K-Trap: ‘Drill has lost its authenticity’

K-Trap: ‘Drill has lost its authenticity’
Return of Trapo — Following the release of his fourth mixtape last month, the 25-year-old talks leaving his past life behind and drill cracking the mainstream.

When U.K drill – the gritty rap subgenre inspired by Chicago rappers like Chief Keef and Fredo Santana, popularised by rival Brixton crews 67 and 150 – transformed into its own distinct sound, Gipsy Hill’s K-Trap was there on the frontline, balaclava on. Over funereal keys and skittering hi-hats, his 2017 debut mixtape The Last Whip conjures vivid images of inner-city drug dealing and violence: sellotape holding up the curtains of a trap house window; thoughts of being better off with a 9-to-5; a young boy wiping blood from his mum’s kitchen knife. 

There’s little glory in the nightmarish world it depicts – it’s one he was immersed in – and the project was Trap’s statement of intent; music would empower him to live a better, safer life. “That’s why I called the tape ‘The Last Whip’, init,” he tells me when we speak on the phone. It was a commercial success, topping the iTunes rap chart and cementing him as one of the scene’s pioneers.

Trap prides himself on authenticity. By the time his third full-length project No Magic came around in 2019, he had signed to Sony imprint Black Butter and his life was changing. His music reflected this, moving beyond the confines of drill to encompass different themes and warmer sounds. He ditched the balaclava for the video of lead single ‘Big Mood’, in a move that felt symbolic, while on ‘Change’ – an introspective, string-led cut – he raps on the complexities of leaving the roads, drug dealing and all that comes with it behind.

Good change and nobody claps, do suttin’ proper and nobody chats / Ten steps back, now everyone’s haps’, one foot out, now everyone’s mad’ he raps. His debut album Street Side Effects – released in November 2020 – took that experimentation and introspection further. On the titular track, you can almost hear his voice cracking as he details the pain of losing his cousin Crosslom ‘Bis’ Davis, the talented Harlem Spartans rapper who was murdered in late 2019.

Change can be uncomfortable, and in the wake of his album’s release, those unsettled by the bold new direction his music was taking began circulating whispers that Trap had lost his edge, calling for ‘the old Trapo’ to return. He became frustrated with those whispers and even began to doubt himself. He stepped out of his Black Butter deal, cleared his head and began work on his fifth full-length project. 

Trapo landed in September, with few guest features and minimal marketing. Sonically, it’s mean and muscular, with Trap cutting a commanding presence, delivering fiery street dispatches over thumping drill productions. The opening trio of ‘Warm’, ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ and ‘Maths’ go off like shotgun blasts inside your earphones. But having come so far, Trap is not a man to move backwards, and he still makes space for the mature reflections that have made his testimony so vital on tracks like ‘Addiction’, ‘Fighting’ and the soul-searching ‘Intentions’. ‘I don’t know why there’s so much pressure / I’m just tryna’ better myself’ he raps on the latter.

Huck caught up with K-Trap to talk about the project, drill cracking the mainstream, authenticity and more.

Trapo has a real ‘back to the essence’ vibe to it. What were your intentions with this tape?

Literally that. Just getting back to that familiar sound and giving people what they wanted, what they thought I’d lost.

So were there conversations going on suggesting you’d lost your edge?

100 per cent. That’s what sparked the making of Trapo. People were convinced I’d fell off. They actually started to convince me! But this is here for life, this is set in stone. So I thought let me give them what they’re used to, like a friendly reminder.

What was your mind frame leading up to making the tape? I know there were some frustrations around your previous project Street Side Effects and your Black Butter deal.

Within that year, there was loads going on. Covid happening was mad – that was a new experience for everyone. There were a few things I was starting to realise about my deal that I didn’t really at the beginning, that was bothering me. I was just going through a lot in life, away from music, too. And I was making music that was a bit different. It all went a bit left for me. 

But don’t get it twisted, I don’t have any regrets. I’m an artist and that’s where I was at, at that time. After the album dropped I did get a bit frustrated. I was tired of people talking about ‘the old Trapo’. I feel like I was just thinking too deep. Coming out of my deal was the breath of fresh air I needed. My thought process was shortened. I wasn’t so anxious, thinking about 20 other things. And I just got busy.

What did you learn about yourself during that time?

