Rap is in a strange place right now. It’s surfing a certain wave that many of us are uncomfortable riding. Whether you’ve been here since the Sugarhill gang or came in during the TI and Young Jeezy days, you can’t help but notice the New Age of rap is in a strange and unfamiliar zone. You hear a lot of people say, “Hip-hop is dead”, and, “I miss when rap was good”, but no one exactly can see why were in this new place in the hip-hop world.
If you think back to the Eric B and Rakim days of hip-hop, it was all about hard flows with hitting lyrics, as well as maintaining a certain amount of gangster credibility while simultaneously spilling your life on the microphone. It’s the spitting image of rap as an artform and was the jumping pad launching hip-hop into the mainstream limelight of today. Rakim as a rapper is highly underrated, despite the fact he opened the lyrical doors for some of our greats in rap. This includes Biggie, 2pac, Nas, Jay-Z, Mos Def, Wu-Tang, and Dr. Dre.
That 1990’s era of rappers are often regarded as being the contributors to what is referred to as “the Golden age” of hip-hop. This is also probably every hip-hop heads favorite moment in rap culture because of the amount of creativity going on and the peak of stories being told lyrically. We had the East Coast-West Coast beef spearheaded between Pac and Biggie, both ending in tragic unsolved murders, as well as Jay-Z’s rise to power as the true “King of New York”. Moments like these set the stigmas of having to be a real gangster in order to be a successful rapper, and having to live the life of your rhymes in order to receive the praise you sought after. It wouldn’t be until the 2000’s that some of these mental walls in a rappers head would begin to be broken down and rap once again would go into a new direction all together.
The 2000’s brought in a new sound of rappers, as well as new messages behind these rappers lyrics. It jumped around for a few years between the sounds of old street rap and sounds of southern and melodic tunes, eventually landing into something major. This major sound would be the “dirty south” sound that was manifested by the likes of TI, Field Mobb, Paul Wall, Ludacris, Chingy, and Playaz Circle. You also had your unique talents during this time such as Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, however the majority of rap was hyper focused on the vibes coming out of cities like Atlanta and Houston.
This was an amazing period for hip-hop music, but lyrics began to be watered down and overshadowed by gritty beats rather than heavy bars. The instrumentals often meant more than the words the rapper could put to the beat, and many listeners bobbed their heads to rappers without actually hearing what they were saying. This was the beginning of the last era we saw in hip-hop before emerging into what people call today as the “trap” era of rap.
The “trap era” is what we are currently living and breathing here in 2018. It’s a mix of the SoundCloud populations and the trap stars of Florida, New York, and Compton. To the youth of today, these are the Biggies and Pacs of their generation. These include Lil Pump, Xxxtentacions, Lil Peep, Migos, Cardi B, Ski Mask The Slump God, Ugly God, and Bihar Bhabie. It’s a shame to many, and to others it’s clear as can be for these rappers to be iconic in so many eyes already. There are still some saviors of the lyrical art form, such as J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, however the majority of “mumble rappers” focus highly on heavy bass and repetitive hooks to make tracks nowadays. Personally, I love this moment of rap we’re in, and I’m a hardcore fan of hip-hop since the beginning. It’s refreshing to see so many young people fall in love with rap in a whole new light, and reminds me why I started listening to hip-hop in the first place.
Lyricism has absolutely diminished for the most part over the years, but that doesn’t mean the music is bad. It’s merely going through another phase and it’s going to be quite interesting to see how exactly rap manifests into a new wave once again. I can’t say for sure, but it feels like it’s going towards a depressive, emo kind of sound and I’m not sure if it’s the most exciting thing but it is interesting to watch evolve. Who knows, maybe the emotion brought out from that kind of sound will actually help kickstart the lyrical revolution we seem to so desperately need in hip-hop right now. I say we let Kendrick and Cole set the blueprint and move together as a whole culture to help bring out the lyrics we want from our favorite artists.
Where do you guys think hip-hop is headed next?