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Is "Lyrical Rap" Destined For A Triumphant Return In 2018?

  Jan 03, 2018 16:32
  18K Views
What does 2018 have in store for hip-hop fans?

When Black Thought dropped his now-legendary ten minute Funkmaster Flex freestyle, it felt as if a transitional phase was upon us. Despite being a longer watch than the average attention span tends to allow for, Black Thought’s unfiltered wisdom rapidly went viral. Fans and casuals alike marvelled at the sheer technical prowess, while those prone to deeper analysis appreciated the scope of his wit, the nuance of his vernacular. In short, the video revealed a genius at work.

Moreover, it showed that there was still an audience for so-called “lyrical” rap. True, Funkmaster Flex holding his phone out to Snapchat himself mouthing “bars” certainly does feel like a parody, more tinder for the dichotomous feud between old heads and mumble rap. Yet something resonated with people - something deeper than watching an aspiring emcee spit the alphabet backwards, attempt to break the record for fastest rhymes, or various other attempts at chasing YouTube rap immortality. To be fair, Black Thought has long had a reputation as “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,” and killing shit is nothing new for the prolific Roots emcee.

Still, the idea of a Black Thought freestyle going viral at the tail end of 2017 has been nagging at me. After all, it’s another day at the office for Thought, yet it somehow managed to captivate millions of people in a way that few radio freestyles ever have. Perhaps Black Thought is simply just that good; after all, he did seamlessly incorporate “ahem” into his bars. I mean, yes, Black Thought is that good, but the demand and awestruck responses led me to another conclusion: 2018 is about to herald a return to lyrical hip-hop. The age of “mumble rap” will fade, as a newfound appreciation for the art of lyricism will rekindle.

RELATED: Black Thought Dubs Himself The Inventor Of "Mumble Rap"

Let it be known - this is not an assault on “mumble-rap.” Some of the year’s most exciting new artists emerged as a result of the movement, and it managed to captivate younger audiences with a rebellious authority older heads could scarcely dream of. Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” became the anthem for those too busy scouring the internet for the coveted dank-ass-lit-meme to sit through a Black Thought Freestyle, while Lil Uzi Vert’s Gothic fairytale “XO Tour Life” became an anthem of sorts, capturing the malaise and watered-down nihilism of a generation adrift.

The songs themselves were both solid, landing commercial and critical success across the boards, yet they shared a commonality. Rather than focusing on lyricism, those singles relied on energy, melody, and production. There’s a reason many of these live concerts feature heavy backing track usage and a near berserker level of adrenaline - audiences attend them to capture a vibe, and that’s perfectly valid. The reality is, there’s nothing more off-putting than an old-head preaching from his pulpit, spewing fire-and-brimstone from an exceedingly high-horse. Yet on the other end, it’s equally off-putting to see a young fan disregard the art-form that birthed their idols, as if history means nothing; in that regard, hip-hop is one of the few musical genres where the legends are so openly second guessed by the young blood.  

It can’t be denied. The impact of “mumble rap” was felt throughout the year, and it’s fair to say that it shaped both the cultural and musical climate of 2017. Consider the XXL Freshman Class as a microcosm, with many calling it the “worst” year yet. For the first time, the Cypher felt redundant, as if it were more of a joke than a respected tradition. That’s not to say that rappers like A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie aren’t lyrically inclined, but it felt as if the artists were more concerned with upholding an aloof, devil-may-care image than actually engaging in their craft. To be fair, his album The Bigger Artistactually contained some excellent writing, though many ultimately lumped him into the “mumble rap” category without giving it a proper listen.

There’s an interesting balance going on right now. As stated, the cultural pulse spent the majority of the year fixed on the mumble, yet the commercial heavyweights tended to be more lyrical acts like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Eminem. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that many “mumble rappers” obtained clout on SoundCloud and YouTube, sites notorious for underpaying artists. Perhaps the fact that many young fans have probably never purchased an album in their lives played a role. With that on the table, you’d think that “lyrical rap” was in a great place.

