Poland is a country of contrasts. It’s a hybrid of post-Soviet melancholy and patriotic glory, a country that looks back on Catholic tradition whilst looking forward with a selective fascination of western trends. Trap music has suddenly became one of the country’s most popular genres. As a hip-hop offshoot that’s closely aligned with US street rap culture, why has the genre resonated so strongly with the Polish youth?
The ‘90s saw much upheaval in society as a result of the fall of Communism. This was a catalyst for awakening the first hip-hop movements in the country, which gave Polish rappers the power to bring their street rhymes to the public. Fast-forward nearly 30 years and a new wave of young artists are using alternative trap sounds to capture raw facets of Polish identity.
Polish trap is being popularised across the nation via YouTube, Soundcloud and, in recent years, on radio. While some of the artists focus on directly recreating the sound of American trap, some rewire the genre completely and take inspiration from obscure Slavic aesthetics. With the latter, think about the Estonian rapper Tommy Cash as the post-Soviet poster boy but dial everything down; the niche end of Polish trap music is visually bare-boned, effortlessly authentic. The unique sound of the Polish language gives the rappers across the genre – from the bombastic US-influenced acts to the low budget street preachers – the ability to create characteristic ad libs: a surprising twist to mainstream music. From auto-tune and nostalgic lyrics to flamboyant and upbeat melodies, together these artists represent the eclectic nature of Polish trap music.
Taco (Filip Szcześniak) is definitely the most recognisable Polish trap artist. Despite his status, he shies away from in-your-face advertising on social and traditional media. Taco started to gain traction in 2014 thanks to releases that heard him criticise life in Warsaw as a young adult. His output to date tends to resemble an audio drama, in which he creates naturalistic, atmospheric, and visual stories. Taco’s focus is on the many flaws of society as well as on his own imperfections and passions. The rapper’s music gives listeners the chance to dive into a world where everything smells, he tells us, like “cigarettes and cauliflower.” It’s where long summer days provide respite from a melancholic feeling that can only be soothed by drinking by the Vistula river.
Pro8l3m are a hip-hop duo who despite national fame remain enigmatic. Possessing a more traditional, aggressive way of rapping (performed by Oskar Tuszyński), Pro8l3m’s sound maintains the ominous and synthesized effects of trap music thanks to inventive production by Piotr “Steez” Szulc. The pair often reflect on hedonism where drugs, money, tracksuits, women and vodka are life’s only virtues. The duo’s aesthetic and music videos bring out the raw, violent and chilling beats that echo the obscure images of partying that they so vividly refer to.
Quebonafide (Kuba Grabowski) is the most extravagant Polish trap artist. His sound plays out like some cross between Lil Uzi Vert and SuicideBoys. Quebo rose to fame thanks to his project ‘Egzotyka’ in which he recorded music in numerous locations across the globe. The rapper often jumps from dark melodies and lyrics about past trauma to more energetic, bright tunes that you can enjoy at a house party. His collaborative project with Taco Hemingway, TACONAFIDE, was a huge success in 2018. The pair’s collaborative albums ‘SOMA 0,5 mg’ and ‘SOMA 0,25 mg’ critiqued a generation that feeds on attention, narcissism and stimulants. Elsewhere on the album the artists reflect on and examine personal demons.
Hewra is a rap collective that is part of a more underground trap movement that embraces niche Polish street culture. The collective tends to use hypnotic beats and a rawer way of spitting bars, which makes their ‘from the bloc’ aesthetic very authentic.
Miłosz Stępień, known under the stage name Otsochodzi, is a young rapper who brings out the lighter side of trap. His cheeky style of mumble rap and his catchy choruses, combined with energetic beats and warm samples, make for very characteristic songs indeed.
Bedoes (Borys Przybylski) sits more at odds with many of the other acts mentioned here but it would unwise to exclude him from this list; his music is liked, somewhat ironically, by teenagers. His first records are full of melodious, auto-tuned choruses but more recently he’s shifted to trap metal that recalls Tekashi 6ix9ine or Ghostemane.
Words: Julia Czub