By Thomas Routson
A week ago, I was asked the question, “Who is your favorite rapper?”. While I don’t think I can answer that question, I am instead going to be discussing one of my favorite movements in rap: “mumble rap”. “Mumble rap,” a term coined by Wiz Khalifa, is a genre of rap that relies on amazing beats and off-beat lyrics in order to draw an audience and sell records. The “mumble” from the name comes from the constant use of auto-tune in almost every song.
There are many individuals in the hip-hop community who criticize “mumble rap” due to the lyrics of these songs. These individuals, often old heads, (a term that refers to older, retired rappers) instead praise more “conscious” artists. Old-heads claim that conscious artists, aware of the current socio-political situation surrounding POC, make better and more impactful music. They see many “mumble rap” artists as being the death of hip-hop and the end of lyricism in hip-hop.
To this I disagree. I think that “mumble rap” is not the death of hip-hop but instead a reaction against the old-heads and hip-hop as a whole. If you turn on the song “Do What I Want by Lil Uzi Vert” you are immediately struck by the catchy, rising, anthem-like beat. The song makes you feel like dancing and the lyrics are fairly empowering. While the song is simply about making money and obtaining material goods, it is also making a statement to the hip-hop community. He is going to “do what he wants” and this is statement is made throughout mumble rap as a whole. For example, in Lil Yachty’s music, songs like “Minnesota” sound nothing like traditional rap. The song is upbeat, carefree and sounds nothing like the more gritty, hard beats that define most traditional hip-hop music. Old-heads who heard the song have said in interviews that they hate it and that it some of the worst rap music ever made. While that is their right to say that, I couldn’t disagree more.
Personally, I think hip-hop’s darkest days was the “Bling” era of the 2000s. Songs like “I Can Transform Ya” by Chris Brown are clear evidence of the cliche trend in this period. Instead Lil Yachty, and other rappers like him, are bucking the traditions of hip-hop in favor of something else. In an interview Lil Yachty said, “All these old people talking about how it needs to stay the same. People just need to suck it up and understand that rap ain’t the same no more. I don’t have to spit a cold 16 no more.” This is exactly why old-heads in the community hate on him and why young people gravitate towards this type of hip-hop. It’s different: the beats are different, the verses are funnier, and the personalities are more likeable.
Another breakout artist in this category, part of Lil Yachty’s “sailing team”, is Kodie Shane. I think a good example of this is dramatic change is her song “Nola by Kodie Shane”. This illustrates the difference in women artists in hip-hop too. Listening to “U.N.I.T.Y. by Queen Latifah” and Kodie’s song will illustrate this difference for you.
In sum, whether old-heads like it or not, hip-hop is changing. In the battle between “conscious” rap and “mumble” rap, I think that there is a false comparison happening. I think that most rappers are conscious of the current situation, but that they choose to make more upbeat-danceable music. Conscious rap is usually too mired in dark-political undertones, and gritty verses to dance to. Even artists like Noname who sings about poverty juxtaposed with flighty, happy beats and J.Cole who sings about current struggles with a light guitar riff in the background can’t escape the weight of their messages. In other words, I think that hip-hop needs mumble rap to be a light balloon of fun beats and lyrics in a world that seems to be darker every day.