Some rappers are awe inspiring (#TYBG), some rappers are complete trash and some rappers are RiFF RAFF. But in the internet age, does the quality of a rapper really matter? Drake comparing his swimming pool to Kanye’s is far more tweetable and notable than discussion about rap virtuosos. The UTM editors got together to figure out if a rapper’s tone, flow and lyricism have to be high quality for music to be worthwhile and, in the process, we discussed autotune, political lyrics and Stitches.
What does a rapper need to have to catch your attention?
Richard: An interesting flow, vocal tone and lyricism that doesn’t grate on me.
Connor: Typically, the first thing that draws me to a rapper is tone, a rapper can have absolutely incredible lyrics, but a deadass tone means I’m not gonna pay attention. Lyricism is something I pick up on more when on repeated listens.
Richard: If the rapping is shitty but it kinda works as a whole, it’s cool. I always pick up on quality lyricism early on, it’s often something that endears me to a rapper on the first listen.
Connor: Yeah, even a bad rapper can catch my attention, just the ones that completely lack in any personality or are completely generic are so horrible to me.
Nathan: Vocal tone is so important cuz that’s the first thing you’re gonna pick up on…. but personally I need a rapper to be funny in some way, either personality or lyrics – when a rapper can do good raps and make you laugh, that’s a killer combo.
Are you typically more drawn to production or lyrics when listening to rap?
Connor: Production all the way, music is infinitely more interesting the majority of the time.
Nathan: Production every single time. You could be the sickest rapper but if you’re going over some trash instrumental, it’s going to make you sound bad.
Richard: If the production is cool with loads of interesting fx and layers it can totally save a tune from lame rapping.
Connor: Although, if a rapper has something interesting or funny to say, occasionally it can suppress a dull instrumental.
Nathan: Conversely, if the instrumental is bumping and the rapper is terrible, more time it’s not going to matter to much cuz you’re wilin’ out to the music. Like, Stitches ain’t a great rapper. But that ‘Brick in Yo Face’ instrumental goes haaaarddd! So people are into it.
Connor: Part of the appeal of ‘Brick In Yo Face’ is the bad lyrics. It’s so dumb but who doesn’t love shouting, “I LOVE SELLING BLOOOOOOOOW!”
Richard: I think the thing about ‘Brick In Yo Face’ was that he was really feeling it when he did that tune. But his other shit is a bit dead because he obviously isn’t gassed about it.
Connor: I feel like Rich needs to take Stitches to rap therapy.
Richard: $250 a session.
How do you feel about rappers who heavily abuse autotune? Can they be considered good?
Richard: I don’t know. I think autotune gets abused too much these days. It really puts me off. Autotune has way more impact when used tastefully, for example- ‘Artesian Water’ by Bones.
Nathan: Surely by now we all now the presence of autotune isn’t a substitute for bad singing… and that’s what people usually dick on it for. I will forever defend autotune because of how Kanye used it on 808s and Heartbreak.
Connor: Kanye deliberately used as part of his sonic palette on 808s, so it really has nothing to do with not singing good, like when has not being able to sing ever stopped Kanye before?
Nathan: Exactly – Justin Vernon doesn’t get stick for it, so why Kanye? That guy has some fucking pipes on him though.
Connor Cass: But generally autotune rappers can be good, but it doesn’t necessarily matter because many of them are banger-centric rappers and then it just kinda becomes part of the noise. Future is hype, nobody really cares about what he’s saying.
Nathan: I think that’s unfair on Future because when you take the time to listen to some lyrics properly, they’re not throwaway hype lines – they get deep!
Connor: Obviously, but i’m kinda referring to times Future’s music is typically played. Future’s lyrics are kinda sad.
Richard: That’s what annoys me about the use of autotune, I hear a lot of stuff from rappers who are normally great lyricists and then they just drown their shit in autotune and you have no idea what they’re saying.
Nathan: It’s kinda lame to hate on autotune though – very white dad, innit?
Richard: I don’t hate on it, I just think it gets overused or used wrong in many cases.
Connor: It’s so weird that there’s still this stigma around it.
How about rappers who lyrics are largely quotables (RiFF RAFF, 2 Chainz), would you rather these kind of rappers didn’t exist?
Connor: I honestly live for these kind of rappers.
Richard: I’m pretty ambivalent to them.
Connor: Everyone needs turn-your-brain-off dumb, fun music, and that’s what these rappers are for me.
Nathan: I got time for them, dumb is the new fun. I prefer that to political raps. At least it ain’t pretentious.
Connor: I get why people wouldn’t like them, but those people who sit around going “wow this isn’t insightful or political” really need to learn that music can be enjoyable too.
Richard: Yeah political raps are a bit lame.
Can a rapper with intentionally bad lyricism be good?
Richard: I’m just going to come straight out and say I’m not really able to listen to an entire Das Racist album. It gets on my tits after a while, I guess they’re just on too many levels of irony for me. ‘Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell’ is a funny fucking tune to be fair.
