Lil Peep, who died recently in tragic circumstances aged just 21, emerged last year as the torchbearer for a new-wave of emo – equally influenced by mid-2000’s alternative rock as trap.
Many barely even turned to pay attention to another “Lil” off-shoot from Soundcloud. Pitchfork recently compared his wailing voice to Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden and his adoring fans numbered in the thousands, many young and disinterested in labels and categorisations.
All they knew was that the music sounded good, sympathising with his lyrics relating to self-medication and pain. His death is telling of many underlying issues in hip-hop and society but his unique, often ugly, hybrid of hip-hop and emo may be vastly influential in years to come.
Like it or not, emo-rap has landed. Teenage angst found its way into the mainstream in 2000’s through bands such as Taking Back Sunday and Fall Out Boy in what was seen as the third and most commercially successful wave of emo.
The last few years, hip-hop’s exponential growth – with a tantalising wide-range of influences and sounds – have forged a new raw embodiment of adolescent anxiety, anger and malaise.
The birthing ground of a generation of emotionally tortured rappers is the murky Xanax-numbed depths of Soundcloud but their influences lie much deeper. Lil Peep, Trippie Redd, Lil Aaron are the figureheads of those artists fusing elements of melodic pop-punk and emo with atmospheric trap drums.
Guitar samples are often reverbed heavily or sprinkled throughout. Like much of their rap contemporaries, verses and hooks are sing-rapped.
The noticeable chasm between emo-rock and today’s emo-rap lies in many of the latter’s superficial explorations of sorrow and pain – addiction and losing loved ones is crooned about but the causation of despair is rarely tackled with vulnerable, self-effacing honesty.
What might have allowed these two genres to integrate and dissolve is their shared elements of toxic masculinity and misogyny, seen most troublingly in modern hip-hop.
Hip-hop has, over time, become the cultural zeitgeist. It is equally omnipresent in internet culture, business marketing and fashion. Rap has usurped rock’s hard-earned throne in recent years, commercially and culturally.
Rock-rap is also seeing a resurgence and the two most unlikely of subsets of rock and rap have amalgamated (trap and emo) – but rock in all forms is making a dent in rap records.
Two of the year’s biggest hits – Post Malone’s aptly titled Rockstar and Lil Uzi Vert’s XO TOUR Life – wear their rocks influences on their sleeves. Lil Uzi Vert’s Billboard chart-topping album saw him warble incoherently of heartbreak and addiction over rattling trap production.
We also saw Young Thug release an LP fusing elements of country music and trap, his album cover show him holding an acoustic guitar.
When bands like Good Charlotte and Panic at the Disco began losing relevance, emo seemed to die into its own wallowing darkness at the turn of the decade, with many groups disbanding or shifting genres.
Around the same time, mainstream hip-hop was seeing a significant a paradigmal shift. Drake, Kanye West and Kid Cudi brought loneliness, depression, heartbreak to large rap audiences for the first time.
Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak was an album jam-packed with auto-tune melodies as Kanye experimented with a new sound that can be seen the focal point of many of today’s rock-tinged, auto-tune forebearers: Travis Scott, Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, Trippie Redd.
Kanye melted his voice vulnerably over 808-driven electronic beats and many of his fans saw the album as an uninspired messy, flop. Instead, he masterminded his most influential LP to date.
2013 also saw the godfather of the Sadboy aesthetic make waves online. Yung Lean, Jonatan Håstad, used his rap influences to create an atmospheric and moody new internet-age sound.
Often off-the-wall and zany lyrically, Hastad’s flows were melodic and melancholic and his in-house producer, Yung God, created suitably eerie soundscapes. He can be seen as being a huge catalyst in the development of emo-rap (a step-sister of cloud-rap), his recent release Stranger is dark and intoxicating in its melodies.
An unholy mix of cloud-rap and mid-tempo alt-rock balladry also fills Trippie Redd’s most recent release A Love Letter to You 2. Redd’s nasal high-pitched ad-libs and sharp hooks evoke genuine hurt, even if his voice can become overbearing and vexing. His intentions are clear and the 18-year-old might be emo-rap’s most fascinating prospect, providing their is refinery and artistic growth.
“In Too Deep” is Redd’s most realised track to date, singing “In too deep like a bottomless hole//Change my number just like summer clothes”. He has cited Tupac, Young Jeezy, Slipknot, KISS, and Marilyn Manson as his key inspirations. His melting pot of influences can be heard imprinted on many of his low-key tracks.
Introspection has always been rooted in some of alternative hip-hop’s most significant works over the last two decades. Atmosphere’s Slug rapped in 1997’s “Caved In”: “Head shakes back and forth//Emotion, oh, insociable not speakin’//remain in silence ‘cause I’m weak and deep inside I’m freakin’”.
Slug is one of many underground hip-hop artists, likely the most talented, who found a niche in emotionally vulnerable lyrics that self-examined feelings of depression and worthlessness.
Self-awareness and introspection have now become almost expected in a hip-hop album of lyrical-depth. Kendrick Lamar’s anxiety-ridden “FEAR”, Vic Mensa’s exploration of depression in “Wings” and Tyler, the Creator’s “911/ Mr.Lonely” are some of 2017’s most prominent and well-received examples.
BROCKHAMPTON, a hip-hop collective who are wilfully subverting the concept of a boyband, thrust themselves into the limelight with two genre-bending albums this year. Saturation and it’s follow-up Saturation II were packed with bouncy, emotion-driven rap-ballads and tracks such as Trip off of the first installment were indelible, brooding emo-raps.
Group member Dom McLennon sing-raps over autotune: “Family full of athletes//I was kind of chubby//Shit was never sunny, wrists were sorta bloody”
Lesser-known emo-rap auteur Antwon released the underrated Sunnyvale Gardens this year. Think D12’s Bizarre meets My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way. It’s unabashedly emo at times. “94s”, an endearing ode to Air Max 94s, has melodic guitars twinkle throughout and an inescapable moody hook sung by goth-rapper Wicca Phase Springs Eternal.
The examples go on.
Many of 2017’s catatonic ‘sadboys’ are still developing, sonically and lyrically, and it’s interesting to see where this young sub-genre goes in the months and years to come.
Is emo-rap a fleeting and uninspired mash of sounds that will soon lose relevance or will it produce transcendent artists are albums that are remembered for decades? It’s most likely somewhere in between.