Traptatus Logico-Philosophicus

Trap Goes To College

07/25/2019 · By Enrique Bueres
C. Tangana
Previously known as Crema, C. Tangana recorded his first album at only 15, but it wasn’t until 2016, at the beginning of his relationship with Rosalia, when he became a mainstream phenomenon. © Javier Ruiz

In his in-depth essay 'Más allá del trap (Beyond Trap)' young thinker Ernesto Castro dissects the music popularized by artists such as C. Tangana, Yung Beef, Bad Gyal, Pimp Flaco, Kinder Malo o Cecilio G, dissolving the lines between high- and low-brow culture.

Ernesto Castro (Madrid, 1990), lecturer at the Complutense University of Madrid, is the author of the first systematic interpretation of the thought of new urban musicians. His didactic, controversial, intellectually exciting and absolutely up-to-date book will be published in September by Errata Naturae. The main thesis of this provocative, heterodox author is that "trap represents the millennial metamusic of the economic crisis, the music the unemployed youth make while others are working.”

The fascination of intellectuals for music made by the working class, much of it coming from underground contexts, has been a constant over time. Several members of the Spanish literary movement known as Generation of ‘27 were interested in flamenco, Manuel Bernal Romero says in his recent book published by Renacimiento. Before that, other authors from the Generation of '98 such as Manuel and Antonio Machado looked poetically at flamenco’s music and people. In the 1980s, intellectual filmmakers such as Carlos Saura were attracted by bands of the Caño Roto sound (Los Chichos, Los Chunguitos, Los Chorbos, Las Grecas, El Jero...) that monopolized the soundtrack of the so-called quinqui cinema, a genre that lived its golden age between 1978 and 1985.

Ernesto Castro is the latest example of this historical trend consisting in subjecting a musical genre, born as an expression of the concerns of minority—if not marginal—population groups, to a process of aestheticization. A PhD in Philosophy and a lecturer at the Complutense University of Madrid, Castro has put under the microscope of his analytical mind a bacterial culture of beats and auto-tuned vocals with the aim to decipher the genome of an seemingly anti-philosophical musical genre. A 28-year-old from Madrid, he has written his personal Tra'p'tatus Logico-Philosophicus and, like a modern-day Wittgenstein, he has elevated to an aesthetic—and even mystical—category the sounds that make up the soundtrack of the Spanish economic, cultural and generational crisis.

"Trap represents the millennial metamusic of the economic crisis, the music the unemployed youth make while others are working

The limits of trap are as diffuse as the red lines established to reach political agreements. The plasticity and mutability of the Spanish urban scene knows no borders, and labels are quite slippery. According to Castro’s terminology, trap is the metamusic of the years of the economic meltdown, starting in 2010. In Spain, “any urban music style or genre is grouped under the trap label”.

While in the United States trap is considered a rap subgenre, in Spain it is regarded as a genre in its own right. Generally, the term has been used by the media to refer to any "young urban musician using Auto-Tune." It was the priceless and discreet Cher with her song Believe (1998) who pioneered the use of this voice tuner that can make singers sound like robots. As a matter of fact, with this simple computer program anyone with a hoarse voice could reach Rihanna’s or Beyoncé’s highest pitch.

Trap has been used incorrectly to tag artists from other musical genres such as dancehall (Bad Gyal), reggaeton (Ms. Nina) or even flamenco (Rosalía). But why try to stem the tide? The messiah of trap nihilism would probably be Yung Beef, an apocalyptic artist (in the terminology of Umberto Eco) who has been a model for Calvin Klein and has catwalked at Paris Fashion Week. C. Tangana, on the other hand, would be the highest representative of the integrated flank despite having left Operación Triunfo without saying goodbye to the other contestants nor to good Roberto Leal, or precisely because of it. “Cool sells and sociocultural subversion is still a very lucrative show," says Castro.

C. Tangana, previously known as Crema and, since 2018, as El Madrileño, recorded his first album at only 15. He was part of the collective AGZ (short for Agorazein). His name “transubstantiation” occurred in 2011 with the album Agorazein presents C. Tangana. But it wasn’t until mid 2016, at the beginning of his relationship with the then emerging flamenco singer Rosalía, that C. Tangana became mainstream phenomenon peaking in mid 2017 with Mala mujer, a banger song that became a summer hit and won him a double Platinum Record.

And what about women in trap? According to our philosopher, Spanish urban artists don’t come in pairs but by the dozen: Bad Gyal, La Zowi (she and Yung Beef had a son in 2016), Ms Nina, Somadamantina, Chanel, Bea Fight, La Favi, Blondie, Rakky Ripper, Nathy Peluso, Aleeesha, D'Valentina, Albany ...

So what is for Castro the bottom line of Spanish trap? “To put it in one sentence, just as (the political party) Podemos wanted to be the new PSOE but became instead the new Izquierda Unida, Spanish trap aspired to be the new pop but became the new indie.” That said, there was no need to have gone to such trouble. Just put the same old monkey a new dress.