RELATED: Hottest Verses Of 2017

After all, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. remained the year’s most commercially successful album, and he’s as lyrical as they come. In fact, K. Dot’s writing is so dense, his verses often require multiple listens to really digest. And lest we forget, he’s among rap’s most bankable superstars. Like Eminem in his prime, Kendrick will sell regardless of what he drops, provided he continues his Midas-like run. More importantly however, is the fact that Kendrick Lamar will be headlining festivals, and amassing streams for well over the next decade. People have been mercilessly ravaging Eminem’s Revival, but you know damn well his Coachella performance will be among the festival’s most attended sets. As great as some of these emerging acts are, will they ultimately find themselves rewarded with the same longevity?

I previously joked with my colleagues that Lil Wayne’s Dedication 6 would be somewhat of a Groundhog Day-esque litmus test. If he were to return to form, it would herald a return to “lyrical rap” in 2018; if he were to slide through as “autotune Wayne,” more of the same. When the release date came around, Wayne immediately established that he wasn’t playing any games, and gave the fans what they have been clamoring for. Pair that with Black Thought’s freestyle, and doesn’t it feel like the winds of change?

Recently, a previously released J.I.D. mixtape called Para Tu was discovered by a user on Reddit’s r/hiphopheads, and we helped spread the word. It didn’t take long for J.I.D. to notice that his old work had surfaced, and he ultimately ended up giving it an official Soundcloud release. It was a nice moment for everyone, but the main takeaway was that J.I.D. spent a solid few hours as the most-visited artist on our site; seeing his name at the top of the traffic dashboard felt surreal. Optimistic. Granted, it wasn’t long before he was dethroned by Cardi B’s latest antics, but still.

Hip-hop has always been a malleable genre, evolving with every passing year. Nas proclaimed it dead back in 2006, while Jay-Z played undertaker to autotune in 2009. Kanye West has switched up his style with every album, the true Radiohead of rap; the man who made The College Dropout might shudder in fear upon hearing the depraved fantasies of  “Freestyle 4.” It stands to reason that the genre as a whole will undergo drastic alterations, especially as the surrounding zeitgeist change. Fans on the come-up will continue to flock to those that resonate with them, favoring instant gratification, hedonism, and angst over the multifaceted authorship of “lyrical” rappers. Again, don’t get it twisted - this is not a judgment on mumble rap, nor a deification of “bars.” There are highlights on either end of the spectrum, just as there are low points; is “rappity-rap” shit really any different from that “ay” flow?

Yet I’m sticking to my guns here. People will start to gravitate toward lyrical hip-hop this year, at least to an extent. After all, if there’s one thing people love, it’s contrarianism. Eventually, people will tire of loving the same thing, and feel compelled to point out its flaws the next time a discussion ensues. Suddenly, there might be an increased expectation for Lil Pump to deliver some so-called “bars,” even if it’s subtle. He’s probably safer than some of his analogues, who might be phased out entirely if public interests wane. But who will bring upon a return to “lyrical hip-hop,” if several of the genre’s heavyweights already dropped last year?

This is all purely speculation, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see new projects from Nas, Drake, J Cole, Kanye West, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and/or Jay Rock, Mac Miller, Earl Sweatshirt, Mick Jenkins, EarthGang, Royce Da 5’9”, A$AP Rocky, T.I., J.I.D., Run The Jewels, MF Doom, Joyner Lucas, Denzel Curry, Danny Brown and more. Best case scenario, Andre 3000 decides it’s time to lay down the law and finally drops the long-awaited hip-hop classic we all know he’s capable of doing. In an even better scenario, Andre’s album is immediately followed up by a Black Thought solo album.

Now, in all honesty, the aforementioned artists may very well bank on their established fan bases, and fail to impact the overall cultural climate. However, there remains a chance that people will gravitate toward a more lyrical branch of hip-hop, if only to escape from the norm. It would certainly feel poetic if Lil Wayne’s Carter V somehow led the charge; it’s hard to imagine any other album topping the hype that a C5 leak would garner. Still, the year remains in its infancy, and it’s hard to gauge what we might be looking at. Either way, as long as we get some great music out of it, that’s all that matters.

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88 Comments
top comment
Team Breezy
- Jan 3, 2018

Black Thought, Joey Badass, Nas, Cole, Kendrick this year gonna be great. Love seeing how hip hop is evolving. And to all you niggas out there complaining that there’s no lyrical talent out rn, look harder please

jorge_haley
- Jan 5, 2018

man o man are yall missin out...

