Last week in Atlanta, Georgia, an unassuming house on 1530 Howell Mill Road that had been painted bright pink in promotion of rapper 2 Chainz’s latest album, “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music,” was whitewashed back to its original eggshell hue.
For the past several weeks, the Pink Trap House installation had been a lot of things to different people. A quick search of the #PinkTrapHouse hashtag on Instagram shows it was a major tourist attraction to followers of 2 Chainz and lovers of trap music, a subgenre of rap originating in the South, with Atlanta arguably being its central hub. To others, it was an art gallery, housing local artists’ depictions of other groundbreaking rappers such as Tupac and André 3000. To some, it was a free HIV testing site, as 2 Chainz opened a temporary STD clinic in the house over Fourth of July weekend.
But for Pastor Michael Wortham of Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, it became the home of “trap church,” an event hosted behind the Pink Trap House last week. Wortham along with other community organizers collaborated with 2 Chainz to host a church service that focused on local activism and social justice.
“The trap” is typically a place where drugs are sold, but has more generally come to mean where people gather or where something is accomplished. Though in recent years, it’s become widely commodified and commercialized, trap culture has often signified a lifestyle of drug dealing, gangbanging, street violence and the feeling of hopelessness that can pervade all these things.
“We can’t forget there are real-life experiences that inform trap music, and it’s daily living for a lot people. Many of us consume trap music as entertainment, but don’t think about the systemic issues that keep people trapped within trap culture,” says Wortham to RD.
“You can’t talk about trap without talking about poverty, homeless, income inequality, substance abuse and drug policies. We need to listen to it with a different ear. That’s what the trap church was about.”
In the service, Wortham explored the church’s role in trap culture and encouraged the crowd of attendees, mostly black Atlanta professionals, to become involved in local organizations such as Street Groomers, Black Lives Matter Atlanta and Housing Justice League.
Though the Pink Trap House is no more, in its ephemerality, the space drew attention to social issues and questions of divine justice that one wouldn’t expect from a low-pitched, bungalow-style house in the industrial West Midtown neighborhood of Atlanta. The house was more than just a clever marketing ploy for an album drop, it was an innovative vehicle for movement-building that used a rap icon to get its message across to those in a position to act.
“As a young professional, I know I have a responsibility to work on behalf of my brothers and sisters who are in constant survival mode,” says Wortham. “They don’t have time to think about the system, they’re trying to feed their families. Whereas I’m in a position where I can deal with public policy and on-the-ground issues.”
When listening to “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music,” which many are calling 2 Chainz’s magnum opus, one is transported to his formative years in College Park, Atlanta and follows his journey to the top of the rap game. Addressing his mother’s problems with addiction, his father’s drug dealing and the deaths of close friends throughout the album, he concludes with a soulful bit of trap gospel, professing a passionate ode to the music genre that saved his life.
The artist also released a gospel rendition of one of the most popular tracks off the album, “Good Drank 2.0,” which highlights the vocal stylings of his backup singers, the “Trap Choir.”
Wortham, who identifies himself as a hip hop theologian, has long-believed in the power of hip hop music to uplift blighted communities, with the Pink Trap House only being one example. Wortham hopes this isn’t the final iteration of trap church. He would like for the concept to live on beyond the pink house—for activism and engagement to eventually be seen as a form of trap church.
Through his own project, Hymns & Hip Hop, Wortham aims to do similar events that focus on utilizing the intersection of black church culture and hip hop culture as a mode of resistance.
“As much as the church raised me, hip hop raised me too. I want the momentum of trap church to continue. That’s why we pointed attendees in the direction of all these local organizations. We want trap church to become a state of mind.”