“You were my everything, thoughts of a wedding ring, now I’m just better off dead.” Chances are if you handed this lyric to someone ten years ago and asked them to guess what genre of music it was from, Hip Hop would be right at the bottom of the list. In fact, the depressing triplet from Juice WRLD’s breakout single ‘Lucid Dreams’ bares far more similarity to the My Chemical Romances and Bring Me the Horizons of the 2000s than it does to than it does to the 50 cents and Lil Waynes, despite being classified in the same genre as the latters. Skip forward to 2018 however, and lines such as these are rife, which begs the question; when, and why, did rap become so emo?
Whilst it’s true that most major artists have always had at least one or two sensitive songs (think ‘21 questions’ for 50 or ‘I Feel Like Dying’ for Wayne), they were never the main focus of major artists’ repertoires and never truly dived into the realm of mental health, addiction and suicidal thoughts in the same way they do today, with the obvious exception of Eminem. One reason for this could be the shift that has happened in the relationship between artists and drugs, as it feels like the generic rapper has transgressed from selling narcotics to using them, and the overwhelming drug abuse among the community has led to dependency, mental health issues and overdoses, all of which is obvious when listening to the current hits. This serves as a heavy contrast to the rap of previous generations, where drug anthems have traditionally focussed on dealing and the money being made from dealing, for example “I ain’t on no funny shit I’m on some get this money shit, Every four days in PA I move another brick,” whereas we are currently witnessing artists rapping about the dark effects drugs have on their lives and the way addiction means they have to constantly get high to function, for example; “Lately I’ve been panicking a lot, Feeling like I’m stranded in a mob, Scrambling for Xanax out the canister to pop”, which is obviously a far less glamorous portrayal of drugs than the previous example. It seems almost impossible to listen to a song these days without hearing similar lines about xanax, lean or other prescription drugs, and the deaths of Lil Peep and Mac Miller this year demonstrate the huge effect they are having on the industry, and therefore makes sense that they are having an equally large effect on the type of music being made. In a similar vein, rappers often talk about friends and family they have lost to drugs, and this, coupled with the tragic deaths of artists such as Miller and Peep may explain why many feel less comfortable glamourising addiction, and therefore why their music sounds more emo as a result.
However, many may argue that it’s only the underground ‘soundcloud rappers’ who have been riding this wave, but this is far from the truth, and some of hip hop’s biggest artists have taken the plunge into soul searching. Jay Z for example, recently centred a whole album around an open apology/ love letter to his wife and daughters for his infidelity and immaturity as a husband and father, let the contradiction of that settle in for a second. The same man who famously stated ‘I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one’, is now rapping ‘So I apologize, I seen the innocence leave your eyes… I apologize to all the women whom I toyed with your emotions, cause I was emotionless’, which is undeniably emo. What makes this even more interesting is that Jay Z stated that this is “one of the best songs I’ve ever written” which demonstrates that although they have not typically been associated with hip hop, the market for such songs has allowed artists to create completely different pieces of work than in previous generations, when all people wanted to hear were turn up songs.
Whilst the word itself is in contrast with stereotypical hip hop, with ‘emo rap’ being a undeniable oxymoron, the rise of vulnerability and emotions within the genre cannot be ignored. Despite the negative connotations of the word however, this is not necessarily a bad thing, and as shown by both the rise of new artists like Juice WRLD, and the change in material explored by the likes of older artists like Jay Z, this has given birth to a refreshingly new energy in a music genre that for so long had stuck to the same overused key themes. Which is lucky, as it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.
Luke van Berckel
(Image: Lil Peep)