Nathan: If there’s one thing I hate in hip hop, it’s rappers taking themselves too seriously. So when rappers fuck about like that, I’m gonna be drawn towards it. Das Racist were smart with how dumb they were, so there was a whole new level to that that a lot of people didn’t get.
Connor: I’d rather listen to Das Racist then Kendrick.
Nathan: EVERY DAY!
Richard: I think it’s the beats that really get me. The beats annoy me a lot on the Das Racist stuff. But again I guess that’s part of the irony, too meta for me.
Do you believe rap with a message (conscious/lyrical hip hop) is a higher art form than other kinds of rappers?
Connor: I don’t believe in high art, so no.
Nathan: I don’t think any art is higher than any other art. It’s all art.
Richard: Often these ‘conscious’ rappers aren’t really being all that conscious, just righteous.
Nathan: I prefer unconscious rappers.
Connor: Also there are so many conscious rappers that don’t have anything in their tone or flow that makes them stand out.
Nathan: Fuck conscious hip hop.
Richard: Also if you listen to A Tribe Called Quest, who are great and remembered as having been ‘conscious’ there isn’t even really a whole lot that they talk about that’s particularly deep or political. Smoked out Loc’d out erryday.
Nathan: I don’t think politics and music go well together anyway. Like church and state. They can, but they shouldn’t…
Richard: It’s kind of difficult to go into proper political commentary or discussion in four minutes worth of lyrics anyway. So it’s often oversimplified to be able to make some sort of coherent point. If someone’s really pissed off about politics it works, but then I’m appreciating the artist for being pissed off and making aggressive music rather than for insightful political commentary.
Connor: I still think politics can be good in rap, Run The Jewels do it particularly well cause they go hard about it and mix it in with other subject matters. But 78 minutes 51 seconds of politics is such a drag and unlistenable after while for me.
Lots of rappers are gaining success simply from songs going viral, rather than the merit of their lyrical ability/flow, is this having a negative effect on rap, or is there a place for these rappers?
Connor: A lot of viral rappers are pretty trash.
Nathan: They go viral and they disappear, it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Let them have their moment, innit.
Connor: Yeah it doesn’t really matter if they’re good or anything, the second song isn’t gonna get any attention, so it’s not like it’s worth looking at them as good or bad rappers. Who really cares about albums from Stitches, OT Genasis or Danny.
Richard: I guess the problem is that they get the viral hit by accident, often it seems people aren’t that talented and just happen upon a cool idea, which ends up as a viral banger, but often the reason they can’t follow up is because they’re not really all that talented in the first place.
Kanye West keeps signing punchline/viral rappers like Big Sean and Desiigner to good music. Is he smart to do this?
Connor: I wish he’d stop involving them in his albums.
Nathan: Kanye will get bored of his new toys, just like he did with Mr Hudson.
Richard: Despite my personal distaste towards him, he’s obviously got a lot of talent as a producer. Maybe he could get more than one cool idea out of them.
Connor: Kanye seems to have viral/meme potential in mind with these guys, I refuse to accept Kanye signed Big Sean on lyrical ability alone. ‘Panda’ did blow up though, so….
Nathan: Future Lite. For when you can’t afford the real thing.
Connor: Nothing makes me sadder than that clip of future hearing ‘Panda’ in a club.
Nathan: He looked genuinely confused. “Is this my jam or nah?”
Finally, does is actually matter to you if the rapper you’re listening to is good?
Richard: A rapper can suck absolute shit, but if they have something cool or interesting that helps them work as a rapper, I’ll be able to appreciate it better. There are just so many variables.
Nathan: When we talk about ‘bad rappers’ like RiFF RAFF and 2 Chainz and whoever else, I think it’s unfair to say they’re BAD. Sure they might not have great flows/lyrics, but they do have SOMETHING about them that makes them likeable, so they’re good in that sense. I think an actual bad rapper is someone who doesn’t have anything about them, so I wouldn’t be listening to them anyway. I’m talking the likes of Hopsin, real trash rappers.
Richard: Like Bones and Xavier Wulf are two rappers with decidedly unremarkable flows, but they also happen to be some of my favourite rappers, they have boring ass flows, tones and lyricism, but it kind of works because they have the whole ‘Xan’d out Lean’d out’ aesthetic.
Connor: I don’t listen to music to be impressed, but for feeling and to fit the current situation I’m in. Bangers aren’t there for me to go “wow what a great 16,” they’re for dumb drunken fun. Good quality raps are just one part of what makes a track great, like El-P‘s verse in ‘The Last Huzzah’ is technically impressive and all, but really his flow and energy supports the anarchic theme so well. Honestly, the definitions of ‘good rapper’ and ‘bad rapper’ are so loose, and who’s to say we can’t enjoy both. Rap fans take things way too seriously, if I see one more Kendrick vs J Cole debate…
Nathan Butler, Connor Cass & Richard Lowe