Depending on who you talk to, trap music is either the next big thing — poised to pick up where dubstep left off in mainstream club popularity — or it’s already on the way out. Possibly both. That’s commonly the case with any genre of electronic music by the time it enters the wider culture, especially those that are hard to define. It’s for that reason that the members of M|O|D, an exciting young collective of producers based in Boston, are both readily influenced by the origins of trap, and wary of getting pigeonholed by it.
In broad terms, trap is a form of hip-hop that traces its origins to the ’90s with the likes of UGK and Three 6 Mafia. It experienced a resurgence when rappers like Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy started constructing tracks around an 808 drum machine with accentuated snare hits, ominous minor chord synth leads, slowed down vocals, skittering percussion, and the type of booming bass meant to be played from the back of a rattling trunk while selling mixtapes.
In more recent years, as was the case when US electronic dance music producers transformed dubstep from its more “authentic” British origins into something more aggressive and palatable for a wider audience, trap (or trapstep) has become the genre of choice for enterprising club producers like M|O|D.
The group, which formed just six months ago, has already got a string of impressive support gigs under its belt, including a recent set with genre-popularizers Flosstradamus at the Paradise, and an ever-expanding Rolodex of producers, rappers, and record labels with whom there are planned collaborations and releases. A forthcoming mixtape will feature tracks by big names like Baauer and B.Lewis, and there’s a release on taste-making label Mad Decent in the works. Most high-profile among their upcoming shows is a set at the experimental hip-hop and EDM night Low End Theory in Los Angeles.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but that’s part of why M|O|D’s premise is proving so fruitful. Five distinct producers and DJs, each with his own varied style, releasing music individually and collectively allows M|O|D to cover a lot of ground.
“I’ve never seen it happen so fast,” said manager Tim Luckow before the Paradise show. “I can’t believe the opportunities that are coming to these guys.”
Much of their early success has to do with their tight-knit friendship, they all will say. Backstage at the Paradise the camaraderie is evident. Ranging from 19 to 23, they seem no different from any other group of friends you might find wandering around a college campus; in this case, that’s Berklee, where four of them went to school. It’s a far cry from the sinister setting the music might evoke — “trap” can also refer to a home base where drugs are sold.
Arnold, a.k.a. Joe Venuti, 22, from Delaware, says the origins of real trap is something they’re all conscious of, but it wasn’t something they intended to be a part of. Trap music comes from lyrics about the trap, he says, which very few of their instrumental tracks even have. “It’s minor sounding, cheap piano samples, with little minor chord riffs, which we do sometimes, I guess. We got labeled trap because we all wanted to make hip-hop, but we don’t know about getting caught in a drug ring,” he says. “That doesn't sound like fun to me.”
Arnold, whose style is best exemplified on the track “x O” from their “M|O|D IV” mixtape, leans on the darker side, with jazzy harmonies, and “dominant sounding stuff, chromatic music” he says. “We want to be producers and work with as many people as we can,” he says. “We don’t want to be pigeonholed into drug game darkness. It’s just an instrumental hip-hop beat and bass-heavy music.”
Of course, all good jokes tend to be based at least somewhat in reality. “The funniest thing about it, the whole trap thing we have behind our name, is that we all used to hang out in a crappy apartment, it was kind of like a trap where people were selling drugs. We weren’t into it, we were just trying to make music,” explains Colby Zinser, a.k.a. C.Z., 19, originally from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “It was a trap because we needed to get out.”
Sam Barry, a.k.a. LiL TExAS, 23, originally from Dallas, incorporates more of the club influence into his tracks, while drawing from the aesthetic of the South, evident on tracks like the ominous, grinding “Werk.” He’s trying to blend that sense of menace with sounds from the Baltimore, New Jersey, and Chicago club styles, with a healthy smattering of ’90s R&B. “Just bangers, man,” he says. “I’ve always had a thing for making beats that knock.” He’s always constructing tracks with rappers in mind, however, set up with spaces for vocals, laid out with verses and choruses ripe for the plucking, like a recent track he released with the rapper Young Pradda.
Zinser thinks similarly on some of his tracks, he says, but instrumental hip-hop is a unique space. “It’s cool to make songs that are a different format than a regular rap song — something that’s almost like a dance song — but it’s rap where you’re enjoying the beat more than if you would with a rap song, where you’re listening to what they’re saying, wondering where they’re from and this and that. It’s cool to do instrumentals and let people take what they want from a song.”
The group’s first break came with a rap from UGK’s Bun B being put over one of their beats, “Properr,” when it found its way into the hands of the pioneering DJ Shadow. “I remember getting that e-mail and just not really believing it,” Peter Colombo, a.k.a. Rewrote, 20, originally from Somerville, says of the news. While his style incorporates Dirty South elements, guttural bass and so on, he splices that into a higher-energy club format. Meanwhile, Trevor Wilson, a.k.a. Yung Satan, 22 from San Diego, describes his own sound as drawing on psychedelic rock and guitar-based music, he says, as well as old blues and Motown.
“I go for the psychedelic sound, use reverbs and delays to my advantage to make things sound like maybe if hip-hop was around in the ’60s kind of thing.”
With so much room to cover, and such a high rate of output, it’s not hard to see why the crew’s music is spreading far and wide.
“It has all the benefits of being in a band, but it doesn’t require the level of collective maintenance, in terms of rehearsal and everything,” says Wilson.
“We approach this whole thing as if we’re working for our label M|O|D to produce our artists which also happen to be our individual monikers. We’re all the producers and artist at the same time. It’s really efficient, and it seems really new and fresh.”
M|O|D's most recent release, “M|O|D IV,” is available online at www.soundcloud
Luke O'Neil can be reached at lukeoneil47
@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @lukeoneil47.