Is Mumble Rap the downfall of Hip-Hop or are we deaf to innovation?

Hip-Hop is going through a phase. What’s the big deal?

(Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Philymack/Lede In Illustration)

Urban Dictionary has multiple definitions of the phrase given to the modern sound found in Hip-Hop known as “mumble rap.”

Some of the most popular ones include:

When “Rappers” mumble incoherent absolute garbage for an entire album/track, destroying Rap as a genre and disgracing black people as a whole.

Rapping while sucking a dick. It was formed when a man bet his friend that he could out rap him while sucking a dick and the friend didn’t want to get out rapped by someone sucking a dick so he also began to suck a dick and rap at the same time.

If you have been following mainstream Hip-Hop for the past couple of years, you might have noticed the direction the genre has been moving to.

As a strain of hip-hop that is trap influenced with slurred and auto-tuned vocals that can be hard to understand, “mumble rap” has found itself into the mainstream.

Artists like Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, Chief Keef, Desiigner, Future and Young Thug are finding themselves at the top of the charts and festival lineups.

Where does it come from?

Mumble rap is a stitched-together, brash and inorganic sound of popular tracks that are likely to be bumped in the whip. Rather than the clear and poetic traditional style of rapping that have a coherent story and lyrics that are memorable because of their meaning, usually done by the Kendrick Lamar’s of the world.

Many will argue that these tracks have no rhymes, no vocabulary, no soul and they repeat the hook over more than half the track with no connection to the elements of the hip-hop culture. Some may also say that most of the beats sound the same.

Cohesive lyrics and intellectual songwriting do not match with heavy bass and playful instrumentals. It’s the mumble-like lyrics and loud instrumentation that do it for most people.

Future’s style, the true introduction to getting “turnt-up”, was fresh and exciting in 2012. In a way, it was largely inspired by Lil Wayne’s style. Future is seen as a revolutionary who inspired a large wave of imitators and like-minded artists. While Chief Keef’s style was new and exciting in 2013, Young Thug’s took it further in 2014. And in 2016, Uzi and Yachty’s style felt fresh while still keeping some elements found in the previous years.

(Berman Fenelus for XXL/Lede In Illustration)

If you look back at interviews from the hype we witnessed in 2016 when Desiigner’s single “Panda” was number one on the Billboard Hot 100, you will notice how the rapper spent a lot of time explaining and repeating (slowly) what exactly it is he’s saying in his hit single.

Lil Yachty, another artist who has risen to the top of the strange new sub-genre, admits that he doesn’t rap. Rather he harmonizes and creates a mood/sound that clearly gets the audience “turnt” and coming back for more.

Lil Yachty may not be the worst of the worst that’s out right now, but it’s his openness to purposefully buck the tradition that hip-hop stands for. Interview after interview, he tells older rap fans and artists alike that you do not need to be able to freestyle and spit poetics that tell where you are from. These are not the rules by which the game is played anymore.

He is taking these established rules within his genre which over time have become more complex, more rigid, and more obsessed with technical proficiency and he’s completely throwing them out the window.

Generational beef is common in rap, it was Pete Rock who truly popularized the term when he criticized Yachty in a couple of Instagram posts, following the Yachty’s comments on the Notorious B.I.G. being “overrated” and disparaging of ’90s rappers and their fans as “old and washed up.”

Once Yachty shot back at Pete Rock, fans and critics rallied around mumble rap as hip-hop’s great generational gap.

Wiz Khalifa also used the term mumble rap on Hot 97 to describe artists who “don’t want to rap.”

“We call it mumble rap. It ain’t no disrespect to the lil homies, they don’t want to rap. It’s cool for now; it’s going to evolve.” said Wiz.

Hip-hop has developed in a direction that favors heavy, bass-driven instrumentals since the late 1990s. Not only do songs now need to be catchy, they need to grab a listener’s attention immediately.

This vibe that mumble rap gives is what is provided in situations where processing a unique message plays little part: at clubs, house parties, during boring trips inside the whip, etc.

