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Every Trap at Once: Ten Years in Rap Trends


Since Spotify launched a decade ago, hip-hop has splintered into countless new directions-and streaming culture has only intensified the process. Streaming platforms have become a core part of the music's story: They're not just shaping the listener's experience, they're informing the sounds and styles of the music itself. But attempting to trace the path of this decade of evolution-in any straightforward way, at least-is enough to give anyone a headache. Hip-hop isn't just one genre; it's hundreds of subgenres, forming one hectic, complicated whole.

The gulf between hip-hop's biggest stars and its lesser-known names has never been wider, yet previously unknown artists can blow up overnight on the momentum of a song they uploaded themselves. Regional rap scenes that were once only for insiders have become the backbone of the mainstream. And thanks to the internet's everything-at-once-ness, trends often seem to shift in the blink of an eye.

It's a lot to process. Enter Glenn McDonald, Spotify's data alchemist ; in essence, his job is to translate a practically infinite set of cold, hard data-millions of streams, saves, playlists, and beyond-into a reflection of the human experience of listening to music. Applying the rigorous approach of a data scientist to the perspective of a music critic, he can not only identify existing patterns, but catch new genres as they emerge.

Behold McDonald's passion project, Every Noise At Once. The site is a sprawling, hyper-detailed index of genres, from massive umbrellas like hip-hop or country to the nichest of micro-genres you never knew existed. (Deep discofox, anyone?) Through a combination of machine learning, Spotify's music intelligence division, and McDonald's own analysis (plus a bit of creative license when it comes to coining new genre names), the site currently identifies and indexes a whopping 2,215 genres. Click on the map for hip hop and you'll find yourself entangled in a dense web of associated artists from across Spotify's database; seen in list form, you can trace the degree of overlap with other genres. You can also branch out into nerdcore or old school nederhop, each accompanied by a representative playlist. It's not just a data map of Spotify users' listening habits, it's a visual deep-dive into how trends emerge and evolve.

Using Every Noise's data-along with some additional information from McDonald, including the rough number of artists per individual genre and the amount of both casual and serious listeners-we've identified the five most significant trends in the past decade of hip-hop, alongside playlists to explore. It's a means of articulating all the subtleties of the ever-changing culture, at least before the next offshoot is born.

Trap Music 350 major core artists, 3500 relevant artists

10 million serious listeners, 40 million casual listeners

Back when Spotify emerged, trap music had just barely begun to cross over into the mainstream. Mid- 00s pioneers like Jeezy and T.I. had made their mark on the charts, but in most parts of the country, trap hadn't had much sway on the sound of popular rap. That'd soon change: Gucci Mane was gearing up to release his breakthrough album, 2009's unexpectedly pop-friendly The State vs. Radric Davis; meanwhile, the popularity of down-South subgenres like crunk and snap music in the mid and late 00s had brought regional rap trends to mainstream prominence. The burgeoning popularity of streaming music doubtlessly played a part in the way the sound of Southern street rap came to influence hip-hop at large: With control in the hands of the users, what was once at the periphery moved toward the center.

As expected, Every Noise At Once shows a significant amount of overlap between what's considered trap music-which runs the gamut from Jeezy to Waka Flocka Flame to Future to BlocBoy JB-and what falls under the similar categories of southern hip hop and dirty south rap. (There are even further subsections of those categories: Deep trap appears to focus on relatively lesser-known artists, like Nashville's Starlito and DC's Fat Trel, where the even more specific deep southern trap skews toward Baton Rouge rappers like Boosie, Webbie, and Kevin Gates.) But it's equally unsurprising that, within the scope of all that's considered rap on the site, trap and its related offshoots take up significant real estate near the top of the list: In 2018, trap music is the sound of popular hip-hop.

Emo Rap / Vapor Trap Emo rap: 250 major artists, 900 relevant artists

280k serious listeners, 6 million casual listeners

Vapor trap: 300 major artists, 2000 relevant artists

1 million serious listeners, 10 million casual listeners

Odds are you've never heard the term vapor trap before. The term is one of many that McDonald intuitively coined in order to more precisely identify genres as they form in real time. (See also: escape room, slow game, electrofox.) But its artist map and associated playlist is immediately recognizable to anyone who's acquainted with the movements often referred to as Soundcloud rap or emo rap that have dominated streaming sites and, increasingly, the Billboard charts in recent years. The artists indexed here have significant overlap with those grouped under Every Noise's emo rap category, though its most central acts-Lil Peep, XXXTENTACION, Yung Lean-do skew further toward guitar-driven interpolations of alt-rock, emo, and grunge than those listed as vapor trap. Still, they are easily understood together-the sound of a new generation of rap forming a newer, more lawless canon.

The burgeoning scene's marquee artists and songs-think Lil Xan, Wifisfuneral, and Ski Mask The Slump God, alongside slightly older internet-rap predecessors like Denzel
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