Despite the age-old argument that hip-hop is dead, there has never been a better time to be a hip-hop head from an options standpoint. In the digital era of music, the average listener has thousands of artists to choose from, and even more if you’re willing to work for it.
As accessibility continues to grow and the internet allows anyone with a microphone and a Wi-Fi connection to drop music, hip-hop is constantly evolving stylistically, driven by expectations from its listener base and influences from within the culture. Among the plethora of sounds available to listeners, many artists continue to use their vocal inflections as a way to stand out from the crowd, and at the same time creating music that is truly special, often to tremendous effect.
Here are five artists that are using their unique deliveries to further bend the rules of convention, shifting perception and propelling their own careers.
Thugger is currently one of the most divisive artists in hip-hop, and that’s in no small part due to his off-kilter delivery. I’ll admit when I first heard Thug my immediate reaction was negative. However, just as some of my favorite movies are the ones I hated the first time I saw them, over the past two years I’ve become a bona fide fan of Young Thug for many of the same reasons that initially inspired my dislike for him.
Thug’s vocal range is absolutely insane. The way he’s able to squeak and warble through one verse and then sound perfectly “normal” on the next is dizzying. What first seemed like the tone-deaf ramblings of a codeine addict now ring through my ears like a verbal guitar solo—not always hitting the right note, but always making sense within the context of its presence.
Chance The Rapper
Few independent artists have ever reached the heights of fandom that Chance The Rapper is currently experiencing, and one of the Chicago wunderkind's most endearing qualities is that nasally, sing-songy inflection that lends itself so perfectly to the generally happy-go-lucky subject matter of the young Chicagoan’s music.
Whether he’s softly singing about his beloved grandma or yelling out in defiance against a corporatized music landscape, there’s a childish, imperfect luminescence to his voice that comforts you and lets you know that even though he plans on doing incredible things, he’s a regular human just like us.
Like Thugger, Danny’s voice had to grow on me. When I first heard “Dip,” Danny’s hyena-on-ecstasy delivery was incessantly grating. I had never heard anything like it before. Also like Thug, Danny’s range is incredible, his delivery residing on the extreme end of whatever emotional spectrum he’s conveying with his music.
Considering Danny is known to go from talking about cunnilingus to growing up in a desolate Detroit landscape in a matter of seconds, his ability to highlight those tales with a corresponding inflection is one of his greatest strengths.
Given the popularity and praise that he has achieved thus far in his career, Kendrick;s actual voice and the many things he can do with it is one area of his artistry that’s woefully underappreciated.
I remember the first time I heard the third verse of “Backseat Freestyle” with that gravelly passion, or the wild desperation in his voice during “m.A.A.d city,” and being completely blown away by his ability to shift his delivery into overdrive and turn a dope verse into a captivating performance.
With each release, Kendrick continues to expand his vocal arsenal and how he uses it to emphasize the complexities of his lyrics, and as his musical influences continue to expand their presence in his music, I doubt he’s even scratched the surface of what he’s capable of.
I’ve got one word for you. “Monster.”
In 2010, Nicki’s ascent into stardom was just beginning to gain footing after being discovered by Lil Wayne and inking a deal with Young Money in 2009. She had a handful of solid singles and guest features to her name but had yet to fully express herself as a solo artist.
On her first album Pink Friday, Minaj hinted at her vocal range with tracks like “Roman’s Revenge” with Eminem, but it was her appearance on Kanye West’s hit posse cut “Monster” a few months prior where she let the beast out of the cage, so to speak, and blew everyone’s damn mind.
Nicki isn’t afraid to get weird with her delivery, which is one of the many reasons she’s managed to stay relevant as a rapper over the last six years, and like Kendrick, she’s become an expert at using her many different voices to punctuate some of her more passionate moments.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.