Letters from Issue 33
I’d like to respond to Jesse McCarthy’s writing on the relationship between the trap, trapping, and trap music in “Notes on Trap” (Issue 32) by way of an anecdote. I know some trappers. In the car with one in Atlanta, as we drove from deal to deal, stopping occasionally to measure weight and count bills, we listened to Future’s album FUTURE. The trapper told me this was his favorite album to listen to while trapping because he was trapping and Future was trapping.
There’s a tautology implicit in his words. Trap music is trapping and trapping is trap music. Whenever someone asks a trapper to explain how trapping as an action (the closest yet totally inadequate synonym being dealing) relates to trapping as a musical genre, the tautology continues. Some might take it as an invitation to explain trap, but I think trappers know what they’re doing when they answer this way. They’re not saying, “If you don’t know, now you know,” but, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”
McCarthy’s essay is at its best when it takes this refusal to explain for granted, understanding that trappers control just how much of trap we can know for their own purposes (safety, profit, and so on). That is, the essay shines when it inhabits the discourses of trap to better understand the subject at hand (an encounter in a store, for instance). The essay seems weakest when it fails to take the limitations of our ability to know trap seriously. At these moments, McCarthy offers definitions and analyses in terms external to the genre and makes claims about the generalizability of trap. For instance, “All these blocks, all these hoods . . . are effectively the same.” Never once did I feel, on that ride down Old Nat, that anywhere else in Atlanta, let alone the world, was like the south side. Thinking back on that moment now, I still can’t say that I know the south side so much as that I know what a trapper showed me of his life. Taking seriously our inability to know anything other than what the trapper lets us see while still caring about those who find themselves in the trap is what seems, to me, both most thrilling and most urgent about trap. I wish only that McCarthy took the limitations of our knowledge seriously throughout.
— Elias Rodriques