Bar Exam: Derek Minor – The Trap (Album)
Derek Minor “The Trap” – A One Listen Album Review
Derek Minor has been making quality music for years. I remember first hearing the mixtape “The Pro Show” in 2006, and was feeling him back then. Now it’s 2018 and he’s just released “The Trap,” which Derek calls “the most important collection of songs he’s ever written.” The cover art looks like the game “Chutes and Ladders” except there’s a darker tone to it. This is the third installment to his “Up and Away” series, and his first time on the bar exam. Let’s go.
The first song is the title track, “The Trap.” “It’s a cold world on the southside when they catch you with the 4-5.” The very beginning of the project details the struggle of the trap. Musically it sounds hopeful with the melodic piano, but the lyrics paint a harsh reality. “Yeah I know a couple dealers…” Derek drops in with a little a cappella and the beat lays in behind him. BONKERS. Derek’s flow bounces effortlessly between different styles. He uses some triplets and some melodies but doesn’t really get gritty just yet. We close out with the prayer “God Bless The Trap.”
Track two is called “God Bless The Trap.” The instrumental is dark with some orchestral samples, and Derek drops what sounds like a hook here at the beginning. The vocal layering and the ad-libs throughout are solid. Tony Tillman spits the second verse, which builds in intensity as he progresses. Thi’sl is on the third verse and it’s chilling. This performance is amazing.
On Another Level
So far it’s been nothing but above the bar beats, lyrics, and flows. The concept is hard but it’s real. The quality is bar none. If it stays at this level it’s easily my top album of the year.
The next tune is entitled “Robin” and Derek comes at it without features. It’s a song that repeats the first line of each verse, but after that Derek brings intensity and a vulnerability with each rhyme.
“That’s the trap/the system that we live in/every day death knock at our door/hope don’t live here/pray for help tomorrow/or making our decision/survival of the fittest/death or join our pops in prison/you either die a hero or live to be a villain/who did the best he knew but either way the cycle continues.”
“It is What it Is” I think was the first single from this project. He’s pretty chill on this hook and even begins the verse like this. I love how he digs in halfway through.
“We can’t even turn to charity, they make money off our tragedy/If life a school of hard knock, street will teach you like academy/Everybody in they glass house, tell us what we need to do to make it out/When they was born on that mountaintop, they ain’t seen the bottom, they don’t know the route/You think that we choose this environment? I wish I could choose an entitlement/Instead of being born in poverty and hungry hyenas surrounding me”
The subject matter here is political, it’s pointed, and an important message. It’s harder to get out of this lifestyle than people think, and it doesn’t help when the system is set up to take away options before it creates options for people.
Aaron Cole lends his voice to the Chorus on “Nothing To Something.” “Please don’t you judge me/You s’posed to love me.” This one seems to be a bit more of a mainstream sound. We’ve switched from the trap sound for a moment. That’s not a knock, it’s good to give the listener different textures to navigate throughout the environment of an album. Propaganda comes by for somewhat of a hushed verse here. There’s a sensitivity to Prop’s voice here that’s a different sound compared to the entire landscape of this project. This track is straightforward and well constructed.
A Small Dip In Energy
This second section had a slight change in energy from the first two songs, but this is still high quality hip-hop. All of this is slightly above the bar.
“Of Course” is a switch back into that trap sound. Derek might write the best hooks in the business. In my mind he always has. Each one is catchy in its own right, and each one is unique in its own way. Pay attention, rappers to how these hooks enhance the rest of the track. Its here where he sets up the concept, but also sets up the music beds that roll throughout the rest of the song.
Man – “I never back down I’m going out like a man” Man it’s albums like this that make me want to stop typing and just listen. Seriously, Derek goes in on this idea of being strong, not being a coward, and facing fears. What is this he’s throwing at us on verse two? Yo he’s got so many different levels. Definitely someone you don’t want to mess with on the mic. He starts out so cool and collected, moves to some gruffness and then moves into some triplets and is absolutely soaring on this one.
The instrumental here on “I Have A Dream” is the most unique so far. This sample feels like an old spiritual, and the beat built around it is open and welcoming. Derek comes at it with an anaphora, beginning each line with “I Have A Dream” and listing his thoughts on how things should be. His second verse is rapid fire, and he stays on point with how things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. Pretty soon these textures switch up and it almost sounds like a different song here. Derek wears his heart on his sleeve for the broken, the lost, and the dying. He’s explaining his heart for and the world’s need for equality. He wasn’t lying about this project being full of important songs. The best part is that he’s couching it all in a way that I think people will listen.
