It's no secret that Phoenix is desperately seeking its first rap superstar. The commercial failure of Willy Northpole's debut album this summer simply reinforced Phoenix's status as the biggest U.S. city without a bona fide hip-hop success story. As smaller cities like Atlanta, St. Louis, Detroit, and Minneapolis continue to produce top-quality MCs, Phoenix seems to be simply treading water with under-promoted shows and mediocre talent.
If anyone has the ability to put Phoenix on the hip-hop map, it may very well be Trap. With a booming baritone to match his hulking, 6-foot-4-inch frame, Trap towers over his competition, both literally and figuratively. His latest mixtape, 747 Fly, is a testament to his lyrical dexterity and features a bevy of guest stars, from local veterans Roca Dolla and Bookie to L.A. legends MC Eiht and Kam. Suns reserve forward Alando Tucker even makes an appearance.
"I'm probably one of the more well-rounded guys out here, as far as being able to do anything," Trap says. "A lot of people heard 747 Fly, and the sole purpose of me making that mixtape was to show people that there wasn't a style of hip-hop that I couldn't do right now. I've never given that tape to someone [who didn't] come back to me and say, 'You did more than I would've ever imagined you'd be able to do on a mixtape.' I used a lot of different styles. I used a lot of different producers. The blend just came out perfect."
Trap is scheduled to perform on Friday, December 11.
Boastful? Perhaps. But the 21 tracks on 747 Fly more than back up Trap's claim of being a hook-writing specialist. The mixtape is replete with the type of radio-ready choruses that worm their way into your head and camp there for the rest of the day. Trap says the mixtape has been downloaded more than 100,000 times and that he's given away roughly 5,000 physical copies. So why give it away for free?
"I just didn't have the budget at the time to put it in stores and go through that process, so I gave it away for free to get the people familiar with the Trap brand," he says.
The "Trap brand," however, is not so easily defined. It would be easy to label Trap as a gangsta rapper, considering song titles like "American Gangsta" and "Got My Gun," not to mention a portrait on his MySpace page depicting him with twin pistols pointing forward. But Trap shies away from the term.
"I don't necessarily consider myself a gangsta rapper," he says. "I consider myself somebody who was exposed to a lot of different things at an early age. I've been around plenty gangstas and been exposed to that atmosphere, but I'd rather you know who I am as a man before you know my background, as far as where I come from, neighborhood-wise. I consider myself a man trying to make in the world today."
Trap (real name: Tikey Patterson) grew up near 15th Avenue and Buckeye Road, in a neighborhood he calls West Side City. "It's the original west side, before anything was developed past it," he says. He started rapping in his early teens and formed a group called Mercenary Soldiers with his friends.
"Any money that we had to the side, or any money we earned doing whatever jobs we could, we took it and recorded in the studio," Trap says.
One of his cousins gave him the name "Trap," and it stuck.
"A lot of people associate trappin' — or the word 'trap' — with selling drugs or hustling," he says. "It's hustling at a high level. Everybody who knows me knows that it's always business first with me. It's always about progress, and that's where the name came from. It came from me representing that hustle, that grind, that feeling in your stomach when you really tried hard to get it."
Trap is reluctant to discuss specifics of his childhood, but what he does reveal is not atypical of many inner-city stories.
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"To tell you the truth, I'd say 75 percent of the people that I grew up with are either in jail or no longer with us," he says. "We all have a story. We all have a background. That's what I convey through my music. That's why a lot of people relate to me, because of the realness, the reality that is exposed through the music."
Now, at 26, Trap lives in Tempe and works a relatively mundane day job, spending the majority of his free time working on his budding music career. He performs live frequently, at local hip-hop shows and opening for national acts like DJ Quik, Too $hort, GZA, and E-40. He shares a studio in west Phoenix with his business partners and frequent collaborators Cinematic, Teddy Keys, and Ace. His upcoming projects include a new mixtape, appropriately titled I Never Sleep, as well as a collaboration with fellow local MCs Hannibal Leq and Lo, called Monstaz Ink.
So will Trap ultimately be the savior that the Phoenix rap scene so desperately craves? It's probably too early to say with any certainty, but if he fails, it won't be for lack of talent or hard work. For now, Trap is just hoping that his upcoming mixtape and the Monstaz Ink project earn him more exposure, which he sees as a bargaining chip in getting to the next level.
"The next step for me is to go to the table and look for a deal," he says. "I could've already been signed before. It would've been a bad deal if I would've went to the table at that time, because I didn't necessarily have something to show them that was worth putting stock in, so off the bat, I would've been in the red. I'd rather go to the table and show people that there's a reason that you should invest in me and [say], 'Here are the reasons why. This is why I have this many plays or this many views.'"