howdy pardner! welcome back to my emo rap deep-dive series! for those just joining us, i'd encourage you to go back and check out chapter one: sprite. and chapter two: dirt. first. so why am i...
welcome back to my emo rap deep-dive series! for those just joining us, i'd encourage you to go back and check out chapter one: sprite. and chapter two: dirt. first.
so why am i even writing this to begin with? if i'm being honest, it's not all entirely educationally-motivated. i've been really wanting a way to share my favorite genre of music with people (maybe it's a subconscious testing of the waters before i begin to record my own music?) and collect their thoughts. but every time i went to share a link in ~music, i'd deliberate over and over, "what should i share?" it's been so hard for me to pick one single song that's all-encompassing and anthemic (is that even a word? i keep using that word) of the genre as a whole.
so instead of spamming ~music, or having to cherry pick a small number of tracks, i thought i'd use this as an opportunity to provide a little historical background and, hopefully, maybe, inspire a new appreciation in a subgenre that very often gets overlooked, or thought of as basic / whiney / overproduced.
that said - hopefully you've all been following along, and i'll stop stalling! let's dive right into chapter three of our emo-rap deep dive - dirty sprite. or, how did we go from OutKast to Lil Pump?
let me open with a question. what do the following have in common?
polish composer and piano virtuoso frederic chopin
controversial american rapper lil pump
american actor and i guess also musician? corey feldman
you guessed it!
all of the present characters used opiates in their lifes, typically throughout the better parts of their creative years. chopin was using medicinal opiates in order to aide with his tuberculosis. feldman fell into and has since (i believe) fought his way out of a heroin addiction. lil pump sips promethazine by the bottle just to party (hyperbole. don't drink prometh by the bottle) which is a prescription medication often used as a sedative or used to prevent coughs or nausea. often sold as a mixture of promethazine and codeine, itself being an opiate. if you've seen a rap music video in the past two to three years, you may have seen this bottle somewhere throughout.
where do all of these drugs come from?
the answer to that question actually holds a lot of relevance to the history of emo rap itself, but to answer it, we first have to go all the way back to the 90s.
off we go!
believe it or not, drugs as a matter of discussion weren't always ever-present in the rap game. from the late 70s to the early 80s, only about 10% of all rap songs mentioned drug use, whereas in the early 90s, we see that number jump waaaay the fuck up to 45%, to eventually hit 69% by 1997 [source]. this is all taking place around the same time that we saw the decline of major urban neighborhoods due to the effects of white flight, decreasing the amount of tax dollars flowing throughout these areas, and leading to a decrease in public services that would include decreased effectiveness of, say, fire brigades or police squads.
with poorer households now making up a majority of these neighborhoods, the illegal drug trade quickly grew in popularity as a way to make money on the business end, and a way to escape the day-to-day on the client end. a plethora of burned, broken into, or otherwise abandoned houses became a seemingly limitless amount of places to go about the production of drugs - most notably, crack cocaine. these houses came to be known colloquially as trap houses, and the music inspired by this phenomenon, trap music.
this sound grew it's roots in the early 90s thanks to the early projects out of the south like UGK (title: Cocaine in the Back of the Ride), Three 6 Mafia (title: We Got Da Dope), and The Showboys (title: Drag Rap). coincidentally, the showboys are actually a group out of new york, though gained the height of their popularity touring around southern states.
as we head into the mid-nineties/early-naughts, we see the emergence of a few acts that really take this sound and run with it. setting the roots for the coming commercial explosion of the trap sound, we see examples like OutKast's "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik", Lil Jon's "Who You Wit". we're gonna see lil jon's name pop up a few times as we go through this.
taking the reigns from these majorly influential projects, we next see T.I. come to the stage for his second album "Trap Muzik" in 2003. much to the surprise of the industry (his debut album did not go over all too well), Trap Muzik debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200, sold over 100k copies in it's first week, and was later in 2012 called one of the classic albums of the last decade by Complex. the album features many early hits from T.I. like "Be Easy", "24's", and even some tracks with producer credits from Kanye West like "Doin' My Job". still sticking to their guns, pioneering the trap sound, we continue to see records from Lil Jon and Three 6 Mafia taking to the radio such as, respectively, "Get Low" and "Stay Fly"
paving the way towards the 2010s, we begin to see the rise of artists like Gucci Mane and his debut album "Trap House" (aptly titled eh?) hitting the Billboard 200 with tracks like "Icy", Young Jeezy with internationally-charting tracks like "Soul Survivor", and most notably in modern trap, producer-powerhouse Zaytoven with work on tracks like "Papers" x Usher.
