In the early 2000’s, to be king of rap meant that you were the hardest in the game. Machismo reigned supreme and rap battles were won by whomever could string the most homophobic lyrics together. Luckily the state of hip-hop has since changed, and artists such as Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, Drake, Brockhampton, and many others, have opened the doors for rappers to begin expressing emotion and vulnerability.
Around the same time, emo and pop-punk hit its prime, with groups such as My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, and Paramore, combining their sadness and pop-stylings with the angst and anger of punk rock. Some-twenty years later, kids who grew up listening to both have combined the two into emo-rap, a genre that grew out of Soundcloud with artists such as XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, and Trippie Redd. It’s a dizzying combination of sadness, drugs, and braggadocio, and it might just be the most popular emerging genre in America.
Juice WRLD, a twenty-year-old rapper who partnered with the trap-rap titan Future on WRLD on Drugs, might just be the new face of the genre following the sudden back-to-back deaths of XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, as well the high reception to his hit single “Lucid Dreams,” and leading up to the release of his sophomore record, Death Race for Love, the hype meter was in full effect.
The praise of the genre is that it is hip-hop finally expressing emotions and vulnerability, but with most emo-rap, the emotions come in under-processed, overflowing buckets, and the result of such sadness and confusion doesn’t make a project feel full but ironically vapid. On Death Race for Love, Juice WRLD is as big a proponent for these shortcomings as he is a knowing culprit, with lines such as “Going through motions, muddy emotions/Back on my bullshit, devil emoji,” and almost every remark of fixing heartbreak with drugs accompanied by a more traditional rap boast:
Dead inside, catch a look at my ghost
I pull up in a Lambo’ or ‘Rari or Rolls
Got my girl by my side and they callin’ us goals
Numb the pain, take these Percs to the mouth and the nose
It’s a crazy cocktail of thoughts, from hating oneself, to bragging about wealth, to being in love, to drowning in drugs, and it’s the bulk, if not the pure substance, of the 72-minute, 22-track album. In a world where the 2000’s babies come of age and don’t know how to process their emotions, it’s too easy to turn to drugs to numb the pain, and it not only results in the muddled numbing of an artist trying to display his emotions, but also raises the danger of his survival.
The two artists previously named for bringing this style to prominence are no longer with us. XXXTentacion was fatally shot and murdered, and Lil Peep died from an overdose of Xanax and Fentanyl, the latter of which also resulted in the deaths of rapper Mac Miller, and the legendary singer Prince.
This might sound more like a P.S.A. than a dissection of am emerging new style of rap, but it’s interesting that as a genre evolves, it still holds onto its past. Every tiny admittance of confusion or heartbreak comes with a typical brag of wealth and power (“I ain’t suicidal/Only thing suicide is suicide doors”), and every reference of pain or depression is masked and influenced by drug use (“I problem solve with Styrofoam/My world revolves around a black hole”). It’s a broken genre made by a broken artist, and yet, it says a lot about the state of rap’s relationship with mental health.
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