Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that 2016 was the year of “mumble rap.” Not that it was the first year we ever heard rappers mumble, nor was it the first year the term was ever used. Rather, mumble rap became an umbrella term—unfair or not—to describe not only the increasingly more prominent melodic style of blending rapping and singing but really any music from newer artists that didn’t adhere to stricter, traditional hip-hop standards.
While an age gap has always existed in musical tastes, it’s never been quite as pronounced as it was in 2016, where newcomers like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty were regularly blasted for what many more conservative listeners likened to “shit,” or “garbage,” or even “the hip-hopocalypse” (though I might have coined that last one just now).
High profile “differences in thinking” led to much-too-discussed incidents like DJ Premier vs. Lil Uzi and Pete Rock vs. Lil Yachty, but to those youngsters’ credit, it was more established Billboard chart veterans like Future and Young Thug that proliferated the airwaves with the unintelligible mumbles we’re all so passionately polarized by, more so than anyone who’s risen to fame this year.
The now-G.O.O.D.-aligned Brooklyn teenager hit the hip-hop world with the force of his own trademark, whiplash-inducing dab, and “Panda” was the rocket inside which he rode to the fame stratosphere. Propelled by a Kanye co-sign on one of the biggest albums of the year, “Panda” took on a life of its own, scrambling bloggers to locate other Desiigner recordings and becoming omnipresent on it’s way to the No. 1 song in the country.
Not only is "Panda" the Mumble Rap Song of 2016, it’s the introductory lesson in Mumble Rap 101, hitting all the necessary pain points for golden era junkies and those less accepting in their hip-hop canon. The lyrics are nearly indecipherable. Check. It’s repetitive. Check. Older heads hated it. Check. The artist is young. Check. The lyrics are mostly comprised of references to drugs, guns, and material wealth. Check.
Is it mumbling? Yes. If verified Genius lyrics didn’t exist, we might still not know exactly what Desiigner is saying. Is the song devoid of talent? Go ahead and try to recite the song’s only verse flawlessly, even while looking at the lyrics. I’ll give you five chances. Go.
Is it a good song? Debatable. One thing is sure—“Panda” took over the country’s collective conscious unlike anything we’ve experienced from a rapper’s debut single, and mumble or not it was the biggest hip-hop song of the year.
With new generations come new trends, and with new trends come new awards, even mostly tongue-in-cheek ones that may never be repeated, like Mumble Rap Song of the Year.
Congrats Desiigner, now let’s all go back to arguing on the internet about what is and isn’t rap music.
By Brendan Varan. Follow him on Twitter.