so we skip forward 5-7 years and things look...different.
instead of having chart-toppers like "Smack That" x Akon, "Hey There Delilah" x Plain White T's, or "Umbrella" x Rihanna
we see a lot of love for things like "First of the Year (Equinox) x Skrillex, "Sail" x AWOLNATION, and most importantly by far, "Versace" x Migos which was quickly popularized by Drake's remix. the rest of 2013 serves as the absolute corner stone of modern trap music seeing the success of songs like "Swimming Pools (Drank)" x Kendrick Lamar, "Started From The Bottom" x Drake, and of course, the absolute trap anthem, "Love Sosa" x Chief Keef.
in that avalanche of tracks, we get the recipe that will come to make up the bulk of today's trap music:
- edm-inspired instrumentals
- triplet meter rhyme
- heavy 808s and crystal clear hi-hats.
over the next few years, we steadily start to see these three ingredients come together to produce some absolute bangers leading up to the trap zeitgeist.
"Fight Night" x Migos
"Black Widow" x Iggy Azalea
the ever-memed "Lifestyle" x Young Thug
the year of Fetty Wap with tracks like "Trap Queen", "679" on the Billboard 100
"No Type" x Rae Sremmurd
"Flex" x Rich Homie Quan
"Panda" x Desiigner
"Broccoli" x DRAM
Drake jumping back in with "Jumpman"
"Down in the DM" x Yo Gotti
and then, finally, we arrive at 2017 - the year that caused the internet's busiest music nerd anthony "melon" fantano to pose the question "have we reached peak trap?". up until recently, the term "trap music" was actually not all too commonly associated with rap music - instead referring most commonly to a subset of edm with (still) heavy 808s, thicc bass drops, and dirty breakdowns. however, with the musical zeitgeist quickly moving to seat rap at the throne over rock music, and with the internet popularizing songs like "Ultimate" x Denzel Curry, "Flicka Da Wrist" x Chedda Da Connect, and "U Guessed it" x OG Maco, the term has now been absolutely overtaken as many rap fans find themselves infatuated with the sound. this causes the scene to absolutely explode throughout 2017 with songs like:
"Humble" x Kendrick Lamar
"Bad and Boujee" x Migos
"Bodak Yellow" x Cardi B
"Look At Me!" x XXXTentacion
and of course
"Gucci Gang" x Lil Pump
this year sees the debuts of several artists that are still dropping bangers today, like the previously listed Cardi B, Lil Pump, XXXTentacion (rest in peace), A Boogie wit Da Hoodie, and (again) of course, 6ix9ine.
analogous to the rise of screamed lyrics, heavy instrumentals, and prettyboy-frontmen of mid-late 2000s rock bands, we see the rise of trap music today.
now, the final question to be answered.
how do we get from rap songs with hedonistic lyrics, heavy 808s, and loud-personality frontmen, to a subsect of the genre that nearly predominantly speaks of subjects like death, addiction, loss, and suicide?
i'll see ya soon for the fourth and final installment of the emo-rap deep dive - chapter four: xanax sprinkles.12 votes
welcome back, class! i'm actually kinda having fun with this project lmao. dive into the comments and let me know what you lot are thinking! this is the second installation in, what i believe will...
welcome back, class!
i'm actually kinda having fun with this project lmao. dive into the comments and let me know what you lot are thinking! this is the second installation in, what i believe will be, a four part series. enjoy!
in the last chapter, we learned a little about how rap in the 90's began to get a bit more introspective, self-reflective, and focus on some generally harsher, more grating topics. while all eras definitely have their hype music (see: "Nuthin' But a G Thang" x Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg or "Slob on my Knob" x Three 6 Mafia, we slowly began to see songs like "Slippin'" x DMX or "Rock Bottom" x Eminem which slowly began the trend of rappers using their music to really peel back the curtains of their lives, using their music as an escape into catharsis from their daily struggles.
