The Rise of Mumble Rap Leads To The Fall of Lyricism

By Sierra Jenkins

Many 90s kids grew up in between two hip-hop eras, listening to Wu-Tang Clan, Tupac, Ludacris, Mobb Deep, Hot Boys, Nas, and many more artists previous generations and other influential people may have put us on to. As rap continued to evolve so did the sound, look, and narrative. 

While hip-hop culture rose in the late 1970s, artists such as Rakim and Big Daddy Kane were a staple of what we know as rap. Both rappers created a dialogue in the black community about the experiences one faces in their everyday life and the streets. There was a time when genuine struggle spoke for and through hip-hop culture, and an entire population could understand. It was something created out of oppression, like many other things that came from the black community.

Music is about the feel— the ability of the artist and the listener to have a conversation through a musical experience. But music is a different experience for everyone. While some people have an emotional connection to the form of art, others simply have fun without overanalyzing the lyrics of a song. Although rap can be meaningful and symbolic, it does not always have to resonate with the deep emotions or story-telling nature.

There is lyrical rap, and there is mumble rap. Lyrical rap requires listeners to think, dissect and digest what the artist is saying. Mumble, or unconscious, rap doesn’t require much thought. You can listen and go along with the vibe of the music. Fans of lyrical rap think it is losing its value because people no longer listen to the message the artist is trying to convey. The issue at hand is that the substance in lyrical rap isn’t making mainstream music that you hear on the radio or catching the attention of today’s listeners. 

Jordan Smith photographed by Sierra Jenkins

Jordan Smith, a rapper by the name of Al-Dom$ from Norfolk, Virginia, he chimed in on the question at hand.

“There’s always going to be light and dark… but it’s always going to be light,” he said.

There is no room to say one is better than the other because it’s based on preference. When it comes to preference, there is no way to choose a right or wrong answer without being biased. No rap era was completely conscious, but there was a balance. Hip-hop, especially mainstream, is oversaturated with irrelevant music; irrelevant to the time, situation and circumstances. 

Mumble rap is centered on the use of ad-libs, bass, lo-fi, and trap. The term was coined on 2016 by rapper Wiz Khalifa in a radio interview with Hot 97. Khalifa touched on how this style of rap is what’s selling right now, and when it phases out something else will come and take its place to catch listeners’ attention.

KRS-One said, “Hip and hop is intelligent movement, or relevant movement.” This means one has the power to know and do something with that knowledge. Whether it means being knowledgeable about politics, social injustice, or financial literacy, it is the artist’s responsibility to acquire that information and disperse it to the masses to enlighten a larger community.

“That’s why black people are so successful, he’s talking about our culture,” Smith said. “That’s why we have to keep our people hip.”

Jordan Smith photographed by Sierra Jenkins

The reason the question of lyrical rap losing its value stands is because if it weren’t, we’d be hearing more of it. The only prominent, lyrical rappers you hear on the radio today are Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. Lamar is known for his poetic activism, and Cole for his ability to tell stories about the troubles a black man faces today within this society.

Hip-hop played a role in critical times for the black community, and that is where the disappointment sets when it comes to older generations. People who were grew up during unrest including the L.A. riots have a different take on how rap is supposed to sound and what hip-hop culture looks like. With social injustice surfacing against marginalized people, there is no resistance in the music for retaliation. If there is, it’s not what people are talking about, especially among younger generations.

“Some artists come out rapping consciously but they don’t get noticed unless they say something dumb,” Smith said.

This forces them to continue to give the people what they want. So it is the artist’s fault or the people listening? Music has become a trend. Artists want to make money.

 “Can you blame the artist for wanting to feed their family, or wanting to live better than they are?” Smith asked.

If you can dress up ordinary words with catchy phrases and ad-libs and match it with a dope beat, then it is up to your look and weight as an artist to make it in the music industry. It’s about what’s in, but only time will tell if this trend can endure the constant evolution of hip-hop. 

All images provided by Sierra Jenkins

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