VIRANI: Lil Yachty’s new sound might be anti-hip-hop

Opinions Column: From Breaks to Bars

Lil Yachty has had an incredibly successful year. His debut mixtape and work with DRAM and Chance the Rapper brought the 19-year-old rapper out of the underground scene and into the mainstream, culminating at his induction into the most recent XXL Freshman Class. Aside from his discography, Yachty has made a reputation for himself as the rapper who does not care about hip-hop’s past. As someone who said he could not name five Biggie or Tupac songs and openly called Biggie “overrated,” Lil Yachty is every old-school rap fan’s worst nightmare.

Modern rappers are beginning to fall on a very diverse, yet explicit, spectrum. On one end, we have rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, the artists who master their craft by learning from old-school rap legends. On the other end, we have rappers like Lil Yachty and Kodak Black, artists who prioritize creating new sound over lyrical substance. They don’t see the point in studying hip-hop’s past.

Musically, it’s difficult to prove that one is better than the other. Lil Yachty and his equals have integrated themselves into the market on a platform of fresh voices, solid production and, most important to mainstream consumers, catchy music. Even if you’re someone who remains strongly loyal to conscientious rap, you can’t deny the fact that you sang along to “One Night” that time it came on the radio and you were in the car alone. Don’t even bother lying. But what artists like Lil Yachty get the most hate for is their lyricism. Even Yachty himself has said that he’s “not a rapper” when defending his weak freestyle skills and his songs, regardless of how catchy they are, lack substantial meaning or intricate rhyme schemes. But the commercial success of this type of rap proves that there’s a legitimate market for artists like him. The Lil Whatever's of the rap game are here to stay.

But what’s so wrong about how Lil Yachty looks at hip-hop isn’t his lack of attention to lyrics. Crunk music has been around for years and it revolved around this same perspective. What is worrisome about him and rappers like him is the fact that they openly reject the importance of hip-hop history. It's more than just not listening to old rap or wanting to bring a new sound to hip-hop. He’s denying the fact that hip-hop is a culture that expands the scope of just music. Hip-hop is not just a list of titles and lyrics — it’s an opportunity for the urban youth to speak their minds. It’s a voice for the people who otherwise wouldn’t be heard. And if rappers like him continue to flood the industry without caring about the message that genre is built upon, it threatens the meaning of hip-hop.

Yachty and his new generation of rap artists bring a sound that we can’t find in hip-hop’s archives. But every declaration they make that hip-hop history doesn’t matter is a shovel of dirt that further buries the intention and importance of the industry. It brushes off hip-hop’s dedication to presenting socio-political nuances of American society just so you can have some catchy beats for your next party. And if that is the trade-off we as a consumer base continue to make, hip-hop is doomed.

Jhanvi Virani is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in Computer Science and History. Her column, “From Breaks to Bars,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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