Is “Mumble Rap” the new punk?

Whether you like it or not this new wave of rappers, mockingly known as mumble rappers are here to stay. Over the last few years, the new enclave of internet based artists have gathered an incredible amount of digital noise to their names over open distribution services like soundcloud. As a group, the new movement, has been creating lanes for rappers in previously unnoticeable scenes like florida while, and an intense “need-to-know-basis” following while also garnering an equally vocal group of hate from an aging hip hop audience. So called, ‘Mumble rappers’ like lil Yachty, Uzi Vert, and 21 Savage have generated constant criticism from the current and previous garde of hip hop. There absence of lyricism, sometimes off-key and unconventional flows, and “substanceless music” have caused an outright internal struggle for the very soul of hip hop between the youngers and the old heads. Big name artists and contributors within the hip hop community have spoken out against the new wave of rappers. J Cole dissed mumble rappers on everybody dies, Pete Rock has been vocal on his disdain for the wave, so has Ebro, and Joe Budden.

Cyhi the Prince (A fucking monstrous rapper in my humble opinion) made a great comparison for mumble rap in a piece by DJ Smallz Eyes. where he said:

“You know how [there’s] rock — and then you have punk rock. I think we have rap, and then we have punk rap… The creativity of [Punk Rap] is kind of incomplete — but its complete. I think it should be [this way] because alot of other genres have subgenres, and they’re judged differently. Because, you can’t compare Kendrick to another artist.”

Strangely enough, this isn’t the first comparison between this new wave of hip hop artists and punk rock that I’ve run across as of late. Less recently (but still recently), the internet’s busiest (and most pretentious) music nerd Anthony Fantano, put out a think piece in early February claiming a similar comparison when discussing Lil Yachty. The father on the Youtube react channel BucketHeadNation, remarked offhandedly that “rap is going through its grunge phase.”

These claims got me to think about the relationship between Punk rock and Rap from a historical and philosophical perspective. So I began doing research on the subject, and I was shocked to see how deep the comparisons go.

History of Punk

The punk movement was a response to how stale rock and roll had gotten in the 60's. In the words of music journalist John Holstrom:

“punk rock had to come along because the rock scene had become so tame that [acts] like Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel were being called rock and roll, when to me and other fans, rock and roll meant this wild and rebellious music.” — John Holstrom, Punk magazine

The genre was a big middle finger to the flower power idealism of the hippy movement, and rock and roll legends at the time who had sold out to the record labels. The progression of the genre, at the time, had become artistically rigid. There were so many rules, opinions on what rock should sound like, and emphasis on experimental and pricey equipment that made the barrier to entry uncrossably wide. In many ways the rock of the 70’s had gotten away from it’s roots. Punk broke out as deconstructive, antithetical return to the roots of what we know as classic rock and roll— the zeitgeist, the throw-rules-to-the-wind attitude, and the screw you mentality.

Philosophy of Punk Rock

  1. F*ck the establishment

Punk was notable for its inversion of the deconstruction of rock and roll. The genre took the current state of rock at the time, ripped it apart, and brought the genre back to its rebellious roots. What followed was a cultural movement with zero reverence for authority, including that of it’s own predecessors. When, Johnny Rotten, The lead singer of the sex pistol , when asked about his idols and inspirations growing up he responded “I had no idols.” The punk movement had no respect for the older garde of rock and roll. They hated the generation before them for selling out.

2. DIY culture

Some credit the punk rock movement as the beginning of the diy culture. The Punk rock movement emphasized amateurism and raw energy over technique . Punk bands were often formed by kids or teens with no experience just linking up and whamming on guitars and shit. The philosophy was: if you could pluck a few strings , play a few chords, bang a solid rhythm out or sing your heart out congratulations — You could make a Punk band.

Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain of the band Nirvana talked about how punk rock amateurism inspired them to go out and make music without any lessons or instruction. Punk inspired the youth at the time to just go out and make music for the sake of making music. There was no emphasis on getting signed and going on world tours. Obviously there were acts who made it big, but they did it on their own terms instead of the labels by relentless self promotion and hard work.

Punk created one of the first major independent artist movements. Musicians an d bands started printing out their own albums, designing cover art. Some punk groups formed their own labels and handled the distribution process. They created there own marketing ideas, and businesses. The Venues were booked by themselves without the need of agents. The greatest thing about it all is that, everything was done from the grass roots and from fan support.

