Hip-hop, despite its constant innovation and clear influence, has seen the brunt shortsighted criticisms since its inception.
Everything from the clothing worn by emcees to a perceived lack diversity in instrumentals has been picked apart by detractors, both outside and within hip-hop culture.
The latest critique hip-hop has focused on the auditory ambiguity today’s lyrics, especially within the ill-defined subgenre “mumble rap.” Artists like Lil Yachty, Young Thug, Future and more have been targeted in this criticism, especially by fans the “golden era” hip-hop, considered by many to be the lyrical apex the genre.
Lyrical content is, course, a huge part hip-hop and always has been, but this unfair dogpile on the lack intelligible lyrics in today’s music is exactly that—unfair.
Legendary emcee Chuck D Public Enemy recently took to Twitter to remind us that lyrics that are hard to understand are nothing new:
Many talk RAP bein unintelligible but Im a big fan 1960s-70s music & still hadn't had the slightest clue lyrics & titles until NOW— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) October 3, 2016
Considering the fact that many the “unintelligible hip-hop” detractors are older heads who grew up listening to artists like Chuck D, this statement is huge. Does this mean we can finally just enjoy the genre in its many incarnations?
Unintelligible lyrics have been a part nearly every major musical movement as long as music has been a thing. Whether it’s Gregorian chants from Benedictine monks or singing in tongues, or more modern examples like scat singing or the hard-to-decipher screams punk rock, there have always been musical movements focusing on feelings and vibes, rather than lyrical content.
It’s a balance inherent in nearly every musical genre, yet, in hip-hop, it’s been met with more hatred and judgement than anywhere else, at least in recent years.
With golden era icons like Chuck D lending understanding perspectives, maybe there's hope that we, as a culture, can accept that there will always be a balance between super lyrical hip-hop and its more vibe-oriented cousin, and place our focus on more important issues. Music is meant to be felt as much as it's meant to be understood.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credits: Instagram / Instagram