Well, folks, it’s game over. Time to end the suspense and put the nagging questions to rest. Since it’s birth, everyone from label executives to local DJs has tried to guess the direction that hip-hop is headed. Today, some forty-odd years after the genre’s inception, music journalists have finally cracked the code, and can now predict the future of rap with scientific precision.
At least, that’s what blog headlines will have you believe.
If you’ve spent any time browsing the hip-hop internet lately, you know what I’m talking about. The “_______ is the FUTURE of RAP,” clickbait-inspired, hyperbolic proclamations from justabouteverypublication in the rap-o-sphere claiming that an underground artist from Alabama or St. Louis or L.A. is just a mixtape or two away from changing the game forever.
This brand of speculation isn’t anything new, and it’s not inherently evil or noteworthy. But the level of hyperbole, the sheer volume of bombastic headlines and social media captions claiming clairvoyance about the next big thing, is reaching an all-time high.
From artists to fans and readers, to the publications themselves, this kind of hyperbole is lose-lose for everyone involved.
Hip-hop heads who turn to blogs to look for new music might be receptive to the first or second “future of rap” headline that hits their feed. But after seeing a steady stream of hype for weeks on end, it gets exhausting. You become numb to it. Readers lose when every potentially great music discovery is watered down and deflated by the blog that cried “next up.”
From an artist’s perspective, the idiocy surrounding being dubbed “rap’s future” distracts from the music itself. The conversation shifts away from the artist’s actual record or project and toward expectations that are near-impossible to reach, much less exceed. Rappers lose by missing the opportunity to deliver their real story or receive an honest critique of their work.
Ironically, the publications that run pieces with headlines like “So-and-so is THE Future of Music” eventually lose as well. Blogs everywhere risk credibility—and losing readership along the way—when every piece about a new artist proclaims that the rap messiah has been anointed.
It’s a lose-lose-lose, really, when you consider the caliber of the publisher's content is taking a hit and, in the process, the overall conversation is getting dumbed down to a new low. These pieces don’t take much real thought—substituting labor-intensive listening, evaluating and explaining for whatever hyperbolic phrase will get the biggest number of clicks—and they don’t push the culture in a positive direction.
So how is it that these types of headlines have become so dreadfully popular? They’re silly, and they don’t really help anyone long-term, but they're likely to stick around. There’s a simple reason.
In our internet era of short attention spans, content mills, and flooded social media streams, it’s a constant battle to draw eyeballs and garner attention. If blogs want to go negative and bash an artist or album there’s usually enough engagement thanks to trolling and comment section arguments to make a piece successful.
But if a publication wants to introduce a new artist to their reader base, it’s just about impossible to get people’s attention without doing something drastic. Enter the “future of rap” headlines.
Music journalists and blog editors would love to spotlight up-and-coming artists without resorting to these kinds of proclamations. The sad truth, though, is that vanilla, straightforward “meet this new rapper” pieces don’t really reach readers’ eyes. No one buys the “future of music” predictions, but no one clicks on hyperbole-free headlines either. Live by the hype, die by the hype.
At the end of the day, the whole notion that the next evolution of a culture and music as complex and alive as hip-hop can be accurately assessed in a thousand-word blog post is a joke. By definition, we don’t know what innovations tomorrow will hold, and we won’t know until those surprises hit our ears.
Maybe that one underground rapper from Alabama with the hyperbolic headlines attached to their name really will change rap someday, but we won’t know until we’re there. The music always has and always will surprise us. The day it fails to do so is the day that hip-hop dies for real.
For now, it’s likely that we’ll keep seeing articles pop up with bold and brash titles claiming that the future of rap is all about Childish Gambino or Vince Staples or an underground MC you haven’t heard of yet. It’s a symptom of the cluttered, ad-driven internet era we live in.
Just remember that this kind of hyperbole isn’t just annoying, it’s a losing game that’s as silly as it is futile. If you’re ready to see the “_____ is the Future of Rap” headlines disappear, stop clicking them. Demand a higher level of discourse.
And never forget that the future of music is always going to be unpredictable, no matter how many rap blog headlines tell you otherwise.
By Cassidy Kakin. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Yevgen Pogoryelov