3. Jarring lyrics

The majority artist weren’t trained lyricist. What they lacked for in technique, they made up for in content and delivery. They took heavy fire from the media and other groups for their songs. They were simplistic, in-your-face, and unapologetically abrasive.The rock fans of the older generation couldn’t stand punks lyrics. In addition to being so raw, many of them were openly political and filled with tones of anarchy and disestablishmentarianism. concerts were often filled with the sounds of screaming and teen spirit.

4. Fashion

Much like the rest of the movement, the purpose of the punk style was to contrast the culture of the times. With spiky hair that took way more money than you would think necessary to maintain , The punk music had a very excessive style. The studded jackets and spiked hair stood out from the crowd. The designs were made to be abnormal because they represented the opposition to the 60’s mainstream. Trends rose and fell as punk aged, but there was always that level of opposition that rested behind the style.

Feel the Punk vibrations

The similarities between the new wave of hip hop (whatever name you want to call it) and the punk rock movement are pretty heavily tied together. From history, to cultural deconstruction, to the fashion, all the way down to the very attitude,

The first being their shared history. It’s no shock to anyone that the US was hit pretty hard during the great recession of the 2000’s, which is a time that many of the rappers of this era would have been shaped by. In the same way, Punk rose, in the UK, at a time of economic turmoil and government disillusionment. In much the same way that the generation of youth growing up in the early 60’s became disillusioned with the politics of the day, the teens growing up now are in much the same place politically. What’s worse is that Technology has given us the means to be much more aware of political corruption through sites like wikileaks and the different ways people are able to send out information.

To put this in perspective without getting too political: We lived through an election where both major candidates have been under investigation or under fire over several scandals — both political and personal. It seems like everyday, we are barraged with videos of injustice, hate speech, mistreatment, and political corruption. **The only difference between our generation and the previous ones is that we have the ability to refocus our attention to other things. Not to say that there aren’t those of us from the later generations participating in political protests and demonstrations, but a vast majority of the generation has chosen to turn a blind eye on many of these wrongs. Coupled with a constant state of technological uncertainty there is just not much of an urge to tackle these compounding issues.

The trademark for the punk and new wave movement has been it’s rebellious attitude. When Rappers like lil Yachty, Uzi Vert, and Kodak Black rose to prominence with the publication of XXL Freshman list, their unpolished style really roughed the older generations and lyrics obsessed listeners of hip hop (myself included) . My first thought at the XXL roll out was that it seemed almost intentional on the account of the new wave; like a conjoined effort to put a middle finger to the conventions of modern hip hop-Starting with the desecration of the xxl cypher and free style. Of course it probably wasn’t . Freestyling just isn’t a staple of hip hop culture like it was in the early days. This has gradually been the case with repeated instances of rappers coming on radio programs and spitting out pre-written verses. So to the new artists of the day it’s like, “whats the point of pretending to free style anyway?”

The style of hip hop in the late is truly a rebellion of preexisting rap culture. Rappers like lil yachty and others have thrown out chosen to really deconstruct the genre. Though They’ve substituted the cemented rap cultures insistence on crazy lyrical-miracle-spiritual-individual words play with an emphasis on tone and sound. If you really take a hard look look at it, the new age rappers have taken rap , which is a form of vocal percussion where the mouth create intelligible percussive tones using syllable and human language, and deconstructed the craft to it’s most basic. They are more focused with the placing right syllables in the right order than the right syllables with the right meaning. This evolves into a difference in perception of what is considered “good hip hop” by those of the older and younger generation (which is something I will cover in a later article). Hip hop, rap in particular has taken a direction more akin to rock song writing. In all fairness, this isn’t the case completely with all rappers out now (xxxtentacion has several songs with really quality lyrics), but lyrics have become less lyrically complex in favor of varying tone. Because of this the new sound cloud new rappers are much better able to encompass many different sound scapes and patenas. Artists like the $uicide boys and X have opened the door for a very aggressive/rock/emo sound to emerge into hip hop and Lil Yachty has pioneered a new happy go lucky direction that wasn’t present before. Whether or not you like there music, it’s obvious that rappers like lil Yachty and Uzi put out there music with a consistent style.

