2016 release ‘Cuatro Babys’ epitomises the problem. With features from increasingly prominent figures in the ever-growing Latin trap scene, including rapper and producer Bryant Myers, it’s not surprising that the song’s music video surpassed 810 million views on YouTube. In the video, beautiful women in various degrees of clothing dance eagerly while Maluma and co rap degradingly about them, expressing difficulty in choosing which woman to stay with as “they all suck so well”. The women are presented as passive to their existence being centred around the sexual desire of the rappers, to a potentially detrimental effect. A study performed in Germany in 2006 found that men who listened to misogynistic lyrics showed increased aggressive responses toward women as well as a more negative perception of them. In studies performed to assess the reactions of young males exposed to violent rap music videos or sexist videos, participants reported an increased probability that they would engage in violence, a greater acceptance of the use of violence, and a greater acceptance of the use of violence against women than did participants who were not exposed to these videos. Scary, right?
Not to worry, Spanish feminists didn’t take this misogynistic infiltration of their charts lightly. A petition calling for the song to be removed from digital platforms gained 92,450 supporters in 2016 and this year, ahead of his scheduled performance in Spain, over 24,000 signatures were gathered to prevent Maluma’s proposed participation.
Doris Gomez*, a Madrid-based feminist, believes that though the themes presented by Maluma are not a reflection of Spanish society or cultures within Spanish-speaking countries, the song “threatens all the advances in equality that are being carried out in this country”.
“Women in Spain have made great strides in the field of equality in recent years,” she explains. “It is worth remembering that Spain recently suffered a long dictatorship where woman had virtually no decision-making power. Those years of delay and repression are still dragging the consequences of all women in this country.”
It is understandable then, with research suggesting that misogynistic lyrics correlate with misogynistic actions, why some cultures are rejecting trap’s themes. “Latin radio is not ready for these lyrics,” explained rapper Messiah at the 2017 Billboard Latin Music conference. “English radio was because of Eminem and hip-hop. They were used to controversy”.
The glorification of sex, drugs and violence has become increasingly commonplace in rap for most of its modern existence, with drug references having significantly increased over the past two decades according to researchers at the University of California. With the hyper-sexualisation of women being more prominent in western media than ever, it makes sense that the caricatures of gangster lifestyles being presented by trap rappers are exploiting the already alarming increase in acceptance of degrading female representations. The lyrics and visuals publicised by trap rappers epitomise our existence in a globally patriarchal era and are arguably reinforcing a misogynistic society.
*Name changed to protect anonymity
Follow the author on twitter: @HannahMWalford