With the recent rise of hip-hop acts like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, and iLoveMakonnen, I’ve found myself constantly debating the virtues of the new school generation of rappers, defined by detractors as “mumble rap”, a blanket term that dismisses virtually anything that doesn’t sound like Big L as trash.
Uzi, Yachty, and Makonnen are not Big L, their music is different and non-traditional, it’s debatable whether or not they’re actually good rappers, but in many ways they’re pushing the culture forward in the variety of sound and aesthetic in hip-hop.
“Love”, a recent Makonnen collaboration with Mike Will Made-It and Rae Sremmurd, is much closer to pop-punk than hip-hop. The #RealHipHipHeads might not fuck with it, but it’s cool to see a hip-hop artist so intent on pushing the boundaries.
My philosophy with new, young, different rappers has always been to listen intently and avoid writing a new artist off just because it’s not like what I’m used to.
Mostly, this is informed by the fact that these are usually kids that are (increasingly) younger than me, from low-income areas, and making money from art. Joe Budden is corny as fuck for hating on Lil Yachty for making money and making it out of his mom’s basement through music.
Basically, my message is stop hating on teenagers for making money off music, whether you actually fuck with the music or not is irrelevant. Don’t be like Joe Budden.
So then, what do we — or I — do about the next generation of rappers, beyond Lil Yachty and Uzi? The even younger kids whose music is becoming increasingly violent and drug-addled. Artists like Tay-K, Lil Pump, Smokepurpp, and YBN Nahmir.
“Fuck a beat, I was tryna beat a case/But I ain’t beat that case, bitch I did the race,” 17-year-old Arlington, Texas rapper Tay-K proclaims on his viral hit “The Race”.
The virality of “The Race” isn’t due to the quality of the song, although “The Race” unequivocally bangs, but the very real life circumstances of the subject matter.
While on house arrest facing a capital murder charge for a 2016 incident during a home invasion, Tay-K cut his ankle bracelet and sparked a nationwide manhunt. Tay-K recorded “The Race” while on the run from authorities and released the music video the day he was found in Elizabeth, New Jersey after months on the run.
“The Race” visuals open with Tay-K smoking a blunt next to a wanted poster of his face.
Tay-K has subsequently been charged with another capital murder stemming from an incident at a Chik-Fil-A in San Antonio while Tay-K was on the run.
“The Race” video has over 80 million views on YouTube and the song has been remixed by artists like Lil Yachty, Tyga, Chevy Woods, and Fetty Wap & Monty. Travis Scott has tweeted lyrics from “The Race”.
DO THE DASH THEN GO OUT THE WAY
— TRAVIS SCOTT (@trvisXX) August 1, 2017
The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica wrote about Tay-K and “The Race” in August. Caramanica asserted that while we’ve seen similar paths to success before, Tay-K’s “The Race” stands alone,
“At this point it’s a well-worn path to fame: A baby-faced teen rapper with urgent energy and a homegrown mystique comes out of nowhere with a low-budget video that is impossible to ignore. The internet does the rest. But few, if any, independent viral hits have the knotty back story of ‘The Race.'”
The fusion of real life and art on Tay-K’s “The Race” is clearly an extreme example of how the internet hype machine can hoist up a rapper from obscurity to social media star within hours.
Hip-hop’s history in capturing inner-city struggle means that rappers that depict their circumstances (however violent or drug-related) are seen as rebels against an authority that has oppressed and denigrated these populations for centuries.
Authenticity is paramount in hip-hop, punk-rock, and any genre of art that’s inherently countercultural and “The Race” has an undeniable, alluring, and uncomfortable realness.
Craig Jenkins of Vulture wrote about the wave of violence of new rappers, citing Tay-K, Bobby Shmurda, and XXXTentacion as artists that have rose to prominence not in spite of, but perhaps because of, the reality depicted in their music,
“Would Tay-K’s song, or incarcerated New York rhymer Bobby Shmurda’s shoot-em-up anthem ‘Hot Nigga,’ connect if every word didn’t feel lived? Would XXXTentacion’s mix of speaker-busting punk-rap and sad-sack campfire songs ring true if he seemed at all concerned for his own well-being?”
Is “The Race” good because it’s good or because it’s fucking wild that Tay-K wrote a song and recorded a video while on the run from authorities for capital murder charges? It’s an interesting question, one that doesn’t have a clear answer.
But there are young rappers accruing millions in views and streams without capital murder charges.
Lil Pump, a 17-year-old Broward County, Florida native with rainbow colored dreads, braces, and an omnipresent lean cup, has become emblematic of the debates over new school vs. old school.
“Gucci Gang”, the single off his debut self-titled album, has 75 million streams on Spotify and the accompanying video has 40 million views on YouTube after one week.
Lil Pump’s style is characterized by his minimalist boasts and putdowns, “My lean cost more than your rent/ Your mom still live in a tent.” Again, Lil Pump is not Big L.
But his music deserves, if not demands, the attention of hip-hop listeners, or at least hip-hop listeners that are interested in seeing the direction the music is headed.
The lo-fi beats and brief, punchline-riddled tracks (the longest song on Lil Pump is 3 minutes and 19 seconds) have become the style du jour for SoundCloud rappers on the come up.
The blown out drums of Lil Pump and Smokepurpp’s “Smoke My Dope” are not because of a lack of recording equipment, it’s an aesthetic, one that’s become pervasive in the Xanax-laden world of SoundCloud rap (this sound was perhaps most prominently seen on XXXTentacion’s “Look At Me”, but I have not the energy to write about that dude, so that’s that).
Smokepurpp’s “Audi”, on which Lil Pump’s right-hand man raps “I don’t want friends I want Audis”, is another study in the lo-fi lean rap of South Florida.
As well as former XXXTentacion associate Ski Mask The Slump God’s “Catch Me Outside” (Ski Mask, at 21, is the oldest rapper in this article).
This aesthetic may have been curated in South Florida, which has suddenly become a hotbed of young, angsty SoundCloud rappers over the last year or so, but it has travelled beyond the heat of Broward County to places like Birmingham, Alabama where 17-year-old YBN Nahmir has become a sensation after releasing the video for “Rubbin Off The Paint” in September.
The song begins with a sample of Spongebob Squarepants and then a brace-faced Nahmir raps to the camera while tenderly holding a pistol in his lap, “I up the chop and let it blow him, watch this bitch heat his face.”
Nahmir told The Fader last month that he was just a gamer kid posting on the internet but was inspired by Bay Area rappers, which explains how a kid from Birmingham, Alabama sounds like Mozzy,
“I’m tapped in with everybody from the Bay, Mozzy, all of them. I used to be on the internet a lot, so all my friends on the internet were from California. I was always around them [online], so I started to sound like them. I think that’s really why. Most of my friends that live in Birmingham, some of them are from Vallejo. I don’t really hang around people from Alabama for real, except for my cousins and them. I guess that’s what makes the big impact.”
The internet is a wild thing. It’s also the reason that rappers from places off rap’s beaten path, Arlington, Texas; Broward County, Florida; and Birmingham, Alabama have become sudden stars despite the fact that these are not typical hip-hop hotbeds.
Nahmir, for all his baby-faced, posturing, told The Fader he just wants to help his mom and family get out of Birmingham,
“My ultimate goal? To move my momma out of Birmingham. To move my whole family out of Birmingham, my friends, my family, me. It don’t even need to be out of Birmingham, just to a better community, a gated community or something. Because around my way it’s too hot. My cousin just got out of jail. I care about the music stuff, but I just want to get the money right now to get my family out the way. That’s the main goal.”
Which brings us back to the fact that these are just kids trying to better their circumstances through music. Obviously, the rap sheets of certain artists is too bleak to ignore, but this generation of new rappers deserves our attention.
Don’t be the old head screaming about KRS-One as Lil Baby and Ski Mask The Slump God rise to prominence. I’m not saying you have to fuck with Lil Pump, but you might as well get used to these kids.
As always, don’t be a hater.