Karaoke is a night for friends to get together, have fun, and make memories. Trap Karaoke is different. This unique experience brings people together and creates more of a community than anything else. It is a safe space for people to let go and express themselves. We chat with the creator of Trap Karaoke, Jason Mowatt, about trap music and this special event, which comes to Philly this Saturday, July 16 at Coda in Center City.
What is trap karaoke?
There are two ways to describe it. The first is going to Trap Karaoke is like going to church, but instead of “Amazing Grace,” you are singing “Back That Azz Up.” The other way is a user generated concert experience. It’s not only trap music we have done events with a live band, we have done a R&B edition, and we’ve had actual artists come through and perform with fans. Trap music is part of it but it is more so about this user generated concert experience where the fans are at the center of the experience and they are the ones creating it. I saw something missing because going to music festivals as a fan there is a 20 feet of barcade between the fans and the stage. There is this huge gap and I thought it would be interesting to have the fans at the center of the experience. The fans are the ones actually on stage. We actually get artists to perform the songs with the fans. We had someone perform do "Down in the DM" and had Yo Gotti surprise them and do the song on stage with them. So we are creating that connection between the fans and the artists. Which I think has eroded over the past few years.
How did it get started?
The original inception of the idea started out as a text message between me and a friend. It wasn’t anything serious we didn’t have a grand plan to do anything. It was around the time “Dirty Sprite 2” came out and this guy is a big Future fan and one day we were texting and I was like — “You’re such a big Future fan wouldn’t it be cool if you could do Future Karaoke?” We were pretty much “hahaha” and that was the end of it. But my background is doing events and marketing a music festival in D.C from 2012-2014, so I kinda had that experience. When this idea came to me, I sorta knew how to execute it. I am also the director of marketing at a social media technology company, so a lot of things came together. From there I sorta figured out what I had to do to make it happen. I had the first event in September of 2015 and then about a month later we were already on the road taking it to D.C. Since then we have been to dozens of cities. A big part of my motivation for this is building a community. Especially around trap music.
How would you describe trap music for people who don’t know what it is?
That’s an interesting question. What differentiates trap music from other genres or other types of hip-hop is probably the production. There is a lot of heavy bass and snare and there is more of a bounce to it. You have producers like Sonny Digital, DJ Esco, Metro Boomin — these guys are really well known for producing a lot of the music of trap today. There is a long lineage of trap. The phrase was first coined by Outcast and then you’ve had different versions, whether it is in Atlanta or Houston or New Orleans. It’s the type of music that is not very Top 40. Subject matter has to do with hustling or bragging. It’s also known for having catchy hooks. It’s been around for a very long time. Now with Future, people see it and think that it is a new thing, but it has been around for a really long time. It probably stuck around from other variations of hip-hop. There is a high energy there that people gravitate towards.
I want to go back to the environment of your Trap Karaoke events. I’ve seen videos of trap karaoke and it seems like you are building a community more than throwing a party.
Absolutely. That is a core motivation for this. It’’s about human connection. That’s the magic of trap karaoke. It’s not just people doing karaoke to this kind of music, it’s the kind of environment where people feel free to let go. We’re creating this safe space for people to come together that goes beyond the novelty of doing karaoke to trap music. There is a lot that goes into that environment so that people feel like they can just let their hair down and have a good time.
What are some of your favorite karaoke songs in general? Favorite Trap Karaoke songs?
I can tell some of the most impressive things I’ve seen. There is a gentleman in the Bay area that did International “Players Anthem.” He requested that song and we were like, “Are you going to do it?” cause that is a big song in pop culture and you can’t mess it up. So we cue the mic and he knows all the words and half way through he is dancing on the stage. The whole crowd was going crazy. It’s probably one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and probably one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. He is actually on our Trap Karaoke Hall of Fame on our website. That song is one of our really popular ones.
Have you ever jumped up there and sang a song?
Never. [Laughs] Never. I’ve done it during sound check, but it is harder than you think. Reading the lyrics off the screen and trying to perform is really tough. I tip my hat to anyone that does it. I think the best thing you can do when you get on that stage is to sing a song you already know so you don’t have to read the lyrics off.
In D.C, Black Lives Matter activist, Deray Mackesson, was at Trap Karaoke. What did that mean to you?
That meant a lot. He has been to a couple events of ours. He was at the D.C event. He was also at the Bay Area event. That mattered a lot and let me tell you why. The day we arrived at the Bay area event there was a huge protest and that is why Deray was there. One of the bridges got shut down, people were chaining themselves to their cars and locked down that bridge. The Bay Area is an interesting city and it’s probably one of my favorite cities for trap karaoke. I started thinking, there is so much context around these events. There is a lot of social, political, and economical stuff that’s usually going on. That’s typically responsible for the response we get because people want a safe space. Even with all the madness going on, sometimes you need a break from that. So a safe space like Trap Karaoke is a place for people to come to and have fellowship and let go of a lot of that anxiety. That’s way I thought it was really awesome that Deray came because we support what he does and it is cool to see that he supports what we do.
Where do you see Trap Karaoke going in five years?
Wow, that’s a really interesting question. [Laughs] Five years is a really long time. It hasn’t even been a year yet. It is only nine months old. It’s been really cool to see how fast things have gone. Honestly, I don’t know where Trap Karaoke will be in five years. The thing that motivates me is this idea of creating community and finding better ways to do that. Also getting people a memorable experience where they can be on stage with their favorite artist. That is something that you can expect a lot and we have some surprise guests coming to Philly on Saturday. So you want to look out for that.
If you go