Is “Mumble Rap” Art?
I know you’ve heard it said from the “real” Hip Hop heads, “mumble rap is NOT hip hop!” I’m going to admit that I’ve been guilty of this myself. However, the other day I began thinking about this very question and I think I might be changing my mind a little bit. (Just a little bit, don’t get too excited!).
I often ask myself how hip hop evolved from what it was in the 90s and early 2000s, which many of us refer to as the Golden age of Hip Hop, into the barely coherent, seemingly nonsensical music that it is today. As an emcee, I’ve always practiced the art of lyricism. That’s just what it took to get props in my generation. If you had a dope flow, then you were respected in the game.
I think I figured out where the evolution took place. We all scratch our heads at how lyricism evolved into “mumble rap” but I don’t think they belong to the same bloodline. There were two similar versions of Hip Hop living side by side that began to take two very different paths. Does nobody remember the hit song “Laffy Taffy” or essentially every word uttered by Lil Jon? People are quick to point fingers at Soulja Boy, but let’s not forget that his hit song was in 2007 and “Get Low” by Lil Jon was 2002. Thus, Hip Hop was becoming more divided into “lyrical” rhymes and “club bangers” that had great beats but didn’t say much of anything. So now I see today’s popular Hip Hop as an evolution to the latter. But is that art?
Let’s take a closer look at actual art; like paintings and drawings, etc. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a nicely drawn portrait, or a magical landscape filled with vibrant colors. When I see a person draw something so detailed that it might come to life right off the page, I call that art. I’m amazed by it. However, there is this relatively newer style of art called “abstract” or “modern” art. You’ve seen it before, splattered paint on a canvas, or a glass box on the floor, in the middle of a large empty room. When I see these things, I don’t think “wow, that’s art.” Instead, my mind get’s a little put off like, “This thing is really selling for $50,000?! I could have made this!” (I can’t even draw a stick figure). I feel like modern art is a scam on some level, BUT, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t art. Art is subjective right? Who am I to tell anybody that their art isn’t art? I face tons of push back when I present my hip hop in a poetry class, especially if the person in charge is a contemporary poet. I’ve been told that rhyming poetry is for greeting cards and has no place in a college level course. Does that actually mean that my poetry isn’t poetry? No! Absolutely not! But wait? Am I just acting like my closed-minded teacher when I say that “mumble rap” isn’t art?
Art is subjective and these kids and young adults that are producing this new age of music are just expressing themselves in the way that they feel speaks to them. I don’t particularly enjoy it and that’s ok too. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t good, nor does it mean that it isn’t art. It just means that I prefer my Hip Hop to be versed in the lyricism and delivery, and perhaps I could even learn a thing or two from these new cats on how a dope beat can get the people moving. If there is one thing that I must admit, old school Hip Hop beats are very basic, and today’s beats are off the chain. If you love what you do and pour your heart and soul into your craft then dammit, you’ve made art, and deserve appreciation. In the words of one of the greatest of my time, “I ain’t mad at cha.” -Tupac