Mumble rap and trap MC’s
Evolution Or Distortion?
What is evolution? When I looked up the definition of evolving here is what I have found. “To change or develop slowly often into a better, more complex, or more advanced state”. But that is not the way I feel when I listen to hip-hop these days to be honest. I feel like hip-hop is doing the exact opposite of evolving, which would be decreasing, maybe not musically but in terms of lyrics the regression is undeniable. These days the debates new school vs old school are very trendy, this topic keeps coming back all over the internet, more specifically inside the hip-hop community.
A new era of artists has emerged and they are really different than what hip-hop was accustomed to until now, not only musically but also stylistically speaking. Unfortunately for them, most of these rappers have a hard time being accepted by their older peers although their fan base (which is mainly the younger generation) really appreciates them. People call them mumble rappers or simply trap MC’s. The likes of Chief Keef, Lil Uzi Vert, Future, Young Thug, Cardi B, Migos, Lil Yachty and many others, all fall into that category. For some, this type of rappers are just what today’s hip-hop is supposed to sound like and they consider that those who can’t accept this are simply conservative or bitter and don’t want to accept evolution of the hip-hop culture. Others believe that those rappers are simply trash, uneducated, and think that they shouldn’t have their place in the culture at all. Yes, everything has to evolve at some point, but has rap music evolved the way it was supposed to or has it been distorted along the way? We are going to attempt to clear the air on this debate. But keep in mind this is not me judging who is right or wrong, I’m no hip-hop judge and all I have to give is my perspective. And this is what I’m going to give you in those lines, I’ll try my best and give you my perspective in the most honest way that I can.
First let me tell you that I have tried to see the issue from different angles, I understand that some of these new rappers are very young, some of them were born at the end of the 90’s and therefore aren’t really familiar with the previous eras, and to be honest nobody can blame them for that, we don’t get to choose when we were born and what we are attracted to.
When it comes to rap people are sometimes too quick to judge and give their opinion based on their own current views, when really music has to be enjoyed and felt. I believe in what I call “traveling through hip-hop” which is the process of slowly discovering an era of music you know nothing about, whether you’re a new listener who is unfamiliar with the old generations of hip-hop, or at the contrary an old listener who failed to get familiar with the new stuff. I like to discover an old artist and to slowly and patiently listen to everything that artist has to offer with their discography. You may not feel the same way and that’s fine, but depending on how old you are you might need to do just that in order to understand hip-hop as a whole. Now you can wonder “why would I want to understand hip-hop as a whole?” Hip-hop is about “Knowledge” and It’s a culture that uses references and some specificities which actually makes it a culture and not just a trend, not being able to understand it’s origins or it’s goals means not being entitled to decide what it’s evolution should be. If the forerunners of hip-hop had treated hip-hop like a trend the way these new rappers do, these same new rappers would not be able to enjoy and make the music that they make today. Not understanding the culture as a whole also prevents one from witnessing the epicness of the references being made during songs. Those references actually make the culture fun and epic, because making hip-hop references can make you reminisce about previous eras and old songs. By doing so, they kind of connect every artist and every era, that’s why they are such an important part of that culture. I was born in 1990 so as many young rappers such as Joey Bada$$ or even All Flows Reach Out (AFRO) (although I’m not as young as them), I had to be passionate about hip-hop first and then my passion led me to want to learn more about it. I travelled trough it to listen to the stuff I couldn’t listen to because I was too young, and also to the stuff that came out before I was even born.
Travelling through Hip-Hop I found out that unlike what most people believe today, it’s not just music, it’s not just rap. It’s clearly a culture that mixes several art forms that complete each other. Let’s quickly summarize, the Dj’s were here first and their sound style made people want to dance in a certain way, hence the origin of break dance, then they needed wordsmiths to add flavor to their magic, and graffiti which is not really related to music fused with hip-hop as it was a sign of rebellion, and that’s kind of what hip-hop was about when it first appeared. Travelling through hip-hop I came to understand it more and more, and I found out why it’s important to know what came first to fully understand what is being made now. I know it can be confusing when I talk about understanding hip-hop as a whole so I’ll try to clarify it better.
