In a recent DJ Vlad video entitled “Cassidy on Lil Yachty’s Pro-Gay Teenage Emotions Album Cover: I Don’t Respect It,” the Philly rapper is shown the cover of Yachty’s album, which shows two men kissing in the corner. In a repulsed tone, he tells DJ Vlad, “That’s why I don’t listen to that,” before decreeing that he doesn’t “approve” of the album cover. No word on if Yachty’s creative team will go back to the drawing board at the “Hotel” rapper’s behest, but it doesn’t seem likely. In recent years, artists and fans who share Cassidy’s desire to see what he described as a “real n—- from the street” spitting “hard sh*t” can’t seem to resist giving the world their two cents about a hip-hop subgenre they’ve condescendingly dubbed “mumble rap.”
But, to borrow from Jay Z on “Already Home,” the fact is… they don’t use the same beats, don’t play the same shows, don’t have the same core fanbase, so why does their success bother the old guard so much? What’s the fixation with artists that don’t actually harm Cassidy’s bars-over-everything ilk? It’s not like Young Thug or Lil Uzi Vert are taking up freestyle spots on Hot 97. Hip-hop purist Wale recently shared a recollection of a show he had that was down the street from a Migos performance in Atlanta, and that both shows were well-received; there’s room for everybody.
Many fans, journalists and artists have chalked up the schism between the segments of fans to a “generational divide,” but it’s not that simple. I’m 28, teetering on the edge of both worlds, and I’ve found the space to enjoy artists like Uzi and Young Thug for their melodic gifts just like I enjoy an ’03 Cassidy freestyle for his punchlines. There are hip-hop vets like NORE and Jadakiss who big up younger artists and plenty of generation Zers in the “Lil Yachty trash” Twitter tag. Hell, the rap game is full of mid-to-late-30s MCs like Rick Ross and 2Chainz who cater to an early 20s, club-hopping demographic, so trying to divide the culture along age lines isn’t a strong talking point. Neither are the other flimsy rationalizations that hip-hop conservatives use in attempts to malign “mumble rap.”
One of the primary disparagements levied against “mumblers” is that it’s difficult to comprehend what they’re saying through their mush-mouthed, over-compressed deliveries. But Bone Thugs N Harmony recently admitted on VladTV that their tongue-twisting cadences are difficult to decipher for even the most diehard hip-hop fans, and they’ve never faced much denunciation for it. Neither has Twista, Juvenile, or the James Brown — channeling Mystikal — nor should they. They all had go-to cadences and regional twang that worked for them. Even if we didn’t always understand it, we appreciated their originality.
Critics also question whether artists like Uzi and Yachty can be considered hip-hop because they eschew the bar-for-bar precision of a Cassidy for freewheeling vocal excursions. They stretch words. They hold notes. They even — gasp — sing sometimes. But as I’ve noted before, plenty of legacy acts, like Ol Dirty Bastard for instance, have released confounding, melodically driven music that defied hip-hop convention. Ol Dirty is lauded by many of this same group as a genius for it. Even Cassidy noted in his Vlad interview that he felt Uncle Luke was merely “chanting” on his records, but the Philly rhymer had no confusion about whether Mr. “Face Down Ass Up” was a hip-hop artist.
For every censure against “mumble rap,” there’s an artist of yore who was equally maverick and won over the same #realhiphop fans who now hate Yachty and Uzi. So what is the echo chamber of hatred and dire need to compartmentalize them really about? Perhaps it will become clearer after watching Joe Budden pester Yachty about “what kind of message” he was trying to convey with his Teenage Emotions cover. Or listening to Beanie Sigel go on a homophobic diatribe about men “wearing dresses” and acting “feminine” when justifying why he doesn’t listen to Uzi. Yachty and Thug were called “soft” by AllHipHop.com’s Chuck Creekmur, even though both artists reference toting guns and committing violence in their catalog. RA the Rugged Man surmised that “mumble rappers” should “take the cock out of their mouths.” How much of this is really about music?
Uzi admits that Chief Keef is a large influence on his work. Keef has collaborated with 21 Savage and Future, even making the latter a beat, but at the end of 2016 he dissed “f—-t ass, blonde hair rappers shakin’ their booty” — which sounds like he may not be down to jump on a “XO Tour Life” remix. Even in the same sonic realm (and age range) there’s a divide that too few are ignoring in the “generational” debate: Keef and others are fine with the melodic genre-bending as long as it’s packaged within the confines of traditional masculinity.