Opinion | Blunt brilliance in modern rap


CW file

Alex Jobin, Staff Columnist

I grew up in a predominantly white suburb in New Hampshire — needless to say, my adolescent finger was not exactly on the pulse of rap and hip-hop.


My first introduction to the genre of rap was almost certainly through a handful of rappers featured on pop hits from the 2000s and early 2010s. I specifically think back to hearing Eminem’s verse on Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” and asking my older sister what exactly I was listening to. 


That was my initial frame of reference when it came to hip-hop. In my head, every rapper was like Eminem, fitting as many syllables into a line as possible and making sure each lyric had a punchline and clever double entendre. Rap was all about speed and clever wordplay, that was it. 


There may be no greater antithesis to that notion of rap in the history of hip-hop than a handful of artists who are currently redefining the genre — artists like Yeat, Playboi Carti and Destroy Lonely, whose music is often categorized under the subcategory of trap music known as rage.


To me, these rappers represent a rejection of all those presumptions I, the suburban white kid, had about hip-hop for the longest time. Their lyrics are made of short, simple sentences. Their instrumentals fill in pockets where a rapper like Eminem would be intent on fitting in more words. Their content is incredulously and unabashedly blunt. 


If Eminem, Lil Wayne or even Kendrick Lamar in his early days wanted to reference the new car they had just bought, they would do so with clever wordplay that would require multiple listens to fully appreciate. On “Out thë Way,” Yeat simply says “I bought a [Lamborghini] Urus today.” 


That’s it. That’s the line. 


That bluntness and simplicity laughs in the face of rap traditionalists and unaware novices who assume that the quality of a hip-hop song comes purely from its technical brilliance and wit. It removes the dressing and gives it to you plain. 


Yeat isn’t attempting to make you pause and appreciate his clever mastery of the pen. He is simply telling you the story he wants to tell you, prioritizing immediacy and accessibility in a way that is so genuine it feels conversational more than lyrical. 


Now, I am not suggesting that when Destroy Lonely says, “You walk in my closet, you see new designer and a whole bunch of old s—” on his latest album, that he was in the studio contemplating how keeping his lyrics straightforward would crosscut traditional genre expectations. Nor do I imagine he was consciously attempting to magnify how superficiality is worn as a shield by those who have survived trauma at the hands of systemic inequality. No, but that doesn’t mean that this new wave of bluntness in rap isn’t doing just that. 


It’s intangible, but there is something about the simplicity these artists employ that separates it from being overly base or plainly bad. Obviously not everyone will agree, but I believe that there is an intuitive artistic response at play here that elevates something that would be rather boring otherwise.


A good point of comparison can be found in music’s sister, visual art. Particularly, these artists’ blunt stylings have parallels in the rejection of rationalism found in the surrealist movement of the early to mid-20th century.


Painters like Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso abandoned and outright shot down previous artistic norms and values. They rejected the notion that creating reasonable and accurate depictions of reality was the artist’s only goal.


Instead of mirroring the hyperrealism of previous masters like Diego Velázquez, or even the impressionistic visions of a Monet, they pushed painting into realms of abstraction, geometry and the creation of fictional dreamscapes that still carry very real emotion. 


Music operates in just the same way, bouncing back and forth as new trailblazers seek to leave the tried and true behind for the unique and unexplored. I think this is what gives Yeat, Lonely and Carti songs their magic — it is not in spite of their profoundly simple lyrical stylings, but because of them. What they are doing is a form of abstraction, surrealism through simplicity. 


Music, like all art, will forever be viewed subjectively. Opinions will change over time as what was once new becomes classic, then forgotten, then remembered all over again. A piece of art will never live outside of the context it was created within, and that matters. Rock ’n’ roll may be a “classic” genre now, but we must remember just how groundbreaking and jarring it would have been to hear Elvis or Chuck Berry when they first arrived on the scene.


I’m not claiming that Yeat will be the next King, but I do believe that there is inherent value in novelty, in doing something different. How boring would culture be if we simply stuck to the rules?


This new generation of artists is pushing rap in all kinds of new directions with erratic guitar-laden beats, supersaturated vocal effects, nearly unintelligible song titles and, yes, lyrics that are simple, direct and blunt. Such innovation is worthy of praise, even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.