Putting yourself in a modern rappers shoes, would you rather work hard delivering a message few would listen to? Or work less and focus your energy on making it sound dope, and cash in on the contemporary hype?

(Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Mumble rappers capitalised on the growing demand for rap music that primarily gives a good vibe. And it worked. By doing this they worked smarter rather than harder, whether they did this intentionally or not.

It’s because of catchiness, mumble rap has gotten such extensive airplay on the radio ever since early last year.

Where is it going?

Hip-Hop itself is almost 40 years old. Just the music. B-boying and graffiti art are even older. But think about Rock music when it was 40 years old. From the 50s to the 90s, it’s sound evolved and changed drastically. You had classic rock, heavy metal, soft-rock, folk rock, progressive rock, grunge, alternative, punk, the list goes on…

All these sub-genres of rock ’n’ roll had their time, scene, and poster children that represented whatever label was relevant at the time. The same thing happened with Jazz. Between the 1920s and 1960s, the emergence of swing, big band, free jazz, ragtime, bebop, modal, and cool jazz all made significant contributions to the genre.

This is not to say that mumble rap is going to make a lasting impression 40 years from now. Looking at what’s happened with other genres in the past, it’s not unfathomable that hip-hop will, and has, split into several sub-genres.

Before mumble rap, only a couple years ago, it was auto-tune that was in vogue. Auto-tune was cool for two minutes and then everyone was shitting on it just as hard as they are on mumble rap right now.

The thing is, nowadays if you throw some auto-tune on a track, nobody cares. The hype is over and decent rappers can get away with using it as a stylistic choice. Nobody minds because we all know they have other talents and won’t use this shit on every song, and the track is deeper than some fad.

One way to look at it is if you turn rap into an acronym for Rhythm and Poetry. Some rappers might be more about extending the rhythm part, as we have been seeing with mumble rappers, such as Future, Rich Homie Quan and Desiigner.

While others like to extend to the poetry aspect, like Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole.

Like any other art form, there are stronger suits to some artists work and weaker suits. The fact that we have such a diverse culture associated with this genre shows just how diverse and vibrant hip-hop can evolve to be. There’s something for everyone and every time.

All art is subjective, wherever you look, and the differences emphasize rap’s position as such. Mumble rap is an equal form of rap with a different makeup behind it and it should be respected.

Though, as mentioned earlier, mumble rap is not the lyric-heavy, poetic rap that you listen to that has some sort of meaning. It could probably be played at parties, clubs, and kick-backs religiously. While nobody really pays attention to the lyrics, they feel like the music has some sort of mood or vibe to it and that’s all that matters. Mumble rap, in general, is blithe and energetic, but it’s just another fad in music that will eventually lose its appeal.

For the most part, mumble rap production is a heavy component that already serves as a giant plateau for musicians such as Desiigner, Lil yachty, Lil Uzi Vert. Nobody really bothers to listen to beats or instrumentals by themselves, so preferably, they like to listen to it with some vocalization over it.

Mumble rap is a term that has never been about actual mumbling so much as it’s really about discomfort with this new generation. Young musicians have chosen to use their voices in strange, unprecedented ways, and against the wishes of their parents and forefathers, just as the generation before them did.

Some will hate mumble rap because it’s the current fad among the shit rappers, who will always exist. In a few years good artists will be able to use a bit of mumble as a stylistic choice and it won’t be a big deal.

Mumble rap is no danger to the culture and the same rules apply to those who are good at rapping. Yachty is 19 years old, he would have to grow with his audience if he expects to be around another 10 years, just like Jay-Z and Kanye West had to grow with their audience. If he doesn’t he will be forgotten.

Five to ten years from now, nobody will give a shit if a rapper mumbles their way through a verse. J. Cole or Kendrick will drop a couple mumbly tracks on their 10th album that are kinda nostalgic of the mumble days, but still full of lyricism, and we’ll all love it.

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