however, emo rap does seem to have something else happening inside of it. it's not just simply sad or emotionally-charged rap music, that's been around for quite a long time! what's that extra layer that gives us the gritty, rough, and often-whiney nature to modern emo rap? for that, we turn to the name of the genre itself.
not only did the 90's prove as a time of great growth and evolution in rap, but it saw the expolsion of a new genre of rock music as well. with roots set in the 80's, emo rock first gained major commercial popularity with bands like Green Day and The Offspring quickly moving albums to the tops of the charts with songs like, respectively, "She" and "Self Esteem". as the genre fell face-first into the zeitgeist, we quickly saw a rise of early emo rock groups like Lifetime, Jimmy Eat World, and one of the most influential early emo groups - Texas is the Reason. throughout the decade, the prophecy foretold by the Rolling Stones in their track "Paint it Black" quickly began to unfold. teenagers were wearing black, goth kids slowly started to emerge from the depths of the underworld, and hot topic was finally starting to make money. the foundations and roots of emo have been set, ready and waiting to lead us into the 21st century.
the year is 2000, and pretty much everything is fucking awesome. we see the launch of the indestructible classic Nokia 3310. we get video games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and of course, Pokemon Gold and Silver. the billboard charts are full names that make us go "oh yeah!" like Destiny's Child, Aaliyah, Erykah Badu, Montell Jordan, 3 Doors Down, Backstreet Boys, Creed, Madonna, and the list goes on and on and on.
the 2000s saw an absolute unit of a revival of the newly restructured emo genre, quickly launching off massively influential tracks like "All the Small Things" x Blink 182, and we even see the creation of the first emo-centric record labels across the late-nineties and early naughts. this means that a lot of the emo bands of the time had not only better representation and access to the innerworkings of the industry, but better access to resources which would help them promote and distribute themselves as well - this is what allowed a lot of bands to leap and bound right into the hot topic t-shirt wall.
one of the bigger labels we came to see was Vagrant records, moving to quickly sign groups like The Get Up Kids, Hot Rod Circuit, Dashboard Confessional, and Saves the Day. with the internet in their toolbox, some major corporate sponsorships funding the whole gig, and a huge amount of confidence in the future of emo, Vagrant set out on what's considered to be one of the most influential projects in the (still) early days of emo when they launched a nationwide tour with every band in their label in tow.
shortly thereafter, Jimmy Eat World launches the biggest single of their career "The Middle", Dashboard Confessional break heavy into the mainstream, and Madison Square Garden goes absolutely wild for Saves The Day, Blink-182, Green Day, and Weezer.
emo is starting to get big, and people are starting to realize that there's money to be made here.
this brings us now to the mid-ish 2000s. everyone's on myspace, everyone's got a motorola razr, everyone's getting into skating or bmx, and every chick with jetblack black hair or fishnets is going absolutely fucking crazy over Brendon Urie from Panic! At The Disco. this is the part where the big money steps in and major record labels start signing a lot of emo bands left and right. this massive cash injection into the industry saw the rise of a lot of bands which would go on to not only define the industry, but to define the middle school and high school lives of a great number of their listeners. as the emo singularity entered the phase of it's big bang, we saw the rise of a number of stars like Taking Back Sunday, Simple Plan, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and many many many deep breath many others.
fueled by industry investments, teen angst, and a desire to be different, this led to an explosive rise in popularity for the genre, with many songs quickly moving to RIAA gold/platinum status and Billboard chart success like "Misery Business" x Paramore, "Miss Murder" x AFI, or "Check Yes Juliet" x We The Kings. this massive influx of success inspired some of the best parties, most genuine moments, and most cringiest photographs of our many young lives. very frequently this music was used as an escape for those who felt that their problems were going otherwise unrecognized or misunderstood, who felt that they were sad or alone, who hated the seeming lack of control that they had in their own lives - constantly living under the legislature of parents, school systems, or cops that always seemed to hate us edgy confrontational teenagers.
