It’s 3:30 in the afternoon on a sunny Fall Tuesday in Madison, Wisconsin and I’m about three feet deep in a decades-old tweed couch. To my left is 18-year-old Davon Prather, better known to the world as Trapo; the only artist that’s pried us from the bustle of Chicago since our foray to Milwaukee a year ago.
Ahead of me, one of our crew, Westley, sits perched on the edge of the adjacent couch leaning aggressively into a Nintendo 64 controller, squaring off against Tray, who’s apartment we find ourselves in. Set amongst the high-pitched hum of the Super Smash Bros. backing track, Trapo tells us of making a name for himself from humble beginnings while carefully rolling a blunt on the table before him.
“It wasn’t something I super, super expected: to be recognized so quickly, but I knew my music could do that, it could get national attention,” he said, twisting off the end of the cylinder. “I just never knew if it would happen or when it would happen, but it’s happened but it’s not even as big as I want it to be or as big as its going to get, For what it is, it’s real cool.”
Since breaking onto the national scene a little over a year ago with his critically-acclaimed Black Beverly Hills EP, Trapo has enjoyed a string of increasingly well-received singles that culminated in his latest effort, April’s SHE. Released at the tender age of seventeen, the pair of projects have brought unforeseen attention to the young rapper in the hometown of the Badgers.
To be sure, Trapo’s recent success is due in large part to the young artist’s access and understanding of the Internet. While, like anyone his age, he’s benefitted from the interconnectivity of the net, Trapo has also been able to craft an image for himself that stands outside the bounds of the artists that have come to pace the current waves. Names like Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert and Famous Dex. Known as much for their wild hairstyles, drug use and copy/paste practice of creating songs, it’s a generation at once influenced and buoyed by cyberspace, ready-made for social media in 2016 the same way hooks at the beginning of the Millennium fit nicely into Midi ringtones. While he may have burst onto the national radar via blog posts and Soundcloud plays the same as his peers, young Trapo has done so with a style unto himself that has placed him in a lane all his own.
“Most of this music, how I make it is just about how I live my life, like regular shit that I’m going through and how I’m living and shit,” Trapo said, carefully ashing the blunt while holding my iPhone in his other hand. “So like, it takes time to do that, you gotta grow up and play and work. So you know I’m going to play like living life, life experience, doing shit, growing up. Shade Trees is like a metaphor for who I want to be in three years, a metaphor for peace, just being peacefully under the shade trees, that’s all this is bro.”
About a year ago, TheseDays got a peek into that process. Inviting him down for a special showcase of Wisconsin talent at the Chop Shop in Wicker Park, Trapo joined Milwaukee’s Ishdarr, WebsterX and Pizzle onstage for his first performance in the Second City. The wonderment was real for Trapo and his crew, on a weekend away from class back home in Madison. At Jugrnaut, where he attended a meet and greet, he was shy, reserved; much less sociable than the guy sitting next to me on the couch swapping stories and trading blunts. To hear him tell it, he appreciates the opportunity to see other places, but values the tranquil backdrop that his somewhat rural home offers. The result of his trip south to Chicago for the set turned out to be one of his best songs yet, appropriately titled, “Chicago” which trended for most of the summer on the Spotify charts. Living up to his own words, Trapo reflected real-life experiences through his music with singles detailing the mundanity of life like “Cards & Conversation,” “She Moved On” and “The Past. (its like 11:03pm)” that position him as a sort of everyman character with which almost anyone can find common ground. Pervasively relatable appears to be a constant moving forward into his next project, Shade Trees.
“This next project is like a metaphor for who I want to be in three years from now, a metaphor for peace, just being peaceful, comfortably under the Shade Trees you know?” Trapo’s eyes narrow as he describes this, as if watching the future before him. “That’s all this is bro, that’s what I’ve been doing, that’s what this album is. It’s my first album, it’s got a concept and a meaning.”
