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Paradise Signs 2: An Interview with TRAPCRY

Tonight is the second edition of Paradise Signs at Flora!

As the crew finishes setting up for another fantastic night of music, our friend Zavi Harman (Prsmcat, Spooky Cool, Majjin Boo) spoke with featured artist TRAPCRY about their most recent release, Blonde Ambition, their creative inspiration and the importance of representation for black queer artists.

Photo by Darian Hayes

Can you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about TRAPCRY?

Social media has opened the door to new perspectives and identities in hip-hop. In my opinion, hip-hop has always been synonymous with extreme heteronormative ideals and homophobia. Up until the current state of hip-hop culture, being a queer rapper has in general been a taboo subject. It’s okay to talk about romance with women, or abusing women, but let a man talk about another man in the same tone—I could never imagine a DJ playing that type of music in a mainstream club setting, especially as it relates to the expectations of black masculinity in the black community. Black men can’t be “soft”, and it’s frowned upon to be intimate in any form with another black man—even in a father/son dynamic.

The phrase TRAPCRY as it relates to my music and my image is my response to this taboo in hip-hop.  My name at face value blends the hard and grittiness of the genre “Trap” with “Cry” which can symbolize anything emotional and vulnerable.

In full scope, I want to challenge the idea of black masculinity for the world.

What is Terracotta Mafia?

Terracotta is my baby—my passion project that I’m working on with my musical soulmate Siiren. We’ve been writing songs since 2006 when we both were MySpace famous, and a lot of our supporters have stuck with us since then. But more about that later…

Blonde Ambition seems to be more than just your latest album title but more so a pervasive theme theme that fully enveloped by your image. Could you tell us about what that means to you?

Me and my friend Buddy-X came up with the concept in 2016 after I released the previous project Thanks, Anyway—which was inspired by this guy ghosting on me after we had dated for a month, then me fantasizing about what I would do if I saw him again or if he ever popped back up into my life. For that project Buddy did most of the writing, and we recorded that album in a weekend.

The Blonde Ambition era for me was an artistic awakening. It was more than dying my hair. I just started to believe in my myself as an artist more. I wrote most of the music, and I played with more genres that were true to music I have written and produced for other people in my past artistic life as Garlic Bread.

Anytime I listen to Blonde Ambition, I just think it’s okay to be young, experiment, fuck up. I realize the perfect man that I’m trying to find is perhaps myself. But, when you’re in a constant cycle of falling for people who don’t have unconditional love for you, you can lose sight of yourself, and you can forget that you can be okay on your own.

This is a theme I explore more on BA’s sequel Dangerous, which is coming any day now.

I can’t help but notice ties between Blonde Ambition and Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Clearly it is a source of inspiration for you, but what is even more interesting to me is that only the second track “Toyfriend” is such a perfect homage to Frank’s sound and a outlier from the sound of the rest of your record that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it on Blonde. What was the inspiration for that song and how do you feel about the image/sound of your music being so aligned with Frank Ocean’s music? Does it make you feel like you two are riding the same wave culturally?

Frank Ocean is a genius, and I love his work. It’s flattering when people make those comparisons about us, even though I’ll never compare to the musician he is. I remember before he released Blonde—literally the same week, I started rolling out my project images with #BlondeAmbition captions, and lyrics from the album. I did a disclaimer post that I was not copying him and this popular blog ThatGrapeJuice posted about it causing a little stir on my social media. This put some people on to my music, and for that I am grateful.

I do think me and Frank are inspired by some of the same people, rather than me being inspired by him. I’ve been I’ve always been inspired by Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Aaliyah, Brandy, Britney Spears, Madonna and Prince. Timbaland had a musical era where he was working with alternative/pop artists over guitar driven beats, and ever since then that’s what I’ve aspired to—hard low end beats with a pretty guitar riff playing on the top.

When I wrote “Toyfriend,” I was going for a male Lana Del Rey vibe but black and queer, if that makes sense. I wanted Blonde Ambition to reflect my queer experience so it was important that I showcase all of the genres that I love.

Photo by Darian Hayes

How did you collaboration with Siiren begin? “Hot Boyz” is an incredible track. Any more collabs in the work with Siiren? With anyone else?

Siiren and I have been collaborating since 2006. “Hot Boyz” was a track I recorded myself to homage Missy Elliott, and I wanted him to jump on it and give Lil Mo vibes like the original “Hot Boyz” song.

Before that and even now, we’re working on an album together under the monkier Terracotta Mafia with our guitarist Nick Pfab. Hopefully that project will be out in full soon. It’s full of lush guitar driven songs about navigating queer relationships. Growing up, we didn’t have guy role models singing about guys, so it’s important that we make music for people who are just like us—black queer men.

One of my favorite tracks from Blonde Ambition, “Hennything,” reminds me of Fade to Mind/Night Slugs. Are you familiar with that collective? What inspired you to make more of a “club” track compared to the rest of the record?

I haven’t heard of Fade to Mind/Night Slugs, but if they sound like that song I would love to work with them.

My roots are in club/house music: I started exploring my identity as a gay black man in the Mid-Atlantic club circuit, so anytime I went out the vibe was all about B-more and Jersey music. Rest In Peace to K-Swift! She had the best mixtapes.

The album was done and I was like, “I really need a club/house song.” I had a playlist of beats that I had thought about writing to and for some reason, up until then I couldn’t think of a song to the “Hennything” beat. My alma mater Virginia State University’s Homecoming was coming up and the popular hashtag was #HennythingCanHappen, so I started to build from that idea and it’s probably one of my best recordings.

What gear do use when you’re making music, and how does it influence your song writing?

I usually approach writing music either as telling a story or writing phrases I feel people could dance to. I plug in my Apollo Twin and I usually take 3 hours to write and record a song in full.

Production is a little different for the Terracotta project, we’ve used a bunch of different drum machines like a Roland AIRA Tr-8, and the Rhythm Wolf layered with Nick’s acoustic and electric guitars. I compose and record everything in FL Studio and Presonus Studio One.

Photo by Darian Hayes

You have a pretty impressive social media presence for an artist who isn’t signed to a label. How do you think social media is putting more power into the hands of artists and giving them control over previous models where labels where the end-all-be-all. What are the advantages and disadvantages of essentially doing it all yourself?

I think through making viral posts on Twitter and leaving my profile up on dating apps like Grindr (lol) I am beginning to reach people. I’d honestly rather be signed because then I wouldn’t have to worry about doing everything myself. There’s so many investments I make to fulfill this artistic dream of mine. If I had a label that was willing to invest in me, they would never have to worry about my content—I could focus on the music, and then hand someone all of my content for them to put out. I’m a workaholic.

I’m really excited that you are our featured artist at our Paradise Signs launch event this Saturday. What about the event are you looking forward to?

I’m excited that the Paradise Signs events are spotlighting artists like me, Alfred and Thumper. I will always jump to be a part of events that bridge communities together, racially, sexually, spiritually. I hope this event inspires other promoters and venues to open their doors to our stories and our sounds.

As far as my set, it’s all about energy and fun. I’m really excited to share music from my new era Dangerous and play songs from Blonde Ambition that I haven’t played live yet.

Check out TRAPCRY at Paradise Signs 2 at Flora on Saturday, November 18th
with Alfred., Thumper and Prsmcat
Doors open at 8:00 pm; Admission is $5