The Breakthrough of Mumble Rap

Lil’ Yachty Photo by @iAmAntonMak (Anton Mak)

Did “Mumble Rap’s” breakthrough create a new genre? or an evolution of Hip-Hop?

The dreaded ‘Mumble Rap’ term is one of the hottest in music today. Once Wiz Khalifa went on Hot 97 in June, the term has been inescapable. “We call it mumble rap. It ain’t no disrespect to the Lil homies, they don’t want to rap. It’s cool for now, it’s going to evolve. Those artists, if they want to stay around, they’ll figure out the next thing to do. But right now, that’s what’s poppin,” Wiz told Ebro. This new conversation has made the term more popular than ever.

For the most part, people use ‘Mumble Rap’ to describe new rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, and Desiigner. Hip-hop culture, for better or worse, is always evolving. Cue the Last Poets, the fiery black revolutionaries, whose spoken-word attacks forecasted the rise of hip-hop, and “Niggers Are Scared of Revolution”: “I love to see niggers go through changes.” It’s a primary reason why the art form remains a battleground of shit-stirring outlaws.

Much like its predecessors, “frat rap” and “swag rap”, mumble rap is an Internet-generated definition doubling as an implicit critique. It’s being applied to a wave of rappers who mix hooky, off-key vocals with fragmented, barely-there lyrics. Like Lil Yachty, Young Dolph, Desiigner, Lil Uzi Vert, ILoveMakonnen, Post Malone and too many others worth mentioning. The contretemps picked up steam when vaunted producer Pete Rock criticized Young Dolph for a video where Dolph hangs out with children while rocking “In My System” and its chorus. “I’ve got cocaine running through my system.” (Ironically, Pete Rock didn’t understand that it’s a rueful metaphor about how Dolph was born to crack-addicted parents.) and provocateurs over four decades years after it emerged in South Bronx, New York.

Is ‘Mumble Rap’ Hip-Hop?

As rappers increasingly emphasize vocal melodies over spoken verses, the “rap” in rapping is on the verge of extinction. After all, when Drake scores a hit, it’s usually with pop/R&B escapades like “One Dance,” not tough-talking rhymes such as “Energy”.

So is mumble rap a new genre? Or a convenient umbrella used to label all new hip-hop you don’t like? It’s totally understandable that some rap fans don’t like certain new rappers because of a lack of lyricism, technical skill, and/or enunciation, but we’ve got to move past calling it all mumble rap.