Samir Kashyap, Student, FIMS. OPENWIDE Volume 16 Issue 3
Growing up a hip hop fan, I was surrounded by a lot of kids wrapped up in the hardcore punk scene (often referred to simply as “hardcore”), but never really listened to it myself. One of the biggest contentions people have with hip hop is that it is broadly characterized as obscene, loud, and something that requires little talent since “they don’t use any real instruments.” But hip hop is a mode of expression—it’s formless, devoid of inherent style, ever-changing, and reactionary. The latest iteration of trap (an offshoot of southern hip hop) has, for almost the last half decade, been influencing every aspect of hip hop culture today. Trap punks like Chief Keef, Travis Scott and OG Maco amongst others have disidentified with the traditional rap script by stripping its lyrical flesh to the bone, shrieking adlibs in venues crammed with adoring, substance-ridden fans.
The sonically inexplicable material between cadence and emotion integral to trap has finally fixed itself within the foundation of hip hop, and interestingly enough, strongly parallels the hardcore scene.
I’m sitting across fellow classmate Jackson Hyde-Billings—who is both a hardcore and trap fan—in a spacious television control room. I can speak for trap, but don’t want to be so presumptuous as to pretend I know hardcore, so here we were, ready to unpack the similarities between them.
“Hardcore music’s all about the scene and, like, bringing people together and, like doing your part and stuff like that. Trap music’s a lot like, uh, like it’s all about my group, but it’s still unity, you know what I mean? Like it’s like, uh, sorta like, we’re better than those guys, and hardcore music’s all about groups. It’s all about, like, having a group.”
My mind wanders to artist Chief Keef. He got dropped from his major label deal with Interscope in 2014 presumably because they thought the drill scene (drill being a form of rap delivery often conflated with trap music) was fading and he was of no longer of any use to them. It was a shitty thing because Keef gave us a lot of hits in the span of two years (see: ‘Don’t Like’, ‘Hate Being Sober’, ‘Love Sosa’, ‘Citgo’, etc). This music captivated the American imagination and let every suburban kid take a much-needed glimpse down the rabbit hole into the social conditions of areas like south Chicago. I’d like to say the surfacing of his ‘I Don’t Like’ music video was the catalyst for hardcore fans’ foray into trap music. Keef’s music is all over the place, and his personality mirrors that, both being in stark opposition to what has traditionally been acceptable in music. His hardcore parallel might be the band Minor Threat as they both are quite adept at stitching together schizophrenic soundscapes. Neither follows the verse, hook, verse, hook, bridge, whatever format.
“Hardcore and trap don’t really stick to that. They do whatever they want, whenever they want.”
Chief Keef’s Twitter is littered with emojis, a mess of awfully edited Instagram photos, and a crassness that will sour anyone’s face looking to find a self-aware, Tumblr-raised rapper. But I think what I’ve come to like the most about Keef is this very fuck-all attitude he has toward absolutely everything, and how he doesn’t know what the right thing to say is and how he couldn’t give less of a shit.
I’ve been pointed in the direction of seminal hardcore acts like Have Heart and Minor Threat amongst others, and I hear a lot of comparisons sonically. For example, the chorus to Have Heart’s ‘Armed with a Mind’ riffs a ton like Chief Keef’s ‘Faneto’. The drums on both songs are inventively floor-crushing, and even lyrically, they both preach self-preservation in completely unique yet opposite ways: Being secure with who you are even around your friends is the focus of ‘Armed with a Mind’ while ‘Faneto’ advocates for boasting a physical prowess so intimidating that nobody would dare mess with your gang. Both songs sound equally aggressive, but preach completely different things with the intent to unify and empower. Of course, when considering any obvious differences between trap and hardcore, it is necessary to address the different societies that each have respectively been steeped in.
Hardcore punk is ostensibly a privileged white space, while trap and drill are informed by socioeconomic conditions that plague large populations of predominantly black communities. While both subgenres are rooted in “counterculture” activity, hardcore is known for its foundations in straight edge culture, whereas trap music is rooted in drugs. Unfortunately, drug realities that many trap rappers speak of are often interpreted differently depending on the audience. People who are privy to trap’s roots—the “trap” being a kind of ideological warfare in which those involved in drug trafficking cannot escape their circumstances—might understand trap as an extension of hip hop’s expressive element. Unfortunately, those who don’t understand this see it as a purely harmful medium with no moralistic basis.
The hardcore fans who can get past the drug talk, looking to simply emote in a different space, still cannot overcome the racialized socioeconomic aspect of trap.
This is the reason for the messaging disconnect exemplified by the differences between ‘Armed with a Mind’ and ‘Faneto’—it is an issue of space and mobility.
Gucci Mane—the most revered rap figure of the southern United States—has been in and out of prison since 2005. Chief Keef himself has been banned from his hometown of Chicago as well as Indiana, both of them on drug and assault charges that have been drawn out due to probation violations and various small infractions. Many other trap and drill rappers have similar restrictions that often limit their capacity to tour and grow their brand. This has been the case with many hip hop artists, but how this informs trap rappers is important, as the consequences of their existence are tied to the content they put out. To be straight edge in spaces that deny them autonomy their entire life is simply not an option.
Acknowledging these differences is important, but disavowing another equally important connection between energy and emotional perception is a disservice to the artists, the fans, and the space they could create together. In a way, the venues where trap rappers do get to perform for a sea of trap and hardcore fans, are fantastical places where racism can be subverted, if only temporarily, and where the spirit of community supersedes the individual. At least for now, the hardcore kids can live in their trap fantasy.