I awoke Thanksgiving morning a renewed man. After a night of high school reunion horrors (i.e. witnessing a legit girl fight on the dance floor), I eventually slumped on the couch a king, tipsily attempting to figure out my aunt’s remote while also explaining to my 10-year-old female cousin why Zeke Elliot is a hell of a lot more important than some Disney Channel bullshit.
Scrolling through the Twittersphere, I shared a private laugh with myself when I came across Madison, Wisconsin rapper, Trapo, live from the powder room.
I guess it was just something about the coincidence of Trap’s situation, seeing as dude just dropped his latest project, a foreshadowing metaphor of his self-comfort duly titled Shade Trees.
Still, the question begged to be asked…
“Probably ‘bout fo’ — I had about fo’ plates,” he said, cracking a smile with me and his DJ-slash-best-friend, Trey OG, among vinyls of legendary artists at Williamsburg’s record store/venue hybrid, Rough Trade NYC.
In all seriousness, the 18-year-old has a lot to be thankful for these days, so that’s where we began our conversation.
After his release of Shade Trees this November, that marks project number three for the dreaded cheesehead, an impressive rise to relevance having dropped his first tape, The Black Beverly Hills, in 2015’s closing moments. Described as “a short project about black prosperity,” he followed his freshman attempt with a 2016 EP, nine tracks of unfurling, unrequited love, simply titled SHE.
Now headlining what he refers to as his first “mini-tour,” Trap’s inaugurating his latest effort live in the Big Apple. And though he did admit to some pre-show jitters, he presents cozy and collected as can be, Champion hoodie pulled over the pink Shade Trees dad hat sprouting from his head.
“It feels good,” he admitted. “I’ve always had this type of energy in me to produce, produce, produce as much music as I can. It feels good to know that I’ve been doing it, and it’s kind of paying off… People are starting to notice.”
Trap isn’t sidetracked by Best New Artist nods though — a tireless grind on his craft remains the concrete constant in his life. Describing himself as shy and isolated aside from his best friends growing up, he told me “I spent a lot of time in the crib in my room if I wasn’t with my brothers, and during that time I’d just be recording. My work ethic is around the clock.”
That clock started moving with him writing raps in elementary notebooks, and it was thrust into fast forward not much later thanks to a familial bond.
“My uncles used to rap,” he told me. “I always saw them rapping and they used to be like ‘You can get on one of our songs.’ I used to do that, and when they played my voice back and I heard how I sounded on a song I thought ‘Yeah I’ma definitely do this shit myself.’”
Photo: Jay Paavonpera
Floating on a self-imposed exile to his room during high school, Trap expanded those kindred spirits onto his own limb. And though he admitted that early on he “should have learned to talk and meet new people,” his germination was fueled by self-creation, as well as the absorption of other artists. Citing Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo, The Internet’s Purple Naked Ladies, and Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, he was quick to praise the tangled branches of the interwebs.
Reveling in irony, he admitted to watching “hella interviews and performances online,” saying “It took me seeing that 24/7 to be like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna do that shit.’ Nothing else gave me that spark or that ambition like music.”
A case study in consumption of the self, the rapper’s perceived fault in confinement might actually be his most redeeming quality as far as the music is concerned. Cognizant, calculated machismo occupy each track — even the ones that spawn him schmoozing and stunting on femme fatales.
And though he said of The Black Beverly Hills, “I thought I had my sound right then and there,” he acknowledged awareness of his artistic evolution, admitting “I definitely noticed a change,” and saying with Shade Trees he realized that “when you’re making a project and you want it to be perfect, it’s never really done.”
In his latest 16-track plot, Trap wields a weaving metaphor through cohesive bouts of both boom bap and live instrumentation from the likes of Bird Language, LaBella x Norwei, and Derrick Thomas. The rapper trounces notions of genre and song composition, swapping snarling flows for riff-riddled melodies, most notably on tracks like “Hello” and “Love Is,” where he flashes an emotional consciousness that’s flourishing well beyond his millennial label.
“Shade Trees is me foreshadowing where I want to be. Shade Trees to me means being at peace somewhere in the house I want, in the neighborhood I want, and with the people I love,” he explained to me, adding, “You know, I want a family one day. I want a lot of regular shit. Even when riches come, I want a lot of regular shit.”
“Even when riches come.” He’s certain of it.
Just minutes before his first headlining tour and I saw it. I heard it… Trap knows this is how his story goes.
“I’m on this stage because I’m supposed to be on this stage, not because somebody gave me a chance,” he said.
With roots in his past and a mind on the future, Trap’s time is now. And as he and Trey OG shuffle back through the crowd towards the Rough Trade stage, I wonder just how long it’ll be before they’re in the shade.