Not far from Tray’s apartment, the boy that would become Trapo was schooled in the ways of hip-hop by his uncles who rapped for fun. Eventually, he joined in and was immediately hooked.
“I never rapped because of anyone who was around the city at all. It was because I wanted to do this, so I did it,” said Trapo, closing his eyes as he thinks reminisces. “I got inspiration from my uncles who rapped, you know what I’m saying? They were just here in Madison, never took it seriously or nothing. But they rapped and me being little and seeing that made me want to take it serious.”
Growing up where he did, there weren’t many direct influences outside of his family for the aspiring artist to look up to, no path yet truly laid from which to take cues. Instead, as he says it, he just did it. With his parent’s support, Trapo started piecing together a small home studio that would become his laboratory. By his Junior year he was releasing songs on the internet which caught the ears of Xavier Holiday of Xavier & The Thrill. The two kept in touch and eventually Trapo met Xavier’s manager Steven Louis, fittingly, through a Twitter Direct Message.
“I met Xavier and we made a song named ‘Polaroids’,” said Trapo. “At first Steven said no when I asked him to manage me. I was releasing songs and he helped me get on DJBooth, they premiered a song called “America” and then after that we just started rolling. By senior year I release Black Beverly Hills and by then it just made sense, we were friends at that point.”
While he may have been ready to take music seriously back as a kid with his uncles, it was meeting with Louis and the relationship that would emerge that would help bring Trapo to the next level. Earlier this year Louis, who flew across the country, slept on floors and broke bread often with the talented Wisconson-ite, made him one of the first signings to his label, Esselgy. The signing, just after his 18th birthday, is a small sign of things to come and the cementing of a friendship that appears headed for great things.
On December 11 Trapo will play the Majestic Theater in downtown Madison, one of the oldest in town with a capacity of about 600. At 18, while his peers shuffle to and from classes or jobs, he’ll be preparing to sell out the venue while simultaneously wrapping up a short tour, his first, to celebrate the project’s release. That tour will bring him to Chicago to play Reggie’s on December 8, one of his only visits since coming down for our 2015 showcase. The way he’s spent the time between is a testament of what’s to come and his latest effort seems aimed at making sure we say the same in 2017.
“Like I said, it’s my first album, but its just an album,” said Trapo. “I took my time on this one, it was recorded over a long time. I took my time picking production, who I wanted to work with, what features I wanted because I wanted to have a limited number of features on the album, I just wanted everything to make sense.”
In the background Wes flips off the TV, the hour-long battle of the Foxes finally over, Tray turns his attention to the latest long joint to emerge between the couches. Flipping off the voice recorder and saving the file in my phone, we rise from the depth of the cushions, heading out through the sliding glass door of the kitchen and out into the leaf-lined hill leading to a cul-de-sac below to take photos. Walking through the quaint neighborhood he tells me what it’s like being regularly stopped around town, hearing his music coming from car speakers. Regardless of the non-descript demeanor he puts forward, it’s clear he’s been enjoying the sliver of the spotlight he’s begun to command.
For a moment, he cracks a large smile and the cool exterior we’ve gotten for most the afternoon is broken. “it’s cool man, it’s a lot of fun.” As we walk, our photographer Peter Campbell follows along, snapping photos and giving slight instruction. Stopping at a basketball court a block from Tray’s apartment, I took a call quickly. Hanging up a minute later, I was surprised to see Trapo jogging away into the sunset.
Across the court Peter looked at me with a confused look, raising his palms to the air. Here for a second and gone the next like the Internet that brought his music to the masses, that was the last we saw of Trapo on that particular visit and a somewhat fitting end to our quick trip north. While the meeting may have come to an abrupt end, he was apparently late for a studio session. It reminded me of something he had said earlier in our conversation.
“I ain’t never want to be no football player or basketball player or work in an office or be a dentist, doctor or lawyer. I didn’t want to be none of that. I wanted to rap. They say you have to put in that 10,000 hours and that’s where I’m at.”