however, like Sam Smith would come to say, "too much of a good thing won't be good for long." what happens when a star shines too bright? what happens after a supernova?
things go dark.
it's now that we begin to enter the part of this whole movement that we've all repressed - and it starts with bracelets.
vuvuzelas are hilarious, "TiK ToK" x Ke$ha is topping charts, and highschools everywhere are full of Silly Bandz and sex bracelets. we've reached a point of absolute pop culture saturation with the emo vogue. while songs of the previous era like "Welcome to the Black Parade" (linked earlier) or "Dirty Little Secret" x The All-American Rejects still hold an anthemic position in the musical zeitgeist, by and large, emo simply was no longer enough. the all-black motif was drab and dark. the music didn't cut deep enough, the lyrics didn't hit hard enough, the vocals weren't powerful enough. we needed something stronger, something more powerful.
this desire for harder hitting music led to an underground rise of hardcore bands like La Dispute and Pianos Become the Teeth. these bands were very much hitting in the right direction, blending the angst and yearning of modern emo music with the strength of metal instrumentals and vocals hit home with a good number of people still looking to hold onto the last bastions of the emo movement.
and, as we've seen before, as this demographic loves to live fast and hard, the remodeled emo genre quickly skyrocketed into popularity with bands like Asking Alexandria, Bring Me The Horizon, and A Day to Remember rushing to the forefront of the movement. the rough, gritty nature of the instrumentals paired with the phenomenally screamed vocals seemed to add several more layers of separation between what we were listening to, and the "traditional" music we had been brought up listening to. this was new, this was edgy, but more importantly, this was ours. this was music that we knew the lyrics to, music that we could sing along with because we'd teach ourselves how to scream-sing when we had the house to ourselves, and music that, most importantly, we were pretty damn sure our parents weren't going to get into. they started using myspace, we left for facebook - abandoning the customized purple, black, and sparkly profile pages of yore.
however, there was something missing here. this was music we could connect to, sure. we were glad to have the songs we did to relate with! even still, we got greedy. connecting to it wasn't enough. we needed music we could fuck to. we needed eyecandy. we needed music that was brutal, strong, and beyond comprehension. we got gluttonous.
now we begin to enter the scene age. flashy colors and attitudes replace the black nature of the previous era. ostentatiously hardocre and brutal instrumentals (or alternatively, very pop-y, electronically inspired instrumentals) back vocals sang by artists who's image was crafted under nature and umbrella of being unconventionally attractive to this new audience. this led to projects such as "You Aint No Family" x iwrestledabearonce, "Sex Ed Rocks!" x SMOSH & ISETMYFRIENDSONFIRE, and (oh god,) "Bree Bree" x Brokencyde.
i know my language here is pretty overtly negative, not to make it seem like i hate every band from this era. i actaully like iwrestledabearonce, and a lot of these bands hold a great amount of nostalgia in my life. tracks like "Knives and Pens" x Black Veil Brides were anthemic of this late-stage emo-rock era, checking a good number of the boxes above, and drawing attention to the struggles of people of this era. for example, it can be said that the way emo-rap heavily goes about drawing attention to drug use/abuse is very analogous to the way that a lot of this late-stage emo rock draws attention to self-expression and self-harm.
this era was loud while it was here, and saw the popularity of a lot of projects like the following before it quickly died out around 2014/2015:
We Butter The Bread With Butter
"Wake Up" x Suicide Silence
Pierce The Veil
Sleeping With Sirens
and, often, scene music held no semblance of it's metal roots at all! you may remember hits of the era like "DON'T TRUST ME" x 3OH3!, "Shake It!" x Metro Station, "Good Girls Go Bad" x Cobra Starship, or "Sexting" x Blood on the Dance Floor.
palette cleanser: "Dirty Diana" x Michael Jackson (The Weeknd Cover)
so here we've arrived. the year is 2014, and the billboard is topped with pharrell, meghan trainor's debut single, "Shake It Off" x Taylor Swift, and the debut tracks from the likes of Lorde and Sam Smith.
...and some guy named Young Thug?
Wait, who's this Bobby Shmurda guy?
something's a-changing... where's the industry headed?
find out next time on the emo rap deep dive - chapter three: dirty sprite.12 votes