Weird Music Wednesday #2: Hip-hop's new jumpers
Throughout the past year, a dude by the name of Young Thug has been creeping his way into the limelight, and it’s pretty hard to figure out why. He wears skinny jeans and has tattoos covering his lanky frame. His rapping style falls somewhere between yelping and Auto-tuned burbles, and his lyrics are laced with bizarre personal revelations.
The point is, Thug should be a difficult sell to mainstream hip-hop audience, but the critical acclaim of his mixtape “1017 Thug,” as well as the commercial success of tracks “Danny Glover” and “Stoner,” seem to say otherwise. It’s not clear how Thug is managing to do this, but he’s not the only unorthodox rapper getting popular in the street rap circuit.
Stars in the trap-music scene have come to conform to what I would call the “Flockaveli” archetype, referring to the seminal 2010 album of brutal brilliance by Atlanta’s Waka Flocka Flame. Massive minor-key beats, viciously minimalistic lyrics, raw aggression, physicality, masculinity and often misogyny quickly became standard. “Flockaveli” helped redefine how rappers conceptualized “hardness” and greatly impacted the style that up-and-coming trap stars emulated.
But compare Flockaveli to some of the music being made today by the heavy-hitters in Chicago’s drill scene, made famous, or infamous, by 18-year old rapper Chief Keef. Take, for example, Glory Boys affiliate Lil Durk and his stellar track “Dis Ain’t What U Want,” which pairs typical hood-rap lyrical elements with emotion-heavy auto-tuned singing — an undeniably strange combination. Baton Rouge’s Kevin Gates has a similar schtick, recounting stories from the ‘hood through highly introspective fare.
Finally, of course, we get to Atlanta, the center of the street-rap universe. Besides Thug, a number of different artists have been using melodic rapping to explore deeper themes than their predecessors. I point you to Rich Homie Quan’s hit “Type of Way,” in which Quan raps about typical ‘hood issues, but with a minor-key melody that conveys a sense of melancholy.
So how is it that these guys are making it in the rap world? How are a bunch of sensitive crooners getting plays while hard-headed knockers like Waka Flocka are grinding along in the background with no substantial amount of attention? It seems the climate is changing.
Hip-hop fans are becoming more accepting of alternative hood-rap archetypes and more interested in the exploration of alternate issues. They want music for all situations, not just for making the trunk rattle as you cruise down the road. And given that the street-rap genre has always been lambasted for it’s lack of depth, this is a fantastic development.