On a Monday night in March, Orlando rapper/singer Trap Hamilton was leaving a comedy show at Harry Buffalo on Church Street when a car rolled by, "Trap or Die" floating out its windows. The driver immediately recognized the artist behind the song walking down the street and called out to him. Hamilton was unfazed. He stopped what he was doing and spent time chatting with the fan. The man was ecstatic.
Despite his emerging local fame, Hamilton stays grounded. "I don't care about being important," he says.
Though Hamilton is recognized as one of the foremost representatives of trap-soul in Orlando, the irony is that until a scant few years ago, he didn't even know he could sing. That deep, warm voice was hiding out, waiting for an opportunity.
"I mean, I always loved R&B music. The type of music I like was dying. All the music was about sex, it was uptempo, the Migos flow. But '90s R&B music had so much meaning to it. It had powerful messages," Hamilton says. "I was like, 'I know I can write this music. Let me try.'"
The "Trap or Die" single was the result of these efforts, a tuneful series of intimate musical snapshots of his day-to-day experiences in the City Beautiful. Hamilton's lyrics tell the stories of his life, illuminating the beauty and dignity of the ordinary ... with no fronting. It was first recorded in 2018 at his favorite studio, 212 Recording in Altamonte Springs, but Hamilton wasn't happy with his performance on the track. However, he stuck with the mad-scientist engineers at 212 and refined his work, recording and re-recording another seven times until he felt he got it right. "Trap or Die" was finally released in May 2020.
For more than a year, "Trap or Die" has gained momentum organically and become the work Hamilton is best known for, though he has been rapping much longer. His shows — whether at smaller spots like Soundbar or larger venues like the Beacham and Tier, or even stadiums like Auburndale Speedway — often turn into mass "Trap or Die" sing-alongs. The audience knows every word.
As long as I got my fire
Just know that it's trap or die
You know that we live a thug life
Just know I'ma trap all night
Born Paris Sketers, he grew up on the west side of Orlando in the heart of Pine Hills off Silver Star Road. In sixth grade, he and his friend Jarvis rode the bus together to Carver Middle School, wrote verses, and called themselves the Hot Boys.
Hamilton continued rapping and produced upward of 200 songs. He seemingly never stops working at his music. Hamilton easily logs 30 hours in the studio every month. A consummate multitasker, he strings together his day job, family obligations and music like a master weaver.
A silver-tongued rapper with genius-level cadence and intonation that's completely his own, Hamilton is leaning into neo-soul as he develops his unique singing voice — his performing alias is a nod to fellow crooner Anthony Hamilton. Like that soulful singer, Trap Hamilton stays on top form with every release, self-expressive and untroubled by a desire for fame. And that's the very thing making him popular.
His latest album, released in April, is the mixtape Trapper No Trapping, (available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud) with cover art depicting Dora the Explorer being carried away over the shoulder of the notorious, sneaky fox Swiper.
Trapper No Trapping is sexy and playful. The mixtape is sample-heavy, unabashedly borrowing from Erykah Badu, LL Cool J, SZA, Jaheim and others. Ask why Hamilton would make a record he can't profit from, especially when he has a deep catalog of unreleased originals. He'll tell you simply: He did it because it's fun. And Hamilton is fun.
See him get up and dance in the middle of a restaurant. See him take interviews at a barbershop. See him inhabit any space as if it's his living room, joyfully unaware of protocol. He has a pied piper quality that's mesmerizing and magnetic, and this translates to his music, with addictive flows that demand to be played on repeat.
This playfulness also translates to the stage, where Hamilton engages the audience personally and honestly, making them laugh and sing and smile. There's not a hint of nerves.
"I've never really had stage fright. I feel like if you nervous, you doing something you ain't got no business doing," says Hamilton. "I'm sure about my craft. I've been perfecting the music for a long time. So this is why I got a chance to show people what I can do."
On June 26, Hamilton most definitely showed what he can do. Featured as one of four acts in the R&B Ain't Dead showcase at the Beacham, he took the stage like it belonged to him, connecting with the audience like he knew each one by name. They responded. They sang with him. His clever ad-libs yielded big smiles. Hamilton taught them how to say his name the way he likes it: "TRAP!" with an upward inflection at the end, almost like a question.
Say his name that way and he'll answer with the gift of his voice, his energy and his love of music.