Hip-hop, despite its constant innovation and clear influence, has seen the brunt of shortsighted criticisms since its inception.
Everything from the clothing worn by emcees to a perceived lack of diversity in instrumentals has been picked apart by detractors, both outside of and within hip-hop culture.
The latest critique of hip-hop has focused on the auditory ambiguity of today’s lyrics, especially within the ill-defined subgenre of “mumble rap.” Artists like Lil Yachty, Young Thug, Future and more have been targeted in this criticism, especially by fans of the “golden era” of hip-hop, considered by many to be the lyrical apex of the genre.
Lyrical content is, of course, a huge part of hip-hop and always has been, but this unfair dogpile on the lack of intelligible lyrics in today’s music is exactly that—unfair.
Legendary emcee Chuck D of Public Enemy recently took to Twitter to remind us that lyrics that are hard to understand are nothing new:
Considering the fact that many of the “unintelligible hip-hop” detractors are older heads who grew up listening to artists like Chuck D, this statement is huge. Does this mean we can finally just enjoy the genre in its many incarnations?
Unintelligible lyrics have been a part of nearly every major musical movement as long as music has been a thing. Whether it’s Gregorian chants from Benedictine monks or singing in tongues, or more modern examples like scat singing or the hard-to-decipher screams of punk rock, there have always been musical movements focusing on feelings and vibes, rather than lyrical content.
It’s a balance inherent in nearly every musical genre, yet, in hip-hop, it’s been met with more hatred and judgement than anywhere else, at least in recent years.
With golden era icons like Chuck D lending understanding perspectives, maybe there's hope that we, as a culture, can accept that there will always be a balance between super lyrical hip-hop and its more vibe-oriented cousin, and place our focus on more important issues. Music is meant to be felt as much as it's meant to be understood.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.