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Songs We Love: Trapo, 'Speed'

Trapo's latest album is titled <em>Shade Trees</em>.
Ben Vogel
Trapo's latest album is titled Shade Trees.

Madison, Wisc., singer and rapper Trapo was in third grade when he started scrawling rhymes in notebooks. Now less than a year removed from high school, he's ready for — and deserving of — a massive audience. For one thing, he's already developed a distinct songwriting voice to go with a sonic palette that's instantly, identifiably his. Trapo performs with a beguiling mix of rawness and ache, often lending a growl to his delivery that can sound tender, or desperate, or angry.

"Speed," from his album Shade Trees, opens peacefully enough, as a few gentle nature sounds give way to a woozy beat. But from there, Trapo leads the song through a conflicted set of images that signify some combination of wistfulness ("you're something to live for / adjusting your lip gloss") and destruction ("ash in all of my clothes"). Alternately peaceful and hard-charging, the arrangement only reinforces the contradictions, heightening the tormented drama even as it allows for a bit of catharsis.

Given his Midwest roots — and the room his songs find for both singing and rapping — Trapo is bound to draw Chance The Rapper comparisons, though his sung parts also exude the knotty vulnerability of Frank Ocean. But at 19, Trapo already sounds distinct and immediately recognizable as himself: a prodigiously gifted teenager with a world of talent and potential.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)