Gucci Mane and T.I. have been embroiled in a tit-for-tat about who invented trap music for over a week. Gucci posted a flashback Instagram post commemorating the day he feels he invented trap music. The picture looks to be from the early to mid-2000s.
The ever prideful T.I. made his own post, claiming that he coined the term Trap Muzik with his classic 2003 album. The two Atlanta legends have been taking swipes at each other ever since then about who invented trap. Is it T.I. or Gucci? The truth is, like many things, it’s both of them — along with some other integral contributors. Nothing as ubiquitous as trap music can be traced to one single person.
Realizing that starts with understanding more about Atlanta culture and what trap music is. In 2018, the term could perhaps be most easily defined as “that 808-heavy sound everyone and their mother experiments with,” but it’s deeper than that.
The sound is lyrically derived from “third coast” artists like UGK, Scarface, 8Ball and MJG, Project Pat, and Outkast or others dishing the southern-fried version of the dope game that New York artists like Jay-Z and Nas rapped about. Albums like UGK’s Too Hard To Swallow and 8Ball and MJG’s On The Outside Lookin’ In made no prominent mention of the term “trap,” which wasn’t major slang at the time, but they were talking the same talk T.I. was. Sonically speaking, beats like Three Six Mafia’s 2000 “Who Run It” fit right in with a 2018 trap mix — as the recent rash of freestyles shows.
That’s why when T.I. says “there was no such thing as trap music prior to [T.I.],” as he told Angie Martinez, he sounds too hubristic. He deserves credit for being one of the first people to make the “trap” term a national signifier of the sound, but that doesn’t make him the “inventor.” If an artist comes up with a more flattering term than “mumble rap” to define the genre-bending sound Future and Young Thug pushed forward, could they call themselves the inventor of the sound?
The term “trap” primarily refers to trap houses, the abandoned houses which serve as impromptu headquarters for a drug crew’s street operations. Southern states are large, expansive places where abandoned houses are more plentiful and not on front streets, which gives drug dealers the perfect place to discreetly ply their trade.
2 Chainz says the term “trap” began to expand, as most trends within rap do, from the streets. “It wasn’t a music. It was a lifestyle. It was an area, it was an environment where you stayed at,” he told Life + Times in 2013. No one person can claim ownership of a city’s culture. Gucci and T.I. came up around the same time. Even if they continuously predate each other with audio clips, it’s safe to say that they were both more inspired by Atlanta culture than each other.
T.I. first broke nationally with Trap Muzik, but Gucci Mane sounds very little like him. When Lil Pump credits Gucci Mane as the inventor of trap, his point of reference is songs like “Pillz” or “Bricks,” not T.I.’s early catalog. The modern sound of trap is defined more by the sonics than the lyrical content, which is at the heart of their (unfriendly) debate.
This circumstance is a credit not only to Gucci but Young Jeezy. Jeezy was one of the first artists of his kind with his combination of a deliberate flow, witty lines, and drawling ad-libs on his Trap Or Die mixtapes. His “I’m not a rapper” mantra is a perspective that laid the way for trap artists like 21 Savage, Yo Gotti, and other modern artists who aren’t lyrical animals but bring blunt honesty and storytelling prowess to 808-riddled tracks. During Jeezy’s come-up, he had a connection with Big Meech and BMF Entertainment, who were known to turn out the city’s strip club scene like no other.
Jermaine Dupri said in 2006 that, “Strip clubs have become the main breaking place for records, especially in the South. As far as I’m concerned, strip club airplay is (more influential) than radio airplay in Atlanta.” Jeezy knew that and tailored his sound specifically for what would ring off in the strip club. With songs like “Bottom Of The Map” and “J.E.E.Z.Y.,” his go-to producer Shawty Redd developed a sonic blueprint of booming 808s, snare rolls, rapid hi-hats, and spacey synths that sounded like a futuristic update of all the 808-based music that came before it. Jeezy and Redd were doing this as Gucci was doing the same with his go-to producer Zaytoven, who tends to favor more organic piano keys but still incorporates the same rumbling bass hits and rollicking snare flourishes.
T.I. was one of the biggest rappers in the country at the time and wasn’t as trap-oriented on mass appeal-focused records like 2006’s King, 2007’s T.I. vs T.I.P., and 2008’s Paper Trail. His well-publicized legal troubles may have been a factor. Gucci and Jeezy were the two primary forebears for the sound right at a point when regional boundaries were disappearing thanks to the internet. Atlanta culture soon became hip-hop culture at large, with young producers all over the country emulating their sound and even moving to Atlanta to get down.
Labels appreciated that their music was an inexpensive alternative to the sample-heavy sound of Kanye West and Just Blaze, which also increased its prevalence. 808s and stuttering hi-hats soon became all the rage no matter where you were from, and because the sonics were influenced by unabashed trap icons like Jeezy and Gucci, it was all (perhaps clumsily) lumped under the trap music banner. That’s why Danielle “Bhad Bhabie” Bregoli’s “Hi Bich” is technically considered to be in the same genre as T.I.’s “I’m Just Doing My Job” or Jeezy’s “I Got Money.”
T.I. has returned to his gritty roots in recent years, but the younger generation still may not understand who he was before he crossed over and became a mainstream star. They probably relate more with how impactful Gucci Mane is, especially after his recent prison stint, from which he emerged reinvigorated and just as prolific as ever. They’re both justified in thumping their chest and learning the youth, but claiming to be the individual inventor of the sound is a little too far.
T.I. helped make trapping a verb that had nothing to do with hunting or basketball, but people rightfully revere Gucci and Young Jeezy for their contributions as well. There are also other early artists to credit like Three Six Mafia, Pastor Troy, Master P, and Boosie and Webbie, whose classic “ratchet” sound is a close cousin of trap.
It really doesn’t matter who was first, and it would be best to try to stall the debate before history is rewritten on both of them. I’ll never forget turning on the Pandora station entitled “Trap Music” and not hearing T.I. or Gucci Mane, but a bunch of EDM and electronic music that had 808 drums but not a sliver of other similarities to their sound. That’s the kind of co-opting that happens when hip-hop doesn’t present a united front.
Their difference of opinion largely comes down to semantics. T.I. was rapping using the term “trap” very early, but the modern sound of what’s deemed “trap rap” is more reminiscent of Gucci or Jeezy’s earliest work. Gucci has his differences with both Jeezy and T.I., so it’s not likely that they will have a friendly resolution, but hopefully, they can agree to simply respect each other’s musical contributions and keep their own traps boomin’ in peace.