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Growing Old in the Trap

The trap door allows for a quick entrance but there’s no promise of a long stay.

“No pension, no medical benefits, no prescription plan. When you’re a mob boss, retirement is more bronze casket than golden parachute” —Larry McShane

Museums are to history what retirement homes are to humans. The two represent hubs of gathered artifacts, where the old are in the company of those who share time in common; time spent aging on this rotating orb, growing further away from their youth with every ticking second. What will become novel in a historical sense isn’t always known at the moment but revealed through hindsight. Dinosaurs, disco, and dial-up internet access all were once part of the present, and now they rest in well-lit rooms where people admire, reflect, and think of times in the rearview. 

Currently, in downtown Atlanta, there’s a pop-up spot dedicated to trap music called the Trap Music Museum. The exhibit opened on September 30, 42 days after the 15th anniversary of T.I.’s sophomore classic, Trap Muzik. The West Atlanta mogul has long claimed to be trap’s originator—a contentious title—but it’s fitting that the man who coined the genre would curate an experience built around the popular music genre. 

Yet, framing the exhibit around the year 2003 and beyond overlooks a significant amount of hip-hop background. Trap existed before T.I.’s prominent project delivered a name under which to umbrella the sound, style, and subject matter. This oversight affects accuracy and fails to acknowledge the systematic events that created environments in which trap gained its massive influence. Yet, for what it offers, the Trap Music Museum does highlight the foundation of trap as we now know it. 

The museum is an installation, a funhouse of trap history. Imagine walking through the very elements associated with the brand of trap made famous before transforming into a phenomenon. Rooms dedicated to Jeezy, Gucci Mane, and T.I. bring their specific aesthetic to life. Migos, Killer Mike, Rick Ross, Boosie, 2 Chainz, and other notable names received corners in the main hall honoring their integral contributions while others like Three 6 Mafia, 21 Savage, Lil Baby, Young Thug, and Pusha-T are represented through illustrations and paintings. 

There’s an excellent contrast in T.I.’s closet where guns sit alongside a GRAMMY. Trap is music that dwells on contrast and authenticity. To depict the highs is to also showcase the lows; the glory of fast money is nothing without showing the struggle and the potential consequences attached to this lifestyle. 

Trap is a lifestyle. That’s what T.I.’s Trap Muzik accomplished 15 years ago, giving the customs and characters of that unidentified domain a genuine portrayal. The dealers and users, the who and the where, and the risk and rewards are all found across 16 songs. With that said, the trap is for the young. Growing old in an environment built upon money, drugs, addiction, and violence isn’t feasible. There’s no pension or long-term benefits despite how quickly the riches may come. 

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Fast living leaves little room for lasting opportunity, an interesting contrast to music in 2018. Trap is popular, and most of the rappers who arrive on the world’s radar will do so through the trap medium. The trap door allows for a quick entrance but there’s no promise of a long stay. Especially considering how the music, similar to the lifestyle, is a young man’s battlefield. The environment ages just as fast as it rewards. 

T.I. recently revealed that his new, 10th studio album, DIME TRAP, is framed from the perspective of an elder statesmen. “A TED Talk for hustlers,” he calls it at the end of the Young Thug-assisted single “The Weekend.” The album, which could have used a bit of trimming, is a solid addition to Tip's catalog, but the reflective aspect is refreshing. It’s similar to JAY-Z’s 4:44 in the mature observations of his past and present. Compared to some of his contemporaries, the veteran rapper has maintained relevance better and for longer than most. Unfortunately, with every album release, there’s a new barrier to break. T.I. is no longer living the life that allowed him to make some of his biggest, most notable records. T.I. is removed from what inspired albums like I’m Serious, Trap Muzik, and Urban Legend. 

T.I. is still popular, but his presence in music has been waning for years. Just like Jeezy and Gucci—the three kings of Atlanta’s trap music—aging gracefully is difficult after your first few studio albums. Unless you’re like Pusha-T, who turned rapping about cocaine into an aristocratic art form, or Rick Ross, who made drug dealing a luxury brand, the audience will find interest elsewhere. Trap, as a genre, is narrow, congested, and oversaturated, making it quite easy to become just another brick in the wall.

Of course, the longevity hurdle isn't exclusive to trap. Every artist creating music within the hyper-fast microwave era is fighting tooth and nail to gain and hold the world’s attention. Aging in R&B and rock is just as difficult. What makes trap special is it is the art form of the social media age. It's music that can be made in your bedroom and immediately broadcast to the world. Trap gave everyone a voice, a sound, and an outlet to potentially be heard. But that’s a trap within itself when the market is being flooded with a similar sound and style. 

Without creating a unique experience, whether lyrically or sonically, a trap artist will always operate with a pending expiration date. That’s why Future’s run has been so impressive; he created a hive of fans who are always hungry for his special brand of trap. Yet, it took him countless years and projects to solidify this foundation. The market requires a flood to cement what makes you unique. Trap is the industry's fastest revolving door for both rappers and producers.

Fifteen years isn’t a long time, but trap feels much older. Think of all the artists who have been instrumental in trap’s progress but aren’t visibly represented during this time of popularity. Artists like Dungeon Family's Cool Breeze should be honored in 2018 for being instrumental in giving trap its identity. As trap continues to dominate, we’ll see more institutions honor their origins and originators. It will be telling who is mentioned and who is missing. The erasure of creators and creatives is common in the world of art. 

T.I. will forever stand as a shining example of what it means to have a long career in rap through the trap medium. How he navigated years of change has been no easy feat. He is still figuring out how to continue aging gracefully and I hope he continues searching for his voice. Hip-hop needs elder statesmen telling its stories in their 40s as a contrast to the kids in their 20s. The two perspectives can and should coexist.

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