When you understand hip-hop it comes with the ability to identify specific references being made in songs, and above all to understand what the artist you are listening to is trying to say or do. Basically you get to identify the codes of the culture. For instance when Jay-Z’s 99 problems came out, the average Joe probably thought Jay-Z came up with the idea of the song, when in fact it was a remake of Body Count’s track (Ice-T’s band), which is also called 99 problems. But those who knew Body Count’s song at the time probably were able to enjoy it better than those who do not, because they knew what Jay-Z was trying to do with his music and where he got that hook from. There is an infinity of reference examples that could be made, when you listen to the song “Show Out” from Akon’s first album Trouble, you can hear him say “Don’t tempt me cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head.” And this is clearly a reference to “The Message” of Grandmaster Flash and the furious five. But the hip-hop references aren’t the only codes that needs to be identified in hip-hop, having broad general knowledge is also required to understand it as a whole. “Hip-hop is everything around you” as Royce Da 5’9 was saying in the track “Hip-Hop” from his album death is certain. Another good example of that would be a line from Elzhi’s track “P.S.“during the hook he states, “They say I keep it too real, how do you feel? What you prefer red pill, blue pill?” If you have never watched the movie “the matrix” that line probably won’t ring a bell, but If you have, you’ll immediately understand where Elzhi is getting at. He is basically implying, should I continue to be real or compromise to make people feel more comfortable? What you prefer red pill? Blue pill? The red pill representing the real chaotic world ran by the machines, and the blue pill the comfortable matrix we currently live in. Earlier I mentioned two young MC’s Joey Badass, and AFRO, these two are very young but still have a very good understanding of the hip-hop culture, and are even using a rather old school style, because they probably travelled trough hip-hop as I have, and they gained that knowledge that they currently have even though they are young. So to me being from a different era is not an excuse for ignorance about the culture, nor is it an excuse not to be original. This point is better emphasized by Horseshoe Gang song “Ain’t No Excuses” from their latest album Dope Lyrics Matter.
Also, there is a common misconception in hip-hop I would like to address; we can often hear the commercial argument when trash music is mentioned, when really I don’t think the music being commercial is the issue. Commercial music has always existed in hip-hop, therefore I do not think the disagreement comes from the fact that the new generation is focused on making commercial music, but rather due to the fact that the quality and lack of substance in their lyrics and music make people cringe. Yes, lyrics are important because lyrics are the basics and essential part of rap. Rap stands for rhymes and poetry, and from where I stand this is where the disagreement occurs, the lyrics and flow of that new generation are too simplistic.
Since I assume we can agree on the fact that lyrics make rap music, having a good substance in lyrics is important no matter what kind of sonorities you are using for your music. If one considers their music as rap their lyrics need to have substance, and since that is not the case for most of the rappers of this new generation, we can clearly talk about distortion of the art. When most of the main protagonists of a generation have a poor content of lyrics in their songs, there is indeed something to worry about, because as we previously said hip-hop is a culture not just a trend, and a culture always need to be watered just like a plant or it dies, or simply turn into something else. It’s also important to specify that we are asking them to be lyrical, not conscious. These are two things most people who pretend to know rap tend to mix up.
The new generation often mentions the old school rappers being bitter because they are not on top anymore when really some of these old rappers are merely giving their opinion. But we barely talk about the new school being jealous that they have no skills, and therefore feel the need to give a new perspective of legendary faces of hip hop such as Tupac and Biggie. They do that just so that they can create a new trend and a new image of rap, which will be more suitable and easier to accept for their audience who may not feel very familiar with those previous eras. They just choose to dismiss those legendary names to make themselves look more authentic to their fan base, so that way their fan base won’t feel the need to hear more about the old protagonists, and will automatically dismiss those important hip-hop figures. So not only it is actual hate, but that is also killing the culture as a whole. So what creates the distortion is the fact that instead of adapting to that culture, they are trying to change the very nature of it to arrange themselves, and get their followers to see things from their own biased and non-educated perspective that favors them. By doing this, they cause these same followers to vouch for them, and hate on that older generation they really know nothing about.
