For as long as humanity has existed, we’ve resisted change. Whether it’s societal, political, or technological, it happens in all walks of life. There will always be the old heads hating on the younger generation and romanticizing the “good ole’ days.” If you’re a fan of hip hop, you might already have an idea of where this is going.
I am, of course, talking about mumble rap—the magical land where promethazine is perceived as a food group and ad libs are more important than lyrics. Currently one of the largest subgenres within hip hop, artists such as Migos, Lil Yachty, and Desiigner are all considered mumble rappers.
You might notice that even within that small selection of artists, there’s a pretty wide sonic variety. That’s because mumble rap has become a catch-all term that describes any rapper with trap influence who has a perceived (or real) lack in lyrical skill and more specifically, pronunciation.
So, where did this divisive term come from, and what are its implications for the future of hip hop? A few names you’ll hear “credited” (if you can call it that) for the popular style are Gucci Mane, Future, and Chief Keef. However, if you look further back into hip hop history, Fu-Schnickens and Twista have been challenging listeners with indecipherable lyrics for decades.
Regardless of who invented the style, Wiz Khalifa helped popularize the phrase itself in 2016 during a Hot 97 interview saying: “It ain’t no disrespect to the lil homies, they don’t want to rap.” The phrase has blown up since Wiz’s comments and it’s taken on somewhat of a pejorative connotation.
Critics of the style are vocal. Some believe that mumble rap is a dangerous trend and are concerned about how it will affect the trajectory of hip hop’s future. They see the blatant disrespect shown to hip hop greats by popular mumble rappers as sacrilege.
As an avid hip hop fan, I’m kind of ambivalent when it comes to the style. I also believe critics’ worries about the subgenre are misplaced for two reasons.
Firstly, mumble rap is not the death of lyricism in hip hop. Kendrick Lamar is the most popular rapper in the world right now and also happens to be one of the most gifted lyricists the game has ever seen. J Cole—a decently close second in terms of popularity—is also a supremely talented lyricist.
Additionally, I think some critics of mumble rap fail to realize just how massive hip hop has become. What was once a niche genre that represented urban struggle has spread to nearly all corners of our society. Not everyone is looking for enunciation, profound lyrical insight, or details about “the struggle.” Some kids just want lyrics about partying over trap beats, and that’s okay.
Just because you aren’t in mumble rap’s target market doesn’t mean you should deny its right to exist.
Which side of the great lyrical debate do you fall on? Let us know on Twitter!
Go out tonight, and any night. Jukely is a concert subscription that gives members guestlist access to hundreds of music events – for one price. Whenever you want to go out, you’ll always have something to do. Learn more and sign up at jukely.com.