Crazy hair, sleeves of tattoos, and a raucous sound has older people scratching their heads at the sudden infatuation of the current generation with these new artists. Did I just describe the emergence of punk rock, emo, trap or all the above?
While sub-genres within rock became more apparent through the decades with the emergence of punk, metal, and grunge, hip-hop has remained relatively monolithic due to a mixture of ignorance and a lack of nuance in public perception.
But as time passed, the inevitable happened. There were some who came to view the old as inspiration and some who saw it as antiquated.
Rather than viewing this split as willful ignorance of the current generation to acknowledge those who came before them, it may be helpful (or at least understandable) to see this as a natural branching out within a massively popular genre.
Naturally, there will be numerous people on all sides to defend their preferred style (boom bap) and ridicule the others (bubblegum trap). This polarization is most clear in the ’80s, music that is still largely viewed with a nostalgic fondness despite being the strangest decade for music (how do Guns ‘N Roses and a-ha come from the same era? How?).
Bands like Depeche Mode, The Cure, and The Smiths paved the way for, arguably, the most contentious rock sub-genre of the late ’90s and ’00s: “emo.”
“Emo,” short for “emotional,” has somehow managed to out-sadden Robert Smith and Morrissey and has almost become a parody of itself.
Try to read the following lyrics without cringing or crying or both. Good luck:
- “the truth / Is you could slit my throat / And with my one last gasping breath / I’d apologize for bleeding on your shirt”
The amount of streaking eyeliner these Taking Back Sunday (“You’re So Last Summer”) lyrics are responsible for cannot be quantified.
Now, try to guess who sang these lyrics:
- “We were looking forward to the rest of our lives / Used to keep my picture posted by your bedside / Now it’s in your dresser with the socks you don’t like”
- “And if it makes you less sad, I’ll take your pictures all down / Every picture you paint, I will paint myself out / It’s cold as a tomb, and it’s dark in your room / when I sneak to your bed to pour salt in your wounds”
- “Should’ve saw the way she looked me in my eyes / She said baby I am not afraid to, die / Push me to the edge / All my friends are dead”
- “And I saw God cry in the reflection of my enemies, / and all the lovers with no time for me. / And all of the mothers raise their babies to stay away from me.”
If you guessed:
- Post Malone (“Better Now”)
- Brand New (“The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot”)
- Lil Uzi Vert (“XO Tour Llif3”)
- Fall Out Boy (“Golden”)
You guessed right. Also, you must’ve realized how seamlessly current rap lyrics fit in with these emo lyrics.
Here’s another set of lyrics from the late XXXTentacion (“SAD!”) to drive the point even further into your broken heart, “She took my heart and left me lonely / I’ve been broken, heart’s contentious / I won’t fix, I’d rather weep / I’m lost and I’m found, but / It’s torture being in love.”
Emo fans, rejoice, angst is alive and well, just not in the genre you’re used to.
How did this happen? Who is the artist responsible for emo in rap? What’s next?
As previously mentioned, genres can only expand so much before splintering off into different sub-groups and sounds. And whether you like emo music or not, you are probably a fan of a certain sub-genre rather than the overarching umbrella genre it’s under. If anything, this is generally good as new sounds and artists will emerge, drawing from numerous influences.
There may be a variety of sensitive hip-hop artists to choose from, but one artist sticks out currently, who perfectly captures the polarizing effect of emo music in rap: Kanye West.
Lil Uzi Vert cites West’s “808s and Heartbreak” as a major influence and it’s hard to deny Kanye’s impact on current artists from Drake to Chance the Rapper. Despite the mixed bag that is his recent album, “ye,” Kanye proves that he’s still willing to be emotionally vulnerable and raw despite public perception.
Much like rock music, hip-hop was initially seen as “hard.” It was a genre of music that was more “masculine” with a street edge to it. Kanye West, for better or worse, irreversibly opened the doors for a different sound and myriad avenues to go down as a hip-hop artist.
It’s hard to predict what will be the next sound or sub-genre in rap music. It’s easy to imagine further branches and niches being carved out in hip-hop, perhaps to the point of pretentiousness and snobbery (single origin rap, anyone?).
The truth is emo rock is still around because there is no shortage of angsty teens to fill that void. The same can be predicted for hip-hop. Emo rap, whether it’s classified as trap music, mumble rap, or something else entirely, is most likely here to stay.
Regardless of what form it may come in, emotion will never get old.
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Written in VA. An MFA graduate in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.