Thumbprint: Third-Wave Trap’s Horror House

It’s not easy deducing the recent shift of trap-oriented Southern rap from Dolby stereo action-movie bombast into weird, ominous electronics. When asked about their influences, current leaders like 808 Mafia and Mike Will Made-It tend to cite earlier contemporaries like Zaytoven and Drumma Boy or, if they’re feeling generous, pioneers like DJ Toomp. You can certainly chart a through-line from the swampy keyboard menace of 1997-era Three 6 Mafia and No Limit to Rae Sremmurd’s just-released SremmLife 2, the latter featuring a notable homage to early Triple Six via the Juicy J collaboration “Shake It Fast.”

But where did Three 6 Mafia get its inspiration for horrorcore gems like “Where Da Killaz Hang”? That’s the premise for this speculative look into the electronic underpinnings of third-wave trap. We doubt that Metro Boomin, for example, sat around studying classic Aphex Twin tracks before he decided to layer haunted house-styled keyboard arrangements over his FL Studio drum patterns. Instead, we turn to the earliest corollary for his work on Future’s bleedy-eyed DS2: movie soundtracks, particularly when it comes to the electronic horror of John Carpenter, and the unsettling ambience of Tangerine Dream. We also think that the ongoing electro revival that sparked in the early 2000s may have a subconscious impact. Cumulatively, these sounds may be just mainstream electronica clichés, and pop culture moments symbolized by the famous scene in the recent cult classic Drive where the protagonist shifts his car over the gooey electro crush of Kavinsky’s “Nightcall.”

There are a few more concrete examples to be found, too, once we take our heads out of the clouds. Fragments from 8-bit arcade games abound, especially the Street Fighter II soundtrack. Producers often rely on presets and sound libraries found in equipment like the Roland Integra-7 synthesizer. A Whosampled search reveals that Mike Will Made-It sampled Spain balladeer Camilo Sesto’s “Agua de Dos Rios” for his “Drinks On Us.” Of course, he wasn’t drawn by Sesto’s voice, but the alluring melody that kicks off the song. It seems that when it comes to this current iteration of trap music, producers will draw inspiration from wherever they can find it.