Evolution of rap lyrics


Jessie Ortiz

Staff writer and junior Franco Chavez scrutinizes Tupac’s lyrics.

Hip-hop, specifically rap, has become one of the most mainstream styles of music with millions of fans all over the world. When rap first rose to popularity, there were many different styles people used, which made rapping unique. Nowadays, that’s not the case. As generations evolve, so does music, and hip-hop has unfortunately taken a turn for the worse when it comes to lyrics (with the exception of some artists). Many songs we hear on the radio station now sound identical because of the same beats and lyrics being used. This poses an important question to many rap and hip-hop fanatics: Where did it go wrong?

Originally, rap songs in the early 1980s didn’t start off as dense pieces of music, as they only ever included mildly simple rhymes when it came to lyrics. When it comes to rap songs, they’re structured in beats, where every grouping of four beats is a called a “bar.” Musically and lyrically, the lines of some songs were practically predictable, given how one-syllable words were being used as end rhymes. Moving onto the later half of that decade though, rap was beginning to evolve with its lyrics. Rakim, widely regarded as one of the most influential artists in hip-hop, was one of the first rappers to introduce a greater amount of rhymes with variety. An example of his rhyme scheme comes from the song “Eric B. Is President,” which includes things such as internal rhymes and multi-syllable rhymes.

Regarding the content in songs, Senior Abril Perez believes that “Artists just want to be themselves and express themselves the way they want to, and I think that’s one reason why they put out what they put out.” Lyrics are important, but there’s only specific group of people who actually care about them. “Sometimes I do care about the lyrics because for example, people like songs because they can relate to them because of the message or that they just simply like the song. In other words, if you don’t like what the lyrics say, usually you just won’t like the whole song,” said Perez. Ultimately, it comes down to the audience and their preference in music. Different people are attracted to different types of music. Every artist is different, and comparisons in their music are bound to be made between them. “I don’t usually compare artists because I acknowledge that artists have different styles, different messages, and different ideas about the music they make. Artists have many differences. Many have different styles of music and different things they talk about. Some talk about drugs, crime, violence, love etc.. Some have a specific message they always want people to understand,” says Perez.

However, lyrics didn’t stop there because artists began to push things even further with their rhymes. 1990s-based artists like Andre 3000, Mos Def, Eminem, Notorious B.I.G, and Tupac are just a few to name when it comes to listing the most popular characters in rap. Artists like these wouldn’t just rhyme to the beat, but also tell vivid stories through their music. Take Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” for example, the first rap song to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

It’s a perfect example of a captivating story being told over an impressive rhyme scheme down to the last syllable.

In contrast to old school rap, most of the new school rap of this decade involves lyrics that contradict each other or are just plain inaudible. Many songs involve mumble rap, a style of rapping that is really simple and includes inaudible words. Mumble rap started gaining popularity on Soundcloud, an online audio distribution platform. Through Soundcloud, many rappers, such as Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Pump, have risen to fame, primarily by releasing mumble rap. Songs such as “New Patek” by Lil Uzi Vert and “Gucci Gang” by Lil Pump involve a constant repetition of lyrics, as well as parts of the song that we are unable to understand what they are saying.

Junior Anthony Salas believes that lyrics and rap, in general, has declined. As someone who enjoys listening to older rap, he dislikes what the music industry is doing with current mainstream rap. Salas said, “People today start to mumble [and] I don’t want nobody mumbling on a song.” Like most people that listen to older rap, lyrics are important for him. As Salas mentioned, “[Lyrics] make [the song] way better.” Salas has also noticed the differences in messages of the songs released these days. “Now it’s just like lean [a recreational drug], money, and girls.”

Many rappers have come out expressing their hate for new school rap, most notably Eminem. Other rappers such as Snoop Dogg and Royce da 5’9” have also come out to express their feelings towards rap these days. In his song “Caterpillar,” Royce da 5’9” says, “Don’t you grade me next to these rappers, that’s degrading.” He is mentioning how an old-school rapper like himself can’t be compared to these unskilled, new generation rappers. Along with Royce da 5’9”, Eminem has stated his hate for mumble rap numerous times. He expresses his hate in his 2018 song, “The Ringer,” when he says, “Do you have any idea how much I hate this choppy flow/ Everyone copies though? Probably no/ Get this f*****’ audio out my Audi yo, adiós.” Although their disses are aimed at new generation rappers, there are some new school rappers that are an exception to this and who also dislike mumble rap. Logic, a popular modern artist, is among those to hate how meaningless most lyrics are in songs, even going as far to state, “All the people want real / Guess that’s why Logic appeal,” in one of his songs, “City of Stars.” In this line, he’s acknowledging the fact that he is one of the very few rappers who stay true to the older culture of rap.

Some people, however, don’t care about the lyrics that much. Junior David Juarez is one of them. What he looks for in music is mainly the beat, yet he has noticed that “there’s a huge difference” in lyrics from these two eras. “Back then I feel like the lyrics were more important,” Juarez stated. Being someone who mainly listens to the new school, he finds many rappers/rap songs of this era to be unskilled and repetitive. “Lil Pump is not talking about anything. He just says like whatever comes to his mind so like it really makes no sense.” He’s also a firm believer that rappers are getting lazier when it comes to producing meaningful music. “They’re hiring ghostwriters and stuff like that such as Drake and they just repeat stuff.”

In the history of music, it’s obvious that it’s gone through changes. Lyricism and beats have varied across artists and while they may not all pay homage to what hip-hop was founded upon, it is still subjective. Music pleases the ear that listens to it, and every style simply adds more to the genre to create diversity. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the culture of hip-hop will remain as hip-hop, no matter what contributions are made for the art that is music.