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In Defense of Modern Rap

Modern rap draws quite a bit of attention from gen z’ers, from Sheck Wes’ “Mo Bamba” and Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams”. Rap music: a topic of great controversy.

Over the years, rap music receives a vast amount of criticism for its harsh language, objectification of women, glorification of drugs, and glorification of crime. Yes, all of these factors are present in rap music, but over the last years rappers have uncovered a theme that’s entirely different. It seems that contemporary rap music has begun to touch on more concrete societal issues.

But, to discuss modern rap, you have to start from the beginning. Let’s rewind to the 1990s.

Rap’s Beginnings

Rap technically originated in the 1970s, however the genre’s popularity skyrocketed in the 1990s most notably with the growing popularity of Tupac and Notorious BIG. Tupac and Notorious BIG are legendary 90s rap artists; if you don’t recognize their names, you’ll surely recognize their faces from various 90s-inspired Urban Outfitters t-shirts.

Anyway, these two rappers popularized rap music as it coincided with societal issues at the time. During the 90s, there was major outrage over the controversial issue of police brutality as well as criticism of the lasting effects of Reagan’s War On Drugs on black communities. Many rap artists at the time touched on these issues in their music, arguably uniting the the black community.

Later on, as racial politics calmed down slightly, possibly as a result of alternative issues (like the recession) coming up, rap music shifted in tone. The vast majority of the 2000s and into the early 2010s is where the rap music that is most criticized most likely comes from. No offense to rappers during this time period, but this music was not the best, to say the least. During this time period, there was a general absence of artistry in popular rap music. It was indeed about drugs, crime, and the objectification of women. This is not to say there weren’t good rappers– there were, the vast majority just weren’t. This is also not to say that the music was completely bad — the songs were definitely fun for a party, there was just a general lack of substance.

The Birth of Contemporary Rap

Fast forward to present day, rap music has evolved a lot. This could be attributed to the rise of ‘SoundCloud rappers’.

‘SoundCloud rappers’ are a certain kind of rapper with a very specific sound and most people either love them or hate them. The name for these rappers comes from SoundCloud, which is a music app where people can post music and listen to others’ music. Anyway, these rappers are known for making music that varies from extremely sad to lighthearted to borderline pop punk.

One of the most notable ‘SoundCloud rappers’ was Xxxtentacion. Xxxtentacion was killed in his car June 2018, leading to many people comparing him to rap icon Tupac due to the similar causes of death and massive popularity. There is no doubt that the late rapper was extremely problematic, however there is also no doubt that he was a trailblazer for the rap genre. Xxxtentacion’s songs including but not limited “SAD!” and “Jocelyn Flores” are incredibly well done, detailing the rapper’s struggle with mental health. The late rapper’s transparency when it came to mental health served as a defining moment when comes to rap music, adding a new layer of depth to the genre.

Another notable SoundCloud rapper who did this was Lil Peep. Lil Peep was another significant rapper when it came to mental health, meshing the rap beats with guitar reminiscent of 90s rock. Most popularly known is the rapper’s song “Awful Things” which describes his mental health in relation to a toxic relationship. Unfortunately, Lil Peep died from an overdose in late 2017.  

The prevalence of discussing mental health in rap music has extended to more mainstream rappers, too. As SoundCloud rappers began touching on mental health more, mainstream rappers quickly followed suit.

In hit song “XO TOUR Llif3,” Lil Uzi Vert highlights the consideration of suicide during a toxic relationship. Additionally, in Post Malone’s “I Fall Apart”, the rapper describes substance abuse and internal struggle following a breakup.

Touching On Hard-hitting Issues

This trend in musical discussion highlights a solution to a commonly overshadowed issue. The abundance of contemporary male rappers discussing their mental health through the medium of song is highly unusual considering the taboo surrounding men sharing their feelings in any way.

In the past few years, suicide has been in the top 10 the leading causes of death in men, and is more prevalent especially in younger groups. Additionally, suicide is in the top 5 leading causes of death for American ages 12-19.

Music does not have the power to treat depression or make someone’s life completely better, but this trend in rap music marks an important beginning to enhanced discussion about mental health– especially when in comes to men and teenagers. Generally, these two groups internalize mental health issues the most, which is the most detrimental to mental health. Hearing music from people that they can relate to is an incredibly important step towards progress and recovery.

Modern rap music may not be the best, but it definitely deserves more credit.

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