Figuring It Out: A Conversation With Trap Toys
Barbie and Ken have some new neighbors
If you grew up during the ’90s, there’s a good chance that you hunted for the Pogs, Transformers, Legos, and comics at any store your parents took you to. As you got older, the Wu-Tang, Tupac, and Three 6 Mafia started to take up more of your time and (parents’) money. But what if there was a toy that combined your love of action figures and the music that soundtracked your adolescent and young adult life? Wonder no more. Tony and Adam are U.K. based creatives who comprise Trap Toys, the brand you wished existed 20 years ago.
They started out with an Action Bronson and Bernard Rollins collaboration that received blessings from Action himself. While they couldn’t sell due to legal complications, Fool’s Gold’s A-Trak soon reached out to prep their first official release for sale. From there, the ideas kept rolling into Tony’s head, and Adam helped realize them into physical form.
Trap Toys’ most recent project was an Eazy-E and He-Man collaboration that spawned a figure and a T-shirt. They consistently sell out, so if you plan on copping anything Trap Toys related, be sure to follow their Instagram. While you wait for their next announcement, you can read our interview with Tony below, where he discusses his favorite toys, hip hop artists, and scrapped ideas that never came to fruition.
Mass Appeal: How did you guys link up?
Tony: It was actually via Instagram. I had been customizing toys into rappers with some success, and I wanted to team up with someone who knew how to cast them in resin so that they could be sold in limited quantities. Luckily, Adam had the skills and was able to see the vision of the brand.
What are some of your favorite toys now?
Joseph Harmon makes some amazing bootleg toys, like “The Drug Dealing Shark,” who comes complete with a free bag of cocaine!
Why did you choose to use toys as a medium for your art?
I love all kinds of toys and have a big collection. I think the silly names that rappers give themselves fit perfectly with characters from cartoons and movies. I also like the juxtaposition between tough-guy rapper and childish action figures.
What were some of the ideas you scrapped for the company?
[Laughs] “Company” is a strong word. At this point we’re just two guys messing around. I have a junkyard of scrapped ideas in my brain. There are some rappers that I’d love to make into a toy, but can’t think of a good mashup for them. The key is NOT to force ideas… if it ain’t working, just leave it alone.
Can you give us a few ideas that you ditched?
“Wu-Tang Man”: An action figure made up of a mixture of WU parts like golden arms, ODB’s hair, wallabies, etc. “Skeptor”: A Skepta X Skeletor mashup. Danny Brown mixed with Pinky from Pinky and the Brain. [Laughs] You can see why we scrapped ‘em!
What were some music and non-music artists you loved back then and now, besides Wu-Tang, Action Bronson, and Run The Jewels?
In terms of music, it’s mainly ’90s boom bap. But there’s some great stuff out there at the moment like Flatbush Zombies, Earl Sweatshirt, A$AP Rocky, the TDE crew, Pro Era—and being from the U.K., we’re obviously loving grime artists like Skepta and Stormzy.
Do the hip hop-inspired figures have plot lines?
Nope, personally I can’t be fucked with all that. We’re solely interested in the character mashups and the visual strength of the final product.
How did you come up with Spider Mandem and Easy-He figures?
Eazy-He was just a lightening bolt moment. I jumped straight onto Google expecting it to have been done a thousand times, but to my surprise there were no matches. Spider-Mandem is a character that our mate Richt had been drawing for a while. He’s an illustrator and fellow toy collector. He wanted to create a bootleg figure of his infamous character, so he teamed up with us to make it happen.
Have you guys approached artists to use their image or work on something together and they said no?
The first toy we made was with Bernard Rollins. We wanted to do a Simpsons-style Action Bronson figure, so we Googled it and his work came up. His illustrations are awesome, so we contacted him to ask if he’d be up for a collab. He agreed and the figure was a runaway success. In fact, it was so popular that it got shutdown by Bronson’s lawyers!
What do you guys listen to, if anything, while you work?
I listen to a lot of rap-related shows like Dead End Hip Hop, The Breakfast Club, and Sway in the Morning.
Have you received weird requests from artists to work on a project?
Yeah, loads! We have to be really careful about what and who we choose to work with. We’d love to be able to say yes to more projects, but each time we embark on a new toy, we’re committing to at least four months of hard work.
Whether creatively, technically, or businesswise, what are some things you’ve learned so far from Trap Toys?
1. You can’t please everyone; some people are very easily offended.
2. People will try/do anything for a “freebie.”
3. The postal service around the world sucks.
4. People have more money than sense, which is a good thing!
5. We don’t know half as much about hip hop as we thought we did.
Can you elaborate a little more on the fifth point?
I’ve been listening to rap music since I was 12… shit that’s 18 years! I used to love labels like Def Jux, Stones Throw, and Rhyme Sayers, but then the Internet happened and everything changed. There’s no such thing as underground or alternative hip hop anymore. It’s one big melting pot of music. So, I’ve broadened my horizons and have started listening to more, including stuff that I wouldn’t have touched a few years back. Releasing myself from those “purist” shackles felt good, and I encourage everyone from my generation to do the same. Still, you gotta swim through a ton of bull shit to find the gold though!
Can you speak on any future projects planned for 2016 and beyond?
You are the first to know that we’re teaming up with Bernard Rollins again on another toy. We’ve also got an absolute banger coming with our buddy Dan Evans, who was the illustrator on Eazy-He. So basically, big things are g’wan for 2016!