Portugal: Interview with Benji Price of Think Music about Trap

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Benji Price, rapper, producer and member of Think Music, a hip hop Portuguese label, speaks on behalf  of his label. The label was created by the rapper Prof Jam, leader in the national streaming, and counts with names like  Phoenixx MG, Benji Price, YUZI, Prettieboy Johnson, rkeat and Osémio Boémio.

Think Music does not claim to be a “Trap label”, however much of what you produce comes in Trap style. How do you characterize your relationship with that style?

Well, we obviously can not get away from people making that connection because of the prominence our brand has been winning in contemporary national hip-hop, coupled with the fact that our current sonority mostly falls within the more general parameters of this trap aesthetic, but to be honest I think it’s kind of circumstantial. We’ve always done music that can be described as a trap, including well before this recent boom in popularity in our country, but we find it quite reductive to the point of labeling a trap label.

As an example, our artists ProfJam and Mike El Nite were launching The Big Banger Theory and Vaporetto Titano in 2014 and 2015, respectively, two projects that are quite trap-ish and that precede for a few years this recent wave of national traps – however, the same artists have Mixtakes (2016) and Inter-Mission (2018), two much more recent releases that flee immensely from that sonority. We even have on the streets EPs like the thirty-seven Of Oseias and Tá Ligado do LVIN which are totally instrumental projects of lo-fi and funk, and we have every intention of continuing to produce things out of that sonority, so it would make sense to describe us as just a trap label. Think Music is above all a music label and talent agency that can go from the trap to boom-bap or from reggaeton to techno.

For an older audience that does not know Trap, how would you explain this genre and how does it differ from hip-hop?

It seems to me that this question has to be divided into two parts: first, from the production point of view, Trap describes a type of instrument that usually goes about 110-150 bpm (as a general rule); being much more accelerated than the more traditional hip-hop of the 90s around 85/95, as well as the preponderant use of 808s, fast hi-hats, more emphasis on melodies composed by the producer himself than the use of samples, which was not all that common at the time when rap hit the national scene. Second, Trap describes a sub-genre of hip-hop that emerges in the southern United States in the mid-2000s that addresses the life experiences of someone coming from the social neighborhoods of cities like Atlanta, Memphis, Houston, etc. ., and basically all the branches of the tree that this sub-genre has created. That’s why you can have projects as dramatically different in sound terms as a Trap Muzik (2004) from T.I., a 808s & Heartbreaks (2008) from Kanye West or a Dirty Sprite 2 (2015) from Future.

As for its differentiation, the answer is simple: it does not differentiate. Trap is just one of the many sounds that exist within rap, not being more or less hip-hop than any of them.

Do you agree with the opinion of critics who point to Trap as the future of mainstream music?

I do not agree much, because I think trap is not the “future”, it’s the “now” and the “this moment” of mainstream music, and you just have to hear how trap elements have been incorporated into all kinds of pop music in the last decade , from Rihanna to Beyoncé, or from Portuguese rap to K-pop from South Korea, to see the influence of this sonority on a world scale. I would say before that the so-called “urban” music like hip-hop, r & b and its derivatives will dominate the mainstream for a few years.

Who is your main target audience?

Everybody. We do not make music solely and exclusively for this type of person or for that type of person, nor do we think rap is some kind of stereotype that can only be heard by X or Y. Our goal at Think is just to make music we like, and we received with open arms anyone who appreciates what we do.

Do you consider that the thematic diversity of Trap songs (themes ranging from violence, depression, loneliness to love) reflect the difficulties of the current generation of young people?

I supposed so, but I do not think it has much to do with being a trap or not. I think they are fairly global themes for all kinds of art, which have always existed and will always exist. The Fínix MG or Kendrick Lamar can rhyme about sadness, happiness, depression, either in 2019 in the same way that Fernando Pessoa or Edgar Allen Poe could write about it at the beginning of the XX century. These themes are quite universal, and by the normal human condition it seems to me an inevitability that art is always made on these subjects. The trap will not be any different in that respect.

How do you explain the enormous adherence among young people to this musical style?

A bit in the sequence of what I have been saying before, adherence is not so much to the trap itself as it is to rap and hip hop in general, and the “popularity of the trap” comes as a consequence of this, because in this moment trap is the dominant sonority in this musical genre. The adherence to the style seems to me, to be simply because the music is good and that´s what people like. It does not seem to me that there are many external factors to this, nor that there is any kind of subliminal reason that makes people like it. It is good music, and to there will always be adhesion to that.

Is violence and crime often portrayed in music a matter of marketing or does it represent a reality?

The answer I can give to this question is the same one that has been given by rap artists in the last decade and the 90s, and which was given by rock artists in the 60s, 70s and 80s and that will always be given when some style of music is so popular: there is always the biographical part and there is always the part that is artistic expression. There are those who speak under experiences who have lived, there are those who speak under experiences who know that others have lived, and there are those who simply reflect on this or that, but I do not think that in any of the scenarios it is done with the intention of having shock value. I do not think any artist who wants to have a long and successful career will talk about “controversial” things just for the purpose of shocking people. I think what can shock some people is the fact that this is music that was born in social neighborhoods, and that it is only logical that subjects like drugs and drug addiction are discussed as a consequence of this, but to be used only as a technique of marketing? I do not say that there are no attempts at this because, using the popular expression, “there are crazy people for everything”, but it also seems to me that it is not a reality with any kind of success.

In an international context how do you characterize the situation of the Portuguese Trap?

Obviously, because of the size of our country and the economic-cultural reality in which we are inserted, Portuguese hip-hop is a very small market compared to other European countries, not even comparing it to the American. As a result, I think we do not have much visibility out there, but of course with the internet things are always improving and even there are already many international collaborations of Portuguese rap with other countries.

Can one say that Trap more than a musical style is a way of life?

Like everything in life, each person has its own way of experiencing things. It is possible to be just a casual fan in the same way that it is possible to be a super hardcore fan who knows everything about gender. Above all, what matters in the first and last place is and always will be the music. Everything that comes from there onwards is secondary and depends on the interpretation and will of each one. As for us, here we will continue to make music with the same passion as always, and hopefully the public will continue to follow us

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