The new rules of hip hop are that there are no rules: no bar line, no tonal pattern, no lyrical based cock fight -just make the music and if it’s good it’s good. Which is how rappers like yachty became over night successes while only rapping for a year. The new culture of hip hop truly values authenticity. Which is something that, in my personal opinion, alot of hip hop artist have lost. Whether it’s pretending to freestyles off the dome, claiming to having created to be a top 5 rapper when the majority of the raps are ghost written by around~70 ish other people, claiming to having sold drugs, or a rappers claiming that they’re independently signed when they’re, in fact, linked heavily to the industry. Back in the age of older hip hop, there was an emphasis on originality and honesty. I’m not saying these things are completely gone or that I prefer one to another, but this is largely missing by the current guard of hip hop, but exists much more in the new guard. A majority of the rappers in the current guard have there careers dictated by the distribution labels, and have become slightly more explicit bubble gum pop sell outs in the eyes of some. The rising new guard has a better interest in authenticity. They’re music is diverse and different in regards to the tones and directions they take in their music. Songs can be bare almost grungy. You can take songs like Kodie shanes’ sad. which is a great record but comically simple, or lil pump’s D rose , which is just minimalistically. . . itself.

Finally, what could be a better example of the punk comparisons than new waves blatant disrespect for old heads and anyone who came before them. If anyone else before 2016 would of called the late Biggie ‘overrated’, they would have gotten the taste slapped out of their mouths by the collective culture. As time has progressed though, it’s becoming more and more frequent that rappers, even more lyrical rappers like vince staples, are coming out with some really blasphemous thoughts on the greats- much like the Punk rocker s of the 70's. Keeping up with the spirit of Johnny Rotten, Yachty has said several times about many of the most sacred artists. Now, no one is saying that the new waves disrespect for the greats isn’t problematic or wrongheaded, but when you look at things from the perspective of the punk movement, and how that rebellious energy really saved rock and roll in the late 70;’s and early 2000’s by ushering grunge and nirvana and many other band , does it starts to make sense. It’s about Iconoclasm , tearing down the new to continue with the old. Obviously this wasn’t Lil Yachty intentions when he called out Biggie, but it seems to be the way of the collective youth consciousness. Like it or not, Hip hop has become incredibly over saturated in the pop scene, it’s been the voice of several generations of youth and like the music of the past, it has been transitioning on it’s way out over the past few years. What the new rappers have done is take the same essence of rap and the hip hop culture and extract it into something new. We’ve seen this on smaller scales with the variations of hip hop : trap music, drill , and grime (which technically isn’t considered “hip hop,” by most british artists, but it’s very similar), but now it’s being shifted at a higher level.

Rebuttal: for the gen X’ers

So obviously, these are just comparisons. I’m not saying that Punk music is the new wave of pun rap or that we should be calling them punk rappers. It’s obviously dangerous to compare cultural movement of the day and hold them exactly side by side to cultural movement s of the past because that just stops progress. This is a new thing- we are in new waters, just with a very similar sea life.

The biggest difference between Punk and the new wave is the lack of politics and variation in lyrical content in the new wave. However, It seems like this new wave is a rebellion to the woke rappers of 2016 and the alternative rap wave. In contrast, new hip hop is like a reprise from the daily bombardment of negative media that has saturated our networks. Keeping with that theme, many of these artist don’t tackle incredibly hard subjects in their songs. To couple that, the majority of their music is fairly cookie cutter, not unlike previous generations of the past. They are susceptible to the same tropes of money, hoes, and drugs.

In addition, the punk movement was a rebellion against the whole status quo: governments, corporations, and fashion. It was about as counter culture as one can get., but this new wave is heavily consumerist. What better example of this than the four or five commercials for sprite and target that lil boats been on since he became culturally relevant. With the exception of X and maybe a few others i’m not aware of as someone in between the generation gaps, there aren’t many purely rebellious rappers coming up in the new guard,- they’re all fairly materialistic in someway or another- at least for now.

So…. Punk Rap?

So whose to say where this music is heading. It maybe that these new rappers are just part of a smaller wave and soon we will move back to more lyrically intense music. Maybe the wave will evolve and we will see more thoughtful songwriting more akin to rock music. It’s tough to see what direction this music is going, but hopefully by getting a better look at this movement through a lens of historical comparison can better gauge the importance of this shift in hip hop culture. Though the antithetical nature of this wave might be jarring for some, when looking at the subgenre from a different perspective the rise of amateurism, alternative tones, and iconoclasm might just be what the genre needs to sustain itself for the years to come. But what do you think? Are we taking this comparison a little to far? what do you think the future of this genre is? Does the spirit of Iconoclasm warrant the blatant disrespect for the artist that paved the way for the people that are talking shit, to be talking shit.

Gif of Justin hunte saying “I don’t have theese answers.”