I learnt that I definitely over stress and over think, and make things difficult for myself, when things are actually very easy. That’s the main thing.

Trapo was released under a distribution deal. What does that mean for you?

From my point of view, it’s just a bit more organised. Distribution deals also give out some advances towards your marketing and videos. And you get freedom innit; they don’t control nothing. They might give an advance towards a project and take a percentage. You do whatever you need to do with that money, as long as you hand in the body of work and the money is spent on music. It’s way less stress than an actual record deal.

You’re one of the godfathers of UK drill. I’m interested in your take on the scene’s development. It’s a completely different beast now.

It depends on how you look at it. It’s good and it’s healthy, but it’s bad in certain ways too. It’s changing people’s lives, innit. That’s the main thing for me. But the people they push forward as drill artists, the categories they put people in and what they call drill music now, I don’t really understand or condone it.

Do you think by drill cracking the mainstream, it might’ve actually pushed down the voices that need to be heard?

Yeah, man. I feel like with the UK scene, everything is written with a pencil: they’ll just rub out whatever was there and rewrite it. So someone who discovers it [UK drill] tomorrow won’t know the message of the music from before, because it’s been rubbed out. There needs to be separation from the new drill thats come about to understand what drill is and who started this ting. Obviously people are gonna elevate. But it’s not even about elevation, it’s a whole different sound now.

So has UK drill lost its authenticity?

It’s gone. It’s been lost. Nothing’s really real and everyone is putting on an act. You can’t take things too seriously and look at things with a real mindset now. But as much as a lot of stuff is just entertainment, I feel like there should still be room or space for the people that do wanna be real, innit.

As an artist who carries that authenticity, you’ve always been very vocal in your lyrics about the complexities of trying to leave the roads, drug dealing and all that comes with it behind, and do something more positive. What are the key lessons you’ve taken from that transition?

I just got to a point where I was like if I actually wanna change then regardless of the hurdles, I need to keep pushing towards whatever I want to be. But people ain’t gonna champion you or cheer for you to do those things. There was a stage where I thought that was the case. When I was saying I didn’t wanna do too much drill music because I didn’t want to push certain narratives, I thought that was boss shit, the stuff you’re supposed to champion and see on the blogs and get behind.

But people don’t, and sometimes it makes you feel disheartened. At the end of the day, when you come from something that’s real and you know why you need to get away, you keep pushing. Looking for validation from someone else, for people to clap for you… you’re not gonna get it, innit. 

There’s a lot of smoke on the tape – tracks like ‘Warm’, ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ and ‘Maths’ – but you still make space for that message too. 

I wanted people to understand that trying to change the narrative, or change your life around and push towards positive stuff is way harder than doing the stuff that they’re excited about. That stuff is easy, it’s very easy. I feel like that’s what they don’t understand. You’re supposed to rate the man more who makes a change, because that’s not easy. That’s very hard. But everyone champions people that just do the norm. 

How much have you changed as a person since your debut tape The Last Whip landed in 2017?

Loads, it’s been crazy. The elevation from then … I’m proud of myself. We’ve come very far. And I said to someone the other day that where man is now, is not by chance. I’ve had to mould myself and make certain sacrifices and leave certain things alone to be the person I am. If I didn’t put my foot down, I’d be just like anybody else because I came up just like them. But I’m somebody who wants to change.

Where did that determination to change come from?

I got a taste of the world and what’s going on from early, that meant I wouldn’t settle for what man was doing. Just little things like going on holiday with my brother when I was 16, seeing things that were different from that I was doing. There’s so much more, man can’t just settle for the ends. With the street stuff, we’re complacent because that’s all we know, until we get a taste of other stuff. I had a fast track. I had trials and tribulations from early and I had that breath of fresh air too, so I saw what else was going on in the world. I’d rather do that, than what I was doing.

Trapo ends with a message to your supporters. The final line is ‘And if you’re feeling down, I hope I’m cheering you up’. Why did you want to close the tape with that?

I proper rock with my supporters. I don’t think they know how much I rock with them. If you’ve got love for someone, you’ve gotta go the extra mile and let them know. I’ve started to realise my impact on people. The littlest things could help. The same way I listen to music, or to certain interviews, people say certain things and it touches me, init. So I thought, let me do the same.

Trapo is available on most major streaming platforms.

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