“Gotta Go” has some trippy synth lines all mashed together, with a deep trap bass. Derek kicks it off with a hook and jumps into a “yeah, yeah” flow, rolling into double time, then changes his tone and slows up. It’s a masterful display of a performance. You get the full spectrum of everything that could possibly happen to a beat like this all in one verse. He continues to throw out melodies and digs into his voice a bit with some emotion at the end. The theme of this track is very similar to the last one, seems to be expanding on the idea of his dreams of living in a better place.
The next track, “Black Market,” begins with a fuzzy bass line. After another hook to begin, there’s some scratching and an east-coast vibe comes in as Derek chants “Black market, black market.”
“Black men are mascots for hell on earth/Tookie started the crips and tell us on your turf/so now we shoot in the gym or the block for survival/but either way we Blue Devils/My cousin went to jail for selling weed/now in Colorado you get green leaf with green tea/At first pumpkin spice latte’s were hood/now she throw yoga pants and uggz on that smoke in Denver”
Here at the end there’s a 70’s style electric guitar solo, and a drum kit comes in. Once again, Derek’s choices in his inflections and the tone of his voice at certain points make what he’s saying jump out at you like you’re reading a 3-D book. The way he adds texture to a song enhances the song to another level.
Moving along, we hear the song “Decisions,” which was a single from this project. The structure of this one is terrific. There’s storytelling, trading bars with the features, and the listening experience changes rapidly as the story/song progresses. The way the music adds layers and sound effects as well as peels back in certain places is great. This song is so different from all these other tracks, it’s set apart because of the creative directions here. It’s not all carried by Derek, it’s a true collaboration. There was a lot of thought and intentionality put into this one.
Storytelling At Its Finest
The subject matter throughout this project seems to be focused on this internal battle and the creation and destruction of societal structures we have in place for certain people to fail and others to thrive. Derek puts us as a listener directly in the middle of the struggle and instead of guilting the listener into feeling a certain way, he offers a perspective for you to consider. He offers a certain lens for you to view this world with.
With “Goodbye Lullaby,” we start out cool and calm. The melody here with the autotune and the doubling is soothing. The juxtaposition of this vibe with the hard and pointed bars that drop on the verse is a perfect match. At the halfway mark, the music bed changes to an eerie feel, and the overall tone is changed. Still the pondering of the idea that there could be a God is strong. “If there is a God and you’re listening I’m tired of it all” Derek sings a bit for us here, as the music changes to light and hopeful. In the darkness, God’s light shines even brighter.
“Don’t Cry” is a pop influenced cheerful track. It sounds celebratory and like the weight we’ve dealt with in the past tracks has been lifted.
Deviating a bit from this sound, is “See You Win.” It’s still big and sounds like a party, but that thumpin bass is back and positive sounding trap is actually dope. This is an anthem here.
To close out this album is the song “Revolution.” This beat is absolutely insane. Not sure I’ve heard anything like it. There’s so many different samples pulled and working together it’s catastrophic and beautiful all at once. At the midway point, it changes to a Mobb Deep feel, and Derek is killin this track.
“I’ve been cast out by people that called me brother/Now I murder everything you put me on like I’m Killmonger/Mmm whatever I got my things together/I don’t sweat it even in hell with three sweaters/The flow frozen on a new level/I could build a snowman on the head of the devil/ sheesh/look what the game done did to me/I watch you get fat while I starved out with my team/But He taught us how to hunt, our aim is pristine/Eating venison and all the fixins with my regime”
Alright so… Derek Minor is off the chain. This album is extremely dope. There were a lot of things to deal with throughout this album. Derek places you in the middle of all of these doubts, questions, decisions, and in the middle of this raw and cruel world. The best part is when he comes alongside of you and points you to light. This album has as many dark moments as it does light and brings it all to you with refreshing depth. The production is top notch. There have been so so many “Above The Bar” albums released this year, it’s awesome. This one is near the top of the pack. If you haven’t heard this I don’t know what you’re waiting for. CHH doesn’t get any more quality than this.
Overall Rating: Above The Bar