On Yachty, "Mumble Rappers," and Contemporary Hip Hop
By Jaylin Paschal
I saw Lil Uzi in concert at Yardfest this year. I don't get it, y'all.
I've tried to parade alongside everyone under this contemporary banner of Hip Hop; march along to the tune of Yachty and Kodak and 21 and Uzi. I keep tripping over myself, looking backwards, scanning the crowd for something more familiar.
Am I just as bad as Outkast skeptics? Am I a music snob? Am I sitting still in the culture shift? Is Hip Hop leaving me behind?
A few months after looking the Uzi-phenomenon in its face, I was in the car with my father as he turned the station from Uzi's "Do What I Want," disgusted. And then I understood why I didn't get it.
Look, ya girl was raised on Mos Def. I grew up with traditional rap in the background. I was introduced to the culture understanding that Hip Hop required sound and message. And as far as I'm concerned, that's still what Hip Hop requires. That's why the "mumble rapper" phenomenon will never make sense to me. I enjoyed Cole's "Everybody Dies" verse a bit too much--I almost tweeted "J. Cole went platinum with no features!"
But, I don't want to be the music elitist who writes the sound off in its entirety. After reflecting upon the questions I asked myself previously, and considering the arguments of both the Lil Yachty's and the Funk Flex's of the Hip Hop world, I decided to talk to my culturally-fluent, music enthusiast friend group, and get their take on the matter.
CULTURAL INFLUENCE: HOW ARE RAPPERS LIKE LIL YACHTY SHIFTING HIP HOP CULTURE, IF AT ALL?
"You can tell rap has shifted from storytelling to punchlines, but that's been going in since the 2000's. Plus I feel right now, rap has shifted away from lyrics entirely focusing more on the production side, allowing sub par rappers to blow up being carried by strong and unique production," Jordan Thomas explained. "Like if we're being honest, out of the top ten most popular rappers right now, I'd say only 3 could actually perform well over a traditional rap beat and carry the song with their lyrics."
"I think Yachty actually added positive change to the game. I think a lot of people aren't accepting of him because he is so different. They aren't used to that. What they don't realize is that he came into rap with his own style and melodic music. The whole 'boat' thing works for him. Like, he's literally modelling for Nautica clothing now," said Jaelani Turner-Williams.
"Who remembers D4L's impact on hip hop? Did they even have one? Or just had 'Laffy Taffy?'" John Mancini asks. He continues to suggest that any cultural shift has nothing to do with the likes of Lil Yachty. "The game hasn't changed because of him, the shift literally has nothing to do was him and was taking place before him. People talk about him, because he's literally so bad that nobody is quite sure how he's gotten this popular. Nothing has changed, he's a person (not even an artist) who had one catchy song and suddenly he's popular. That's been happening forever in Hip Hop."
"The reason for Lil Uzi and them becoming so popular is because of our generation. I mean look at our generation--it's a mess. They'll listen to a Lil Uzi over a Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, or J. Cole because they don't understand them and because they have to actually think about what they said and think about the meaning behind it. They don't want to do that. Because they're so simple minded. I listened to 4 Your Eyez Only like ten times, Jaylin, to understand and once I understood it, I cried. They'd listen to it once & be like, 'What? Man, this shit weak. Let me turn on Money Longer," Akilah Parker added.
WHAT ABOUT LONGEVITY? WILL IT LAST?
One objective and undeniable point about the contemporary Hip Hop sound is that individuality is lacking in sound. Several rappers sound like one another, borrowing flows and trading style and sharing producers. As these artists cycle in and out of the charts, will the sound go with them?
"It [the sound] goes with them. The artists who are actually making Top 5 Billboard hits usually come in with a new sound and it trickles down. No big names are taking the Uzi or Yachty sound, those are the smaller artist who copy. Drake, Big Sean, Kendrick, Cole, Chance, Ye, etc. are all the tastemakers and come with new sounds. They don't take from the smaller Lil whatever's," Mancini offered.
"Only Thugger will stand out from the ad-lib era, while the rest will be remembered as much as we do those from the ringtone rap era," Thomas suggested.
AND AS FOR THE SKEPTICS?
"Everyone has their own view of what hip-hop should be. We have a vast array of artists, just because someone's is not your flavor doesn't mean that you should discredit them," said Turner-Williams.
"I just hate when people shit on Boat, Uzi, 21 and the rest of the 'mumble rappers' because they're popular. If they have such a big problem with them, there's a whole heap of young 'conscious' lyricists that they probably have never even looked for cause they were too busy roasting Uzi's 'Bad and Boujee' verse," said Reggie Ogbonna.
"REAL" HIP HOP?
"Yachty has no substance whatsoever, but I see why people listen to him," said Henry Grinner IV. "I am a big Uzi fan, but not because of his lyrics, but because of the sound. I honestly believe it's a totally different genre. For example, all trap music shouldn’t be specifically rap, it should be in a sub genre. The Uzi, Yachty sound should have its own sub genre because it's not fair to compare them with the Pac's, Kendrick's, and Cole's--two different sounds. You wouldn’t call a skirt a pair of pants. They are a sub category of clothing."
"It wouldn't be wrong to exclude someone like Trinidad James who had one song, that said nothing, that had a good beat & was super popular, 'All Gold Everything.' How long did his 'popularity' last? For a little while. But how did he change the rap culture? He didn't. And that isn't REAL Hip Hop. They're equivalents to him," Parker contributed. "They're just a little more than one hit wonders."
Parker went on to distinguish Hip Hop artists from the chart toppers of today: "I watched 4 your eyez only, Jaylin and I was like 'Wow, this man is really the definition of an ARTIST." Lil Uzi and them are just rappers. Not artists."
"Take Funk Flex for example. His idea of hip hop is strictly bars, so he'll never get Thugger and all those guys. That's okay. He's not supposed to. It's a subculture that he's not meant to understand and that bothers him and everybody else who says the 'mumble rappers' are killing Hip Hop," offered Ogbonna. He continued to suggest that subcultures always face opposition, but that doesn't strip them of their validity: "I don't think they had any intention of following mainstream rules. It's kinda like the origins of skateboarding. Like a whole 'fuck it' attitude that people on the outside hated at first but now it's cool and had/has a huge impact on youth culture whether people want to admit it or not."