by Gillian Robins, David Choi and Jason Joven
With a steadily growing following, brash yet introspective “emo rap” artists such as Juice WRLD or Lil Uzi Vert could be seen as one of music’s newer trends. But the youthful malaise and diversion from the mainstream is timeless: they echo the spirit of Sid Vicious and Kurt Cobain more than they do today’s Jay-Z or Cardi B.
Unless you’ve been a decades-long rap fan, it’s tempting to say that their emotionally-raw and vulnerable rap lyrics are a new thing. But references to Notorious B.I.G.’s 1994 “Suicidal Thoughts”, Tupac’s or Eminem’s frequent themes of dark introspection in the 1990s/2000s, or large swaths of Kid Cudi’s work in the late 2000s/early 2010s would surely refute that idea.
But what does seem to be unprecedented is the high-profile commercial success of several male rappers in a machismo-laden genre that don’t just dip their toes in such taboo topics such as depression, anxiety, and suicide: it’s their signature.
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