As I previously said I have tried to see the issue from different angles. Most of these rappers come from a poor environment; it’s a good thing that music and success keep these young rappers off the street. It’s better to see them thrive in the music industry rather than seeing them struggle in some ghetto, and I think it’s something everyone can agree on. But that being said, you would not let a weak player in the NBA just because they come from a poor environment. The league has standards that need to be respected to keep the league competitive and entertaining. And it’s the same thing for that beautiful culture that hip-hop is, it’s a beautiful culture with standards that need to be respected and applied, not only to keep it alive but also to keep it fun, epic and entertaining. So in my opinion, the “don’t hate on these poor kids hustling in this industry” argument is kind of light, not to mention that some of these rappers are often promoting violence and drug use in a non-poetical, lyrical or even descriptive way, which can be dangerous for the kids who are in the same situation these same rappers used to be in.
So has rap evolved the way it was supposed to or has it been deformed along the way? Well I’ll admit the word deformed sounds exaggerated but I’m afraid it does apply in this situation. Before the 2010 ’s I didn’t imagine rap would be perfect in the future, but I still thought it would follow some kind of logical evolution. In my opinion during the 2000’s rap was 75% dope and 25% garbage, today it’s the opposite. Mumble rap and trap music are slowly starting to dominate the rap game and things being what they are right now musically speaking, that is pretty sad. I used to imagine a rap game where we’d have more than one or two dope lyricists who can spit like Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole, but unfortunately these days most of the skilled MC’s are in the underground. We currently live in an era where it doesn’t take much to be deemed a good MC or a lyricist. An era where having a negative opinion about something that you carefully took the time to listen to before you make a judgment, means being automatically labeled as a hater. An era where mumbling words is considered spitting a rap verse. And for all those reasons the culture is slowly dying.
As I’ve previously stated rap stands for rhymes and poetry, so mumbling cannot be rap by definition, and that’s where the distortion occurs, the majority of the newcomers who actually had a breakthrough to the game, are using that mumble rap style. Not only their styles of rap leave something to be desired, but on top of that they only rap over trap beats. Trap is a part of rap but it’s not supposed to be dominant, actually no type of production is supposed to be dominant over another. I like Kendrick, and even though I’m probably not his biggest fan, he is a good example of someone who can make cool rap albums with different type of productions. Most of the time when Kendrick put out an album, it feels like you’re looking at a rainbow in terms of productions, and the replay value remain pretty high despite the different kind of production used. For instance, when I listen to his song “Hood Politics” I hear some sort of revamped west coast beat. It feels like you’re listening to a 2015 Dr. Dre production, (although that track wasn’t produced by dre) and it feels so damn good, it feels like that good old hip-hop culture but renewed for this era. It feels like I’m listening to current actual good rap music, not that mumble bullshit over a trap beat that the next man will be able to mimic. So again yes, hip-hop has been distorted from what it was supposed to be like originally. To me, evolution would have been having a majority of rappers such as Kendrick and Cole and a few trap MC’s, but instead, we just have a few good ones and the rest is all about bangers and party music, and certainly not about lyricism. But fear not, my dear hip-hop friend, as Nas said at the end of his album hip-hop is dead “it will never die.” There are too many good MC’s all over the world and more specifically in the U.S underground, for that culture to just die. Hopefully someday the ground will break and many young cats will come out and save the 2020’s. I trust that someone will come and point out the coonery of the music industry, and all those stupid labels pushing stupid artists. Hopefully that current bullshit that we have to deal with, can be reduced to a minority. So again fear not, for hip-hop is immortal, whereas the coonery that you get to witness everyday is just a trend and therefore is only temporary.