Comment: The New Age of Mumble Rap – The Formation, The Future, and The Fears surrounding the Sub-Genre

Statistics released at the beginning of 2018 revealed that rap has officially overtaken rock as the most popular music genre in the USA. And following what has been a record-breaking year for the genre, it is altogether evident that rap has cemented its newfound position.

Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine even admits it. Last month, he decried the decline in rock production, opining: ‘Rock music is nowhere, really. All of the innovation and the incredible things happening in music are in hip-hop. It’s better than everything else.’ Whilst many from both inside and outside the industry would question Levine’s authority on what constitutes a decent record, his point could be seen as valid.

Travis Scott exemplifies the storming success of Rap as a whole. As his album Astroworld goes double platinum, videos continue to plague our social media of his American tour Astroworld – Wish You Were Here, a feat that Rolling Stone titled “The Greatest Show On Earth”.

A roller coaster on stage, megastar guests such as Drake and Kendrick Lamar and a smooch with Kylie Jenner on stage (the latter of which can be gleaned from tabloid newspapers everywhere) all contributed to its heavy documentation on digital and social media. As with Keeping Up With The Kardashians, even people who had ever heard of Scott could recite the highlights of his shows so long as they were using the relevant platforms the night they took place.

Videos taken by fans and camera crews during the tour strongly indicate an audience eager to record every minute. Scott could have even invited fans to examine the role of social media in everyday life with his allusion to FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – in the tour title, which perhaps also pays ironic reference to the 1975 Pink Floyd album of the same name.

So, how has rap usurped rock in generic dominance? The answer to this lies in the recent evolution the genre has undertaken. Whilst there are myriad forms of rap – which includes, but is not limited to, G-funk, Old School Hip-Hop, Grime, Trap and Lo-Fi – Mumble Rap currently governs them all in current popular appeal. Additionally coined as ‘Emo’ or ‘SoundCloud’ rap (the latter of which evokes its online roots), the sub-genre is recognised for its overtly-produced style, trap-esque beats, almost unintelligible lyrics, and what could be described as an advocacy of drugs, money and sex.

Many argue that the movement was catalysed by the release of “Tony Montana” by Atlanta-born rapper Future in 2011, attributed to the infamous drug kingpin protagonist, where phrases like ‘I  remember being so f**king high I couldn’t even open my mouth/I don’t even know what the words are I made them up’ elicits blaring images of intoxicant use to the imaginations of listeners. Hip-Hop trio Migos revitalised rap with a similar mumble formula in 2013, with single release “Versace”, two years before Young Thug’s Mumble Rap hit “Best Friend” burst onto the music scene.

The heavy following each of the aforementioned quickly gained, however, has done little to appease legends like Snoop Dogg and Grandmaster Caz, both of whom demur this new branch of Hip Hop. Yet despite criticisms from the greats, the past few years have seen an arguably prolific emergence in Mumble Rap artists, the likes of which include Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, Lil Yachty and Lil Pump.

Throughout its existence, meaningful lyricism has been fundamental to Hip-Hop, from NWA denouncement of police brutality to Kendrick Lamar’s accounts of Compton life. A lot of people argue, however, that Mumble Rap disregards the valuable potential of lyrics in its prioritisation of catchiness and repetition. And several of these critics would identify Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang”, in which the chorus is simply a loop of the song’s title, as the perfect representation of this.

Yet other artists like Future have been quick to defend the sub-genre, asserting that as with most other songs, Mumble Rap pieces can require weeks, if not months, of hard work and dedication from their creators. Lil Pump himself has justified his lack of lyrical exploration by stating that he simply prefers stylistic and musical exploration over wordcraft.

But Long standing rapper Kool G Rap has expressed a markedly different interpretation of Mumble Rap, having openly lamented that the sub-genre eschews the word play and linguistic artistry that has always been at the heart of Hip-Hop.

Unsurprisingly, this young division of the genre has been surrounded by controversy since day one, which can largely be owed to its lyrical content and questionable behaviour of its role models.

Responses regarding “I Love It” – a collaborative track authored by Kanye West and Lil  Pumps – which premiered at the 2018 PornHub awards is a concrete example of this, with a chorus that repeats the phrase ‘You’re such a f***king hoe/I love it.’ The potential imprisonment of prominent Mumble Rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine for racketeering and firearm charges adds general feelings of unease concerning the genre, too.

Like it or loathe it, however, mumble rap continues to grow in popularity, with many predicting it to the future of rap, if not music. What’s my judgement on this, you ask? Well, this is certainly not good news for ardent Hip-Hop and music followers alike.

Benjamin Kempton

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