Understanding the Mumble (Rap)

Written By Vinny Guarino

Rain drop. Drop top. There’s an interesting style war happening in hip hop.

(From left to right: Desiigner, 21 Savage, Lil Uzi        Vert, Lil Yachty, Kodak Black)

(From left to right: Desiigner, 21 Savage, Lil Uzi        Vert, Lil Yachty, Kodak Black)

The war is between traditional hip-hop and mumble rap. And it’s not really a war at all. It’s really just one side attacking the other one.

Legendary hip-hop figures like Funkmaster Flex and Pete Rock have been at the forefront of calling out so-called mumble rappers like Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert in efforts to diss and dismiss their art.

(Peep the Flex Freakout at 6:40, and his face after he yells “2017, mumble rappers are finished!”)

A lot of people think mumble rap is stupid. A lot of people also don’t know what I’m referring to right now because it is a very new phrase.

If you’re not familiar, take a listen to the #1 Mumble Rap song of 2016

Hip-hop fans and participants coined the term ‘mumble rap’ in 2016 to put a label on a new wave of young rappers that includes stars like Future, Young Thug, Desiigner, Lil Uzi Vert and many more.

These artists are not lyrical in the traditional sense of rap. They don’t use complex rhyme patterns to tell vivid stories like Eminem; they aren’t socially conscious like Nas or J. Cole; and most noticeably — they don’t articulate their words clearly when they perform.

Thankfully, there are no rules when it comes to rapping. Rapping is an art form and art is a place where being different is typically celebrated.

So why is there so much hysteria about mumble rap in the hip-hop community and media?

People tear into mumble rap because it is has become wildly popular and successful in mainstream culture.

Take a peek at last year’s Billboard Rap songs chart and you will see that 4 of the top 10 rap songs of the year were by mumble rappers, including the #1 song — “Panda” by Desiigner.

http://www.billboard.com/charts/year-end/2016/hot-rap-songs

Proponents of lyrical rap feel threatened. Their beloved style of rap is not as popular as it once was. Some might even say it is dying. They yearn for the Golden Age of the 1990s.

I used to be like this. I used to avoid Lil Wayne when he was scorching in the mid-2000s. I thought he was so stupid. His verses made minimal sense to me. He used “shit” as a pun about 4,000 times and people still loved him. I didn’t though because I knew better. I was different because I liked “real hip-hop.”

“Real hip hop” fans want to hear BARS. Unfortunately, dense and complicated rap verses don’t lend themselves well to our current mainstream culture. They are often inaccessible to the common person and they take considerable effort to understand due to the metaphors and obscure references often used. Mumble rap is entertaining first and whatever else second.

I’m certainly not the only one giving credit to mumble rappers. In an interview with Pitchfork, critically acclaimed lyricist PushaT praised Atlanta’s most famous mumble rapper, Future. He said, “Future is underrated. He’s a GOAT. He will go down in history as a GOAT. Future made people understand the mumble.”

Right on, Push.

Lyrical rap and mumble rap do have at least one major quality in common. To really understand what is being said, you need to listen closely and pay attention. Truly appreciating each takes multiple rewinds.

More on Future next time.