(Note: whenever I say “rapper,” I am saying a majority, not all rappers)
As a musician and fan of (most) music, it pains me to see, rather hear, poor musicianship in modern music. What I am about to say may cause you to desire to punch me in the face. Are you ready? Are you sure? Here we go. Modern rap music is bad. Ok, maybe not all of it, but MOST modern rap music is bad.
I listen to all music with three exceptions; rap, pop, and country. I think most of us can agree with hating country music, but disliking the other two often gets me some hate. But, compared to some people, I do have reasoning behind my opinion, so hear me out. At least I’m not that one person who hates ice cream. I won’t be talking about pop music, and mainly will be focused on rap, because I tried to write this about pop but it was far too long for my liking.
Like I previously said, I listen to almost all kinds of music except the three listed above. That means I delve into rock, punk, metal, funk, jazz, RnB, soul, etc… Throughout my time listening to these many genres, I pick up on the outstanding talent and meaning found in most of this music. Trust me, I don’t think just because something is rock it’s good (have you listened to Fleetwood Mac?) but I think rock music (and those other genres above) tend to be better. Here’s where I’ll start; meaning.
There once was a time when lyrics weren’t obscene levels of swearing, flexing about a new car, and “dissing” other people. Can you believe it? If you primarily listen to rap, then you probably can’t. Lyrics can tell a story, teach a lesson, or enlighten you through symbolism and various poetic devices. To show you some meaningful lyrics, here’s a few lines from Pink Floyd’s song Breathe from one of my favorite albums, The Dark Side of The Moon. Read closely, and try to find some meaning. “For long you live and high you fly/And smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry/And all your touch and all you see/Is all your life will ever be.” These lyrics most definitely have deep meaning, and you can tell even if you don’t know what they mean. But it’s better if I elaborate.
Pink Floyd gives the message that your life will only be as grand as you live it. You have to work for the life you want, but listening to the rest of the song, you get a deeper understanding of the risk of living life to its fullest. Pretty intense, right? That’s the power of lyrics. If you listened to the song (linked above) you can see also how the instruments and lyrics mesh together so beautifully. Usually in trashy rap, instruments (most likely sampled) are layered over each other without a thought.
Now, to show the stunning contrast between good and bad lyrics, here’s a few lines from the Lil Pump song Gucci Gang (what a meaningful title). “Spend ten racks on a new chain/My b#*%+ love do c@&$*%#, ooh/I f@&$ a b$&@/, I forgot her name.” Isn’t it truly terrible. Aside from the many grammatical errors and profanity, we basically get a hard flex about having a lot of money, drugs, and women. Which is what most lyrics in rap are about to be honest. You don’t need swearing to have a good song. No message, no emotion. Emotion and feel are especially important for conveying emotion in your listeners.
But meaning doesn’t just come from lyrics. Even looking at classical music, some composers are able to say more in a piece of instrumental music than a rapper can say with music, vocals, and a lot of auto-tune. That’s because these composers put hours upon hours into writing a single piece of music to give the exact message they thought of in the beginning. Take a look at the piece I’ve linked below. It is titled The Unanswered Question, composed by Charles Ives. Listen closely to the tone of the piece and how it’s written. Pay attention especially to the different parts in the music and how they mesh together in context.
It may seem unpleasant, but it’s supposed to feel that way. The song is calm and serene in the start, resembling the calm of a thoughtless life, before the calm triads are interrupted by strange, polytonal, minor melodies that represent the nagging question: What is the meaning of life? Name one time Drake did that. Now we have to take a look at the worst part: Musicianship.
Can you, off the top of your head, come up with one rapper who plays an instrument? Side note, don’t say Lizzo, she’s technically not a rapper, and don’t say Post Malone, for I appreciate him moving to a more rock ballad style. If you came up with one who is, say, equally skilled to Jimi Hendrix, I applaud you, but I’m sure you couldn’t (I’m assuming you know who Jimi Hendrix is).
My main complaint is that a lot of rap music sounds the same, (people make this argument with jazz, but jazz is much more complicated than rap and more than I can explain right now) and doesn’t have many people actually playing instruments. The reasoning behind all of it sounding the same is sampling. People take free or paid for samples of instruments and try to put them together with awful lyrics.
Some modern artists, like Lizzo who I mentioned earlier, perform and record with an actual band and play an instrument themselves. The result of this is good music, usually meaningful, which demonstrates good musicianship. Sadly, most people have others write music for them, and slap some meaningless vocals overtop of it (or sampling like I mentioned earlier). I hate to break it to you, but that’s boring.
To show you something truly amazing, Take a few minutes to listen to a mind-blowing, extraordinarily epic solo from Jimi Hendrix. That’s me not overhyping this solo either, despite how biased I may be. Hendrix is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and for good reason. Take a listen. It’ll be worth it. (Note: Video Quality is bad, but it was like fifty years ago)
Pretty amazing, right? I thought so. Now, if you’re one of those people who thinks that rock music is “evil” or just “sounds bad,” you at least have to give Hendrix credit for putting in the effort to learn guitar before making a career. Imagine the hours of work to play the instrument, coming up with new sounds and technique, developing his own personal sound no one can recreate. This effort and determination is what can make someone actually talented in music. Most modern rappers obviously don’t put in the effort, and to prove it, take a listen to this depressing guitar solo from the one and only Lil Wayne. He obviously tried to play guitar to “impress” everyone.
Remember how you cried at the beauty of Pink Floyd’s lyrics? Well, I’m assuming you just cried for a different reason. All jokes aside, modern “musicians” don’t seem to care about actually playing the music they “write.” You just watched Lil Wayne play two or three notes with awful technique calling that a solo cause he did a slide at the end. Rappers only care about making money lazily by not putting any effort into actually learning how to play the music they “write.” Don’t believe me, take a look at 90% of rap music’s lyrics. Money, sex, drugs. Because that, sadly, is what sells in the modern world.
Modern Rap music has taken the world by storm, preventing most young people to see dedicated musicians working for a career in other genres. It can be inspiring, breathtaking even to see a musician full of talent who worked hard to accumulate a fan base. I’m not telling you to stop listening to rap, or that all rap is bad (classic hip-hop is something I actually listen to), but take this writing as an excuse for trying to be more open-minded about talented musicians in different genres. It can be refreshing, believe it or not, to see such ability after a lack of any talent whatsoever. You should give it a try sometime.