Image via Certified Trapper/Instagram
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Isaac Fontes wears plaid flannels for the drip, not because it’s a national pastime.
Frenetic hand claps. A booming bass line. Freestyled raps with punchy one-liners about getting money, x-rated flirtations, and ingenious shit-talking. An accompanying DIY music video featuring green screened scenes of anything from screenshots of random streets on Google Maps, to a photo of Johnny Dang sitting on a gold throne, to a bowl of Fruit Loops. This is the Certified Trapper experience as he takes over the Milwaukee rap scene. Falling down the rabbit hole of the hundreds of self-directed music videos on Trapper’s YouTube channel is a delight. His videos are typically shot in his home studio as he flaunts his dance moves and consistently rocks his signature look: shiny grills and Cartier sunglasses.
Certified Trapper’s music is the meeting ground for the candid street rap of pioneers like Gucci Mane and Chief Keef, mixed with the outlandish inventive qualities of artists like Young Thug or Lil B. When street raps with charismatic flair and improvised imagination unite with the bouncy, clap-heavy production, it creates a sound unlike anything heard before. The beats, whose space is filled with the relentless rhythm of 808s, naturally provide Certified Trapper with ample space to flex his “low-end” regionality.
Raised on the Eastside of Milwaukee, Trapper first gravitated towards 50 Cent before discovering Chief Keef, Waka Flocka Flame, and Future. He started out rapping over “type” beats found on YouTube, but once this process of using, and paying for beats created by other creatives became mundane, he decided to briefly attend the Milwaukee Area Technical College to learn how to make beats for himself. He had his eyes set on becoming a one-man show. As a kid, Trapper was making and experimenting with an assortment of different musical styles and releasing these jaunts online – including an early remix of Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” that’s been removed from the internet entirely. “I did a remix to that and then I just… I did one beat, but I never stayed [with] it. Like, my dad used to want me to make beats, but I never stayed [with] it, then I had to go to school to actually learn about the software,” he says.
Music serves as an escape, keeping him away from the vices and the street activities of his past. It’s allowed him to maintain his focus on taking care of his three kids and putting on for his city. Last year, Trapper served an 80-day stint in prison; an obstacle that temporarily paused his momentum at a pivotal time in his development as an artist. He used the situation, which provided him time away from drugs, to toughen up mentally. The mistreatment at the hands of correctional officers was terrible, but the situation as a whole altered his mindset going forward.
Despite being locked up, Certified Trapper still managed to drop a total of 14 mixtapes and countless music videos in 2022, propelling himself and his sound to new heights. After several years cultivating his sound, it’s begun to pay off for Trapper and his city. Although home to acts like the legendary R&B singer Eric Benét, the comedian Gene Wilder and an annually-contending NBA franchise led by one of the game’s most dominant scorers in Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s a city that’s historically been left out of recent national conversations surrounding hip-hop when scenes like South Florida, Flint, and Atlanta have taken over. Alongside Trapper, Lakeyah has been flooding the streets with her charisma and raunchy raps leading her to signing with Quality Control Music, and becoming the first Milwaukee-born rapper to be named a XXL Freshman. While Chicken P and Mariboy Mula Mar need to be on everyone’s radar too.
Late last year, Certified Trapper officially signed with Signal Records – a Columbia-affiliated label started by former APG and Capitol Executive Jeff Vaughn. On June 16th, he officially dropped his long-awaited project, Trapper of the Year, his first of 2023.
A couple days before he began embarking on his current U.S. tour alongside his close collaborator and friend BabyTron, I had the opportunity to speak to Certified Trapper over Zoom, for an expansive conversation during which we discussed his creative process, the creation of his frenetic sound, remixing a Justin Bieber song early on in his career and much more.
(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)