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"Harlem Shake" and the Trap Takeover

by Philip Sherburne

"Harlem Shake" and the Trap Takeover

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If 2013 wasn't already the year of trap, it sure is now. Just a couple weeks ago, Baauer's "Harlem Shake" went from being a late-night staple for EDM bros in snapback caps to becoming the unofficial soundtrack of the Internet. That's thanks to a viral dance-video craze that uses 30 seconds of the tune to soundtrack rubber-limbed outbursts of spontaneous mayhem (props and costumes optional, but encouraged). Soon, the trend spread from college kids to the Jimmy Fallon staff to the Norwegian army and beyond, generating tens of thousands of videos and, so far, hundreds of millions of YouTube plays. And now, propelled almost entirely by that tsunami of YouTube clicks, the song just debuted atop Billboard's Hot 100 chart. (As it happens, this was also the week that Billboard tweaked the methodology by which they tabulate their charts, for the first time factoring in YouTube plays along with radio spins, online streams and download sales.)

The runaway success of "Harlem Shake" may be a fluke, but the phenomenon behind the track has been bubbling along for a while now. The song is a prime example of trap (or, sometimes, "trap-rave"), a jackhammering, strobe-strafed style of music that takes equal inspiration from pole-dancing Southern rap and neon-soaked rave anthems. (Check out Napster's Trillwave, Future Trap, Trap-Rave, Etc. playlist for more on the roots of trap.)

The name "trap" itself comes from Southern rap's "trap music," a subset dedicated to gritty stories about life in the drug game, but there's little rapping in this current wave. Instead, producers like Baauer, UZ, Flosstradamus, RL Grime and TNGHT (aka the duo of Lunice and Hudson Mohawke) have mined hip-hop for its most visceral sonic tropes -- in particular, skittering hi-hat triplets and rivet-machine snares, along with booming 808 toms -- and turned them into a spine-tingling, gut-wrenching sensory barrage that floats blissfully context-free. Sexier than dubstep, but imbued with the same lurching syncopation, it's a light-headed fusion of macho swagger, garish colors, hypnotic repetition, and festival-sized crescendos and drops.

Here, we've pulled together an hour and 45 minutes of crucial trap anthems, from Hudson Mohawke and Rustie's early experiments with the form to current bangers by TNGHT, UZ, RL Grime, A-Trak and other artists featured on Diplo's Jeffree's label, which has lately become a launchpad for some of trap's most explosive examples. So close that YouTube window and go deeper into trap -- though you're welcome to wear a costume if you like.

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