Rap baby. It’s a big deal, and is arguably the most prevalent and relevant genre in the public eye. The fashion, the slang and the lifestyle have all infiltrated the status quo. It is now more uncommon to see slicked back rockers than it is Nike’s and Truey’s; Polo and Nautica brought back from 90’s nostalgia to hot trend.
Adding to the cultural observation, it’s impossible to deny the tilt of the music industry. Chance the Rapper made history on the morning of December 6, 2016 when his independent streaming only mixtape Colouring Book was nominated for seven Grammys. This acknowledgement of the independent musician sends a clear message; music is now the every man’s medium, no longer a product of extensive infrastructure. The soundboard has been replaced with the standard QWERTY arrangement. The house band is on tap in the endless land of digital loops. Producers and engineers fly by feel or YouTube instructions, mastering their mixes in bedrooms and back seats, mobile and able to create whenever.
This DIY ability has translated to the DIY sensibility rap is beginning to adopt. Stadium’s ringing with high production rap anthems are ceding their success to clubs and venues packed with fresh, free style. It is the gift and/or curse of autotune, but natural vocal skill is no longer a necessity. Simple syncopated sentences over snappy snares are garbled and tweaked, rendered a pitchy, melodic mumble. The raw talent involved is debatable, but the riff and the vibe are inescapable.
The modern self-tuned MC is being championed by a certain Lil Yachty. Glazed eyes, braided red hair and sailing team in tow, he is blazing a trail for the independent weirdo. Chance may be lighting up the Grammys with polished production and big name features, but Yachty is keeping the bedroom MC motivated. His lack of skill and rampant abrasiveness fire up those who think they can make better, or know better.
The first song I ever heard by Lil Yachty involved him mumbling about his gang and icey diamonds over a chopped up cut of Tiptoe Through the Tulips. The lyrics were lacking, the vocals odd and slightly grating, but the originality was shining. Here is a tune every one of us has heard in countless spoofs and compilations, but only one person decided to make it a little different. It is this resourcefulness and accessibility that’s so exciting in current rap.
The rationale behind Yachty’s beat choice is perhaps not immediately clear. It is assumed an outrageous personality is always a star, built by years of praise. Yachty was a Yachty left Alabama State University after two months, an outcast set apart by his style. In those two months at college he had sat in his dorm room with no producer-only the internet- and started his music. Tiptoe Through the Tulips, the Rugrats theme, Ice cream truck jingles and Zelda menu riffs were all sources of his early beats. No producer stood behind his awkward, bubbly flow, so he did it himself. And blew up overnight.
This isn’t a love letter to Lil Yachty, it is affection for the rise of the offbeat. He was THAT kid, the odd one on the outside of all the social circles. Maybe you are, maybe I am, we probably all are a little bit. This isn’t a cause for alarm, instead it is a calling card for individual success. If you act like no one else and stand out for it, the odd attracts attention. The accessibility and acceptance of a genre like rap is even more momentum for this shift. A genre built entirely from originality and frugality is now an express trip to the public eye. The fact that the production and technology is no longer a luxury is extra insurance.