King Retro on his expansive vision for trap music

The Madison-based rapper discusses how psychedelics and subgenre limitations have shaped his music.

Photo by Zach Pulvermacher.

Photo by Zach Pulvermacher.

Taking a cursory listen through the Soundcloud page of King Retro, real name Branden Higgans, does little to distinguish him from your run-of-the-mill trap artist, let alone establish a sort of logic for everything he has done so far. Most of his offerings to date, like "NoGo," though infectious, well-constructed and demonstrative of his tight flow pocket, suggest he has yet to develop a distinctive voice of his own.

The songs that really demonstrate the emcee's potential and something approaching a style of his own, which he dubs "trippy trap," are "LSD," "Bad Trip (LSD Part Two)," and possibly "XXX," from his recently released Retrospective EP. These songs laced not so much with psychedelic sonics but with entire verses dedicated to Higgans' experiences tripping and the effects, positive and negative, they've had on his psyche. "Bad Trip" is particularly potent, with its sinister keys and at times distorted vocals.

His song with Twin Cities rapper and sometimes Madisonian Lucien Parker, "100 Backwoods," occupies a sort of middle ground. With its crisp snares and sinister keys, the track contains a few references to psychedelics, but lacks the psychological weight of the aforementioned tracks. It's conventional trap with a few shades of trippy trap.

As with his music, there is more beneath the surface of Higgans the person. He carries himself with a confidence that seems rooted in a deep self-awareness. Currently 18 years old, Higgans only moved to Madison a few years ago. Born in New York and raised in Milwaukee, Higgans has spent time behind bars as well as in a halfway home. Now he finds himself in party-heavy and more laid-back Madison. These contrasting experiences have shaped Higgans' music, as well as his deep, yet anti-religious, spiritualism.

"Trippy trap," then, is more than just a musical style for Higgans. It's part of his grand ambition to not only make it as an artist but to change the way people perceive trap music as a whole. It also says more about his personal experience than one might notice on first listen.

Tone Madison: So, the obvious part to your music, the stuff you first showed me, is the LSD/psychedelic influence. Where did that come from?

Branden Higgans: Lucid dreaming is what got me into acid.

Tone Madison: Really, so you can lucid dream?

Branden Higgans: This is what happened. I was locked up and shit. I had just got out, I went to a group home, right? I was 13 or 14. So I'm sitting in my bed, right? And I wake up. I'm like, "Wait. What's going on? Something feels off." So I tried to yell. I'm like, "Ah!" But I can't yell. So the next day, bro, I woke up. I'm like, "What the fuck was that? I know I was up last night." But I wasn't. And then I started looking that shit up. Then I started studying how to lucid dream.

Tone Madison: And from there you eventually got into acid?

Branden Higgans: Yeah, I did research on that for two years before I tried it.

Tone Madison: So then how did you decide to mix that with trap music?

Branden Higgans: It's who I am. It's where I come from since I was five or six I always wanted to be an artist, but people always told me I couldn't become one. But as I get older it isn't about that anymore. It's about changing the way people view trap music. I'm trying to do what Travis Scott is not going to do. I want to hear the revolutionized trap. He had that but he fucked up, when went he went way too mainstream.

Tone Madison: What are you trying to correct about the way people view trap music? What needs to be fixed in that regard?

Branden Higgans: I want people to view trap music as if you can actually be creative with it. A lot of people just view trap music as "oh, you're talking about guns, oh you're talking about killing people." That's not the reality of how trap really is. I'm trying to make it where you don't think of trap as shooting guns.

Tone Madison: Yeah, I remember reading something about Chief Keef, even though I know drill and trap aren't the same. Anyways Keef, or the author, basically said something to the effect of drill not being celebratory, but more like anaesthesia.

Branden Higgans: Yeah, and I know people who live the drill or trap lifestyle, where their lives don't just consist of selling drugs or shooting all the time. It's much much more than that. That's what I'm trying to show with my music. I'm going to slow it down and vibe it up and try and show other sides to all of this. That's where acid comes in, because you don't know a lot of people who are doing the trap life but are doing psychedelics. It's about changing the ways and the aspects of how trap music is portrayed.

Tone Madison: OK, so if I'm understanding all this, it doesn't necessarily have to be just about acid or psychedelics. What you're trying to prove is that trap has the potential as an art form to be able to absorb an influence like that in the first place?

Branden Higgans: Yeah, and for me that [influence] is pure psychedelics. But you can literally put anything into trap music.

Tone Madison: I think a lot what you're talking about in terms of how people perceive trap music also has to do with racism and classism as well. Is that something you're consciously battling?

Branden Higgans: That's definitely something I think about. Me and my brother Quintino, we made a song called "Fantasy" which is dropping Sept. 19. We basically talk about the fantasy of happiness, and how racism plays into our everyday lives. We've got a lot of things on deck.

Tone Madison: When we last spoke you told me Retrospective was going to be a 12-track concept album, but it ended up a 5-track EP. What happened?

Branden Higgans: Basically, I lost interest in the project. I kept thinking about Trippy Relations, which will be that concept album. I still like how Retrospective turned out, though. I think it will really set the table for Trippy Relations.

Tone Madison: And what will that be like?

Brendan Higgans: Trippy Relations is about my girlfriend. This did happen, but it didn't happen. The longer she stayed in Florida, the more tabs I started doing. Each day she's there longer, I'm beginning to lose my mind.

Tone Madison: So that concept there. I guess part of that is going back what you said early, to prove that a trap album could have a concept like that. But why is that concept important in of itself, like as art?

Brendan Higgans: It's my personality. It's who I am. Acid shaped who I am. I did it to the point where my mind was scrambled. I had to pick those pieces up and put them back together to make who I am today. I tell it as a story, instead of bits and pieces, so that people will really listen. There's also something you should know, though. I'm not fixing to rap forever, after this I'm switching over to rock.

Tone Madison: Why?

Brendan Higgans: Because I'm not a rapper. I'm an artist.