Weekday
- Jan 4, 2018

Nigga it never left lmao yall just listening to trashcan music

J Card
- Jan 4, 2018

hope joyner gets some radio play this year

Made_to_Post
- Jan 5, 2018

Same bro, I really hope so.

Tra Gunnz
- Jan 4, 2018

#20k

Made_to_Post
- Jan 4, 2018

Krit, Joyner, Smino, Vic Mensa, Vince Staples, Nyck Caution are well rounded artists & great lyricists. I also think people sleep on Kyle's lyricism, that dude is capable & is great at melody. I also I don't know why 21 Savage gets alot of hate, I get that he's kinda simple but he's definitely rapping & alot of times he's solid, dope flow too.

Made_to_Post
- Jan 4, 2018

I think lyrical rap will return, I don't think it will be the same exactly. I actually believe Kendrick when he said Mumble Rap has it's positives, I just believe that mumble rap is kinda showing the power of melody & sometimes simple is good as well. Popular lyricists will likely continue to have to show they're flexibility, Kendrick, Big Sean, Drake, etc. I think it's urging the average lyricist to show more & while the standards aren't nearly the same for mumble rap. Rap is cyclical

Starlord
- Jan 4, 2018

Man I didn't catch Black Thought's freestyle. GOT' DAMN. Lyricism reigns over all this other shit. If you want someone to blame for mumble rap then blame the labels pushing artists to make something "catchy" instead of reflective. This is why we need another Ruthless to come save the game. Artists need to run the label.

Hookers & Cocaine
- Jan 4, 2018

We need that C5..

HipxHopxHead1017
- Jan 4, 2018

Bars over bullshit !

Makaveli The Don
- Jan 4, 2018

Kinda hard to believe lyrical rap is coming back when the hottest rapper out is Cardi B.

PS1000
- Jan 4, 2018

Great article!!

John Parks
- Jan 4, 2018

As long as The Blast master drops I'm good.

TyJames1989
- Jan 4, 2018

Jay-Z, Nas, Em, Wayne, KDot, Cole, Sean, Dave East, Cyhi, King Push, Logic, Joyner Lucas, Joey Bada$$, Vince Staples, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, Isaiah Rashad, Mac Miller, Chance, Gambino, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, Bas, Omen, Cozz, Lute, J.I.D, EarthGang, Flatbush Zombies etc Lyrical rap never left, fool.

We hope so. 2017 really sucked. Even Eminem had me disappointed

Winnie the Bish
- Jan 4, 2018

“Even Eminem”.. Eminem has been disappointing for like 10 years

My thing is. Where tf has lyrical rap gone? I listen to lyrical rap every fuckin' day. Y'all would just rather complain bout everything else, than actually find, listen to & support the lyrical rappers. The biggest rappers in the game & tho only ones selling over 300k are LYRICAL or CONTENT BASED RAPPERS. Rappers like Lil Pump ain't gonna ever sell over at the most 150k in their life & that's only if he get one of those real deal Migos with "Bad & Boujee"/Rae Sremmurd with "Black Beatles" years.

60s Hip Hop
- Jan 4, 2018

I think the issue is that hip hop heads are confused because hip hop isn't about being the best anymore. Rap is becoming more and more categorized. Hits aren't overshadowing lyrical rap, the hits are a totally different sub genre now. I don't think we should compare lyrical and mumble anymore. It doesn't make sense to.

RJ Go Hard
- Jan 3, 2018

Also there is more peep people besides Cole and Kendrick!!!!!!!! So sick of hearing those garbage ass names! How about Schoolboy and Vince? Or Scarface and Eminem? Wu Tang and G Unit? Plenty of lyrical cats.

Winnie the Bish
- Jan 4, 2018

Why you mention Wu and G unit like they’re putting out songs rn? Lol

RJ Go Hard
- Jan 5, 2018

@Winnie the Bish : wtf u talking about? Wu dropped in the fall!! Simpleton

RJ Go Hard
- Jan 3, 2018

It ain't went no where to to begin with!

Alvantre
- Jan 3, 2018

Lyrical rap been made a comeback with Cole and Kendricks rise...

Big Ack
- Jan 3, 2018

LOGIC 2018

Nappy B Trappin
- Jan 3, 2018

Tl:dr

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