Ten years ago, the nearly infallible Q-Tip graced hip-hop with the release of his solo opus, The Renaissance. An album bursting with positivity, optimism, and celebration, The Renaissance differs greatly from the popular sonics in today’s hip-hop landscape.
Q-Tip is evidently aware of this, as he explained in a new interview with NME that today’s music is a bit darker, and perhaps flatter as a result.
“I think the music today definitely, um, you don’t see a lot of harmony in the music,” Tip said. “You don’t hear a lot of depth. The music is a little darker. The young rappers now have a much more limited subject matter, which is fine, but that means their imagination has to be immense and it just isn’t, for the most part.”
Taking his statement in two parts, Q-Tip’s note on the lack of harmony could be taken to mean the music itself lacks sonic harmony. Yet, in the context of the conversation, it is more likely Tip is noting the disharmonious emotions that color contemporary emo rap smashes like “XO TOUR Llif3,” “Lucid Dreams,” and all of the late Lil Peep’s music. The themes and structures of these records are antithetical to the layered joy of The Renaissance, and thus exist without harmony.
Then we have Q-Tip’s assertion that because the music is emotionally one-note—which, for the most part, it is—the writing must bring extraordinary layers of depth to make up for the flat feeling of the song. Certainly, this is true as well; all elements of a rap track have to work in a balanced concert. However, it appears Tip does not see the necessary depth that would make the rise of this wave of melodic emo rap stand up to critique.
For example, let me be frank: is the overall music of a Juice WRLD emotionally flat? Yes. By and large, Juice WRLD deals with two main themes, drugs and women, and all of his songs regarding women bring with them simplistic lyrics that trend toxic (“If she leaves, I’mma kill her”). At the same time, Juice is a master of dissonance. His drug talk is inventive and harrowing and has listeners anxious to get him help.
Where Q-Tip ultimately veers left in his assessment of popular hip-hop today is where all nearly all legendary artists who make blanket statements go wrong: they fail to present examples and rest on platitudes.
Could modern rap stand to add more depth? Absolutely, Q-Tip’s demands are on the money. But is there already depth to be had in the genre? Without question.
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