Why Rap Has Become the New Pop
After witnessing the train wreck that was the 2020 XXL Freshman cyphers, I couldn’t help but find myself reflecting on the current state of rap music and just how much it has changed in the relatively small window of time I have been involved with it. As years have gone on, its undeniable that rap has lost some of its focus and emphasis on lyricism and substituted it for catchy hooks, standardized production and autotuned vocals that provide little to no substance on the surface level. The era we have now entered is what I call the “Pop conversion” of rap as it has become the dominate genre, pulling in more listeners than Pop and Rock music in recent years. The artists that have been signed more recently have begun to reflect this conversion as their sounds are vastly different from their peers of prior years. Projects are churned out constantly with little to no musical evolution between them as artists capitalize on the sound that made them popular, riding the metaphorical wagon until the wheels inevitably fall off.
“Artists” like 6ix9ine and Bhad Bhabie arguably do not create compelling music but instead use their personality and identity as their brand and push the music out to capitalize on their spotlight to make a quick buck. This sentiment can be paralleled by somebody like Lady Gaga earlier on in her career. While she undeniably has raw talent to back her music, her shenanigans to maintain headlines (i.e. the infamous meat dress of 2010, amongst numerous other oddities) are similar to those of 6ix9ine who trolls other rappers constantly to keep his name imbedded in news articles; as journalists like myself unfortunately fall victim to this manipulation.
The point of all of this is the loss of focus on what made rap what it was. In what I consider to be the Golden Age of Rap, artists like Run DMC, Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., N.W.A., Eminem, Jay-Z and many others, all used their music as an escape; an outlet to discuss their views of the world and speak on their current socio-economic status for those who are unfamiliar with life in less-than-ideal neighborhoods. The music always came first for these artists and it defined their brand as MC’s.
My Golden Age of Rap:
For newer acts we don’t really see this, as a focus is put more on the brand than the music itself. What makes music an art is the expression, emotion and complex crafting of a unique sound that only that person can emulate. Nowadays it seems to me that many of these newer artists either have very similar sounds (utilizing the Migos’ popularized triplet flow or heavily autotuned vocals) or somewhat contrived production with standardized inclusions of 808’s, high hats and bass that add unearned intensity.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t outliers who redefine the genre as time passes. For example, Drake can be accredited as the first rapper to really popularize rap bars with singing and harmonies imbedded alongside them; although this is not to say he was the first to do it. Drake can also be seen as an example of how mainstream and “Pop-esque” rap has become, with his more recent releases seemingly lacking any new innovation or ingenuity to set them apart, unlike his older works that featured a vast variety of different sounds, flows and melodies.
Despite all that has been said thus far, I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike modern rap music. In fact, I enjoy just how far the music has evolved and I welcome all of the new sounds that this generation has to offer. My main gripe is the lack of imagination and the stifling of creation that comes from record labels dictating the content they want released. Where Pop could be found overutilizing the same chord progressions, rap can be said to overutilize similar flow patterns or drumbeats. It’s the decrease in individuality that upsets me as more and more artists seem to only care about the money and the fame instead of the music.
As a genre that found its base in bucking the status quo and rejecting the system, it pains me to watch the music I love slowly morph into something it’s not through corporate manipulation. My only saving graces are that the music I love will always be around and that there will always be artists who wish to emulate the more classic side of rap and hip hop; not for the money, but for the love of the music and culture.
Written By: Michael Miserendino