Hip hop and rap has changed in the last 10 years. Not only have the two become one, but the once traditional view of hip hop and rap as being a misogynistic, gun wielding, bling wearing and violent narrative has shifted. The genre has become an outlet for heartfelt emotions that explore the ‘realness’ of 21st century, love and life. Lyrics are sad, messages deep, and rhythms moody. So what happened to the hardcore gansta rap we millennials only throwback to and who pioneered this new sound we get turnt to?
The genre then
Hip hop and rap has always been always been about the exploring of emotions, there’s no doubting that. The sound pioneered in the mid-1980s with rappers like Schoolly D and Ice-T and groups like N.A.W directly addressing their oppression and repressed emotions in their music.
Many of these OG emcees spoke openly of their associations gangs, crime, sex, homophobia and racism, promiscuity, substance abuse, police, and narcissism as part of their artistic identities. These themes created the initial imagery of misogyny, violence and hyper masculinity in the industry.
Despite this the genres realness appealed to audiences and its growth peaked in the late 90’s into the 2000s, with it a change in message and sound. Eminem, Tupac and Notorious BIG became households names. Their music dealt with these associations and anxieties as part of their artistic identities.
But how did we arrive at Kendrick, J Cole and Drake? Hip hop and rap writer David Chang suggests that “Emcees like Tupac, Eminem and Biggy have all expressed feelings of loneliness, depression and mental anguish.” The difference between them and rapper of today, those like Kendrick Lamar J Cole, and Drake, is the fact that “their artistic identities weren’t defined by these expressions…They surrounded these emotional outbursts with enough gun talk, misogyny and violence to still maintain a hyper-masculine image.”
The genre today
Whilst gun talk, misogyny and violence are still spoken of the need to still maintain a hyper-masculine image is not. The hip hop and rap of today is more vulnerable, there is an acceptance of not having it all together and a self reflexiveness acknowledging male emotions and feelings. The music even speaks to the pressures of maintaining the image of hyper masculinity, respecting women and life in the hood with the dominating narrative being the unreal romanticized versions of life and love. No doubt leading this sound is Drake.
Drake is our generations saddest man and has met his fair share of criticisms for being so. Some critics questioned the placement of his second album, Take Care in the hip hop and rap genre because of his ‘soft lyrics‘ and unconventional arrangements. It was labeled as “gorgeously produced but terribly executed because it failed hit the root of the genre”. Others however, welcomed this new nuanced look into the rappers own failed romances, relationships, wealth, fame, concerns about leading a hollow life, and despondency sound. Take Care went 4x platinum and won the Grammy for Rap Album of the year in 2013.
The reflexive quality present in Take Care and the music of Drake’s contemporaries is more relate able to the public. These musicians present a personal account of their experiences, making us the listener more involved and responsive to their music. This is what the millennial wants to hear. It’s a winning formula that has brought the death of gangsta rap making it a mere memory of the 90s.