Lil Yachty has been the catapult for plenty of internet debates since his mainstream “debut” via his appearance as a model for Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 show at Madison Square Garden. His mixtape release for Lil Boat followed just a few weeks after, and he quickly became a star among the younger, presumably newer Hip Hop fans. His personal style was a reason for just as much–if not more–conversation than his unconventional music, and he was immediately deemed as the poster child for “mumble rap.” Most artists pigeonholed into the mumble rap classification don’t even really mumble, but their lyrics are tirelessly repetitive.
Though mumble rap is a term that has certainly over-saturated the market in essentially every recent Hip Hop discussion, a label I have found to be more descriptive of the actual style of today’s fads is nursery rhyme rap. Not actual nursery rhyme rap like Ice Cube’s 1990’s tribute, “A Gangsta’s Fairytale,” but melodies and lyrics that, stylistically, resemble nursery rhymes. With flutes becoming a popular craze, elementarily repetitive lyrics dominating, and ad-libs overshadowing every other element of top 40 songs, rap is becoming a battleground for explicit nursery rhymes.
Why did mumble rap become the go-to term for the new class of rappers to begin with? A strong case can be made that Young Thug’s performance on “Lifestyle” in 2014 began the first declarations of new music becoming indecipherable. Of course, that song developed its own life as the song that nobody could understand, which in turn gave Thug that same overall reputation–though a majority of his other verses are nowhere similar to the style of that one particular track. Another song that grew infamous for its virtually un-rap-a-long-able lyrics was Desiigner’s “Panda,” which obviously also had criticisms for sounding identical to Future, another prominent head on mumble rap’s Mount Rushmore.
The overall category of mumble rap isn’t isn’t a problem within itself, but the often assumed parallel between that label and every single new Hip Hop artist is just very simply inaccurate. Disregarding the artists and songs that do definitively fit within this category, much of the classification can be attributed to lyrics that aren’t really work deciphering.
A simple Google search questioning who is in this mumble rap class will commonly bring results like Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, Migos, and 21 Savage–none of which who really mumble at all. Rap itself isn’t decorated with many MC’s who enunciate all that much to begin with unless we’re talking about 2 Chainz, who says makes every syllable even crisper than the last. The reality of the matter is, different flows are more or less easily understood, but a good portion of the new rappers being labeled as serial mumblers simply are not.
Nursery rhyme rap, though I don’t necessarily see the term catching on, is exponentially more fitting for almost everything that the currently popular style of Hip Hop exemplifies. Music–in its essence–is repetitive, though Hip Hop has always been different, with its verses bringing in diversity and juxtaposing the sometimes monotonous hooks. Recently, most of the songs that seem to catch the most traction on radio and on charts seem to lack lyricism, preach repetition, and value entertaining ad-libs over its other components. Nursery Rhyme Rap isn’t meant as a derogatory label for what’s rising to the top of the music game, but just an effort to more accurately parallel the logistics of what the music entails.
Hip Hop is one of the youngest genres in music and because of that fact, we have the unique experience of being front row to watch as it grows. Many fans of “classic” Hip Hop are in a daily panic with the current fads and how they’re rising to the top, but the reality remains that as a genre grows older, it will inevitably expand. The ascension of nursery rhyme rap does not boast a higher ranking than what we all know rap to be, but rather a current relevancy which will lead to a deeper pool of music in the long run. Hip Hop isn’t dying; it’s only growing older, making new friends, and deciding which stages in its life are phases and which will stand the test of time.