The Midwest had a powerful bloom in 2015. It was last summer when I noticed that Milwaukee, Wisconsin was spawning rappers at a fast rate, emcees like WebsterX, IshDARR, BANKX, Klassik and Wave Chapelle, among others. It felt like whatever creative blossoming that was happening in Chicago was spreading throughout the Midwest like a welcomed pandemic, even touching Minnesota’s Twin Cities and reaching Madison, Wisconsin—another Midwestern city that has never had a solid hip-hop infrastructure.
Looking back now, maybe it was a confluence of two things: Chicago’s renaissance—something that showed the beauty of DIY to the rest of the region—and the rise of the "SoundCloud rapper"—not our favorite term but one that adds up to rap no longer being bound to regional aesthetics. Indeed, those forces helped to forge the rise of many of my favorite rappers from the Midwest, including a young emcee from Madison named Trapo.
Social media has certainly shifted the narrative. Any person from any place has access to making music, an ability to cultivate an audience for his or herself, and to release their music to that audience. In 2015, Trapo capitalized on the moment and released his debut project, The Black Beverly Hills EP, an explorative and moody introduction to the then-17-year-old rapper.
In early 2016, he followed up The Black Beverly Hills with the more upbeat SHE, a project that revealed the rapper’s deep sense of nuance and intimacy, and further showcasing his extremely unique, gritty and rough flow. While at first, the theme didn’t feel fitting for someone of his youthful age, Trapo took the moment to examine his relationships with women, something I realized is profoundly important at any age.
He had an emotional intelligence I couldn’t knock—and that motif extends to Shade Trees, his latest and most crucial work yet (released today, November 15). Like previous projects, Shade Trees features a limited guest list, this time Chicago’s Saba and New York’s Skizzy Mars, a move that once again places the emphasis firmly on Trapo’s point of view.
Part of Shade Trees’ intent is to demonstrate growth, and in that way, it is certainly successful. Trapo melded the darker and melancholic themes of The Black Beverly Hills with the rosy realities of SHE to create an experiential project basking in vivid imagery and thoughtful writing. Standout tracks like “I’ve Been Workin,” the Saba-supported “Riot” and “Stop Me” further prove Trapo’s versatility: He can just as easily spit over a hip-hop beat as he can sing a pop ballad.
Trapo has reached past the singing/rapping binary that has become largely intrinsic to hip-hop’s current landscape and created a project that’s as deeply indebted to rap as it is to pop, funk, rock, and R&B. Like many of his internet-propelled peers, the young artist has been able to break through regional limitations online, and with Shade Trees, he's grown beyond the bounds of his beginnings, incorporating live instrumentation into his most ambitious collection to date.
Trapo is currently prepping his upcoming mini-tour and commemorating the project's release with a hat sale. Info for both can be found on his website. Also, make sure to check out his recent freestyle for our own Bless The Booth series, "Hero Shit."
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram