The year is 2018, there has been a shift in the culture of rap and it has sparked generational wars in all sectors and sub-genres. The mainstream of Hip-Hop is more than a mutation of its original DNA, it is an entirely new species. Although far from their canon counterparts, the X-Men of today’s popular rap have morphed the genre into a new line in evolution, existing concurrently with the sounds of “old school” Hip-Hop. We hear these distinctions within trap, conscious rap and even Christian Hip-Hop.
This is not a new phenomena within music. In the early 1990’s, R&B saw a similar transformation. During its inception, a lot of artists shunned the term “neo-soul”. In 2010, Tyler Lewis wrote “Given the way black music has been named by (usually) outsiders ever since the blues, the reaction to the name by artists who ostensibly fit into the ‘neo-soul’ category represents a wonderful example of black self-determination in an industry that is still defiantly wedded to narrow definitions and images of black folks.” Coined by Kedar Massenburg of Motown Records in the late 1990s, Neo-Soul was a marketing category following the commercial breakthroughs of artists such as D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell. The term was used to describe the mix of modernity of the time and traditions of the past. The blowback by artists of the new term was based in the idea that their music was a trending fad and not a lasting genre.
The audiences of the day, however latched on to the new designation as a way to categorize the music that they consumed. Labels in music help the listener better identify which artists created in a style that ran aligned with the moods they felt. Understanding and compartmentalizing expectations of the art help better experience tracks the way they were intended. As with Neo-Soul, the new brand of Hip-Hop has grown outside of the norm traditionally heard within the genre.
It may be time for rap and Hip-Hop to make room for the artists of this era. Terms like “mumble rap” are usually used in a derogatory fashion to poke fun at the deliver style of the rapper. While being used in jest, however, the phrase still instills certain expectations within the listener. These unwarranted assumptions leave little room for the music to speak with the voice the artist intended for it.
Trap, conscious rap and even Christian Hip-Hop have all evolved and have made their respective fanbases pause. Whether fans stick to certain artists that they are comfortable with out of nostalgia, as in conscious rap or head cock, as in Christian Hip-Hop, all of the sub genres of Hip-Hop are seeing a shift. For instance, the emergence of trap gospel has some fans actually questioning the faith of the artist. The dangers of pushing an idea of what an artist is supposed to create stifles what they actually produce. There needs to be leeway in the way we hear their songs.
Neo-Rap may not be a term that sticks, but allowing today’s artists room to be themselves within their own genre may ensure that they succeed by not being held to expectations they never promised.