If there is any hope in the weird world of trap music, it lies in the women.
That’s the takeaway from this year’s Trap Circus music festival, which took over the RC Cola Plant the eve of Thanksgiving. Reflecting the sexism of the music industry at large, most festivals tend to skimp on putting up female talent, and the problem is usually exacerbated in hip-hop thanks to the culture’s persistent misogyny.
Yet the organizers of Trap Circus made it a point to form a lineup that contains, at least, some women artists, and what a difference it made. In a monotonous desert of male rappers — most inexperienced, all lacking in charisma, all rapping about the same themes of drugs, money, and pointless excess that hip-hop refuses to forget — the two most prominent female performers were oases of creativity and freshness. Sure, part of their appeal is that they’re women, but their ability as performers — and perhaps the fact they’re both from the Bronx — was what truly set them apart.
Effortlessly blending hard-edged urban trap with island vibes, the Jamaican-American singer Hoodcelebrityy took the stage shortly before nightfall. Moving her body and performing acrobatic splits onstage, she and her music successfully shook the crowd out of a prolonged state of lethargy; the audience began forming dance circles to dutty wine to the riddims. She not only performed party music but also finished with a song called “Walking Trophy,” a self-esteem anthem that told the young women in the audience they were just as pretty in real life as they were on Instagram.
Of course, that energy was nothing compared to the uproar caused by Cardi B, the true headliner of the day. Lesser rappers might coast when coming off a hit as big as “Bodak Yellow,” but the proud Dominicana refused to phone in her set, instead swaggering around the stage with aplomb and issuing brassy banter.
“You know I really need to stop promoting violence,” she said after performing “Foreva,” in which the lyric “Ran down on that bitch twice” is featured prominently. “A lot has happened to me.”
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Watching Cardi onstage, I noticed she's not only a rapper but also a true performer, blending the theatrical into her performances in ways that other rappers, hiding behind their reserved, emotionally distant public personas, would be too timid to attempt. She tells jokes, she does silly impressions, and she unapologetically boasts of her success with a cartoonish “I rule, you drool” self-righteousness. She has the personality of Frank Reynolds, the Danny DeVito character from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in the body of Jennifer Lopez, and I am officially stanning her now.
“People ask me like, 'When are you gonna stop performing 'Bodak Yellow?''" she said, mocking her fair-weather fans. “When they stop paying me for it, bitch!”
It was an appropriate climax for the festival, which was not simply a circus in name. The organizers made Trap Circus into a true carnival, with rides, games, a Ferris wheel, and even stilt-walkers and fire-twirlers. It was perhaps too much of a perfect storm: the already-shady vibe of a South Florida rap show — men walking around in cut-rate streetwear, women mostly wearing booty shorts and skimpy tops, and everybody seeming to have tattoos they didn’t put much thought into — paired with that of a fun fair gave the proceedings an undercurrent of danger and an additional layer of griminess.
That’s not necessarily a knock. One could even say that earthiness is essential to the character of South Florida rap. Less essential, however, were the unannounced set times and long gaps between performers filled with DJs playing Today’s Top Hip-Hop Hits™. Sets were usually no longer than five songs, which made some perilously short and others feel dragged out. So if there are any key takeaways from this first edition of Trap Circus, it’s these: keep the danger, lose the short sets, and hire even more women.