Posted inA New Leaf

A New Leaf: Let’s Get Ready to Mumble

Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka

My only New Year’s resolution this year is to be more positive. I have always been a pessimist and I rarely try to do anything that gives me “bad energy”. The issue with this outlook is that you find yourself becoming the “bad energy”. It’s much easier to critique the interior of the Sistine chapel than to paint it. Since I won’t be painting Sistine chapels anytime soon, I think it would be better if, instead of critiquing things, I attempted to reevaluate and see the positives within things that I have previously been negative about. This column, then, is my attempt at turning A New Leaf

My first mission is to reexamine my least favourite genre of hip-hop: mumble rap. 

In perhaps one of the most famous examples of mumble rap, “Bad and Boujee”, Migos’s Offset starts with the lyrics: 

“You know somethin’, we ain’t really never had no old money, 

We got a whole lotta new money, though” 

This beginning is simple: a throw-away line followed by the producer tag, but its meaning is striking. Mumble rap is often ridiculed by influential figures like Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and myself, because of its repetitive beats, ridiculous adlibs, and nonsensical lyrics. However, this line has always confused me because it’s a really deep line from a really not deep song. 

So why “throw away” one of the most powerful lines of your song? And since I’m not arguing that “Bad and Boujee” has a revolutionary message, why throw away one of the few powerful lines you have? 

Because that is the exact point.  

In “Bad and Boujee“, Migos move past the need to prove themselves — they no longer have the need to excel, or justify, or defend. It’s a song that recognises inequality and elitism in its first few lines, but it chooses to present a different narrative. One not necessarily of Black excellence through complexity, but excellence through simplicity. Rap often is, and continues to be, a collection of complex narratives of survival, pain, beauty, and personal journeys. Mumble rap, however, rarely concerns itself with these narratives. It is a genre that exists for the sake of existing. But this is not a disrespectful regression; it is an essential progression. 

Most media platforms tokenise, glorify, or stereotype diverse voices, and if rap and hip-hop are platforms that neutralise this by normalising and amplifying those authentic voices, then the only way we can continue doing that is by appreciating both the complex and the simple. Hip-hop especially has a history of resisting any attempts made to restrict it, and so setting a standard of which versions of rap are acceptable and which are unacceptable categorically disregards that history. 

I have then put forward why mumble rap is good through negation. In other words, it isn’t bad because it doesn’t need to be excellent, and although it is capable of being complex, choosing not to be sets a powerful precedent for music. 

But it’s also important to point out why mumble rap works through appreciation. This is a genre that is “catchy” without there being adequate lyrics to “catch” on to. In Tyler the Creator’s popular song “Earfquake”, Playboi Carti features with the famous verse: 

“I’m with Tyler, uh (slime) 

He ride like the car, huh 

And she wicked, huh, yuh 

Like Woah Vicky, huh, yeah (Like Woah Vicky) 

Oh, my God, hold up, um 

Diamonds not Tiffany, huh, yeah 

(Woah, woah)” 

[NB: The impact of this verse of course doesn’t work as well in writing so I suggest that everyone who is interested should have a listen] 

Deciphering these lyrics while listening to the song is arguably just as hard as deciphering them from the written lyrics because they are purposefully nonsensical. But if these lyrics make no sense, then why does Playboi Carti almost have the same amount of monthly listeners as Frank Ocean, someone described by Jay Z as having “some of the best music that we’ve ever heard”

Because mumble rap works. 

The lyrics are appealing and sound good, even when they are unintelligible. Playboi Carti especially has been known for speaking “cartinese” so often that questioning the merits of his music due to its incomprehensibility is akin to questioning people who enjoy music in a language they don’t speak. Can opera be enjoyed only by those who understand the language its sung in? Can only native speakers watch K-Dramas or Bollywood films? No, of course, because we understand that a language barrier doesn’t bar human emotions.  

This means that while lyrics such as these, from Ivy by Frank Ocean: 

“If I could see through walls, I could see you’re faking 
If you could see my thoughts, you would see our faces” 

Might create a reaction that differs from these lyrics, from “Ready” by Lil Baby ft. Gunna: 

“Big body Benz, ‘member I used to be dusty.” 

This doesn’t erase the fact that both of these songs have the capacity to evoke great emotions. Whether those emotions translate into hype or hysterics is insignificant, because one emotion isn’t more valuable than the other. 

So the next time you’re about to judge mumble rap, ask yourself,  would you rather be sobbing…or mobbing