Rap is not a monolithic genre. There are many sub-genres, styles, and themes that come up in the culture. Hip-hop is known for uplifting a stereotypical version of masculinity. But today, even that is changing. We are seeing an emergence of rappers who are letting their emotions take up a lot of space in their musical content.
Hip-hop started as a response to the oppressive circumstances of Black and brown communities during the 1970s. Pain is very deeply embedded into hip-hop’s history. And many rappers take advantage of the one off song about how much they love their mum, how much they miss their friend who died, or even how much they love their money. Passion has never been lacking in rap. That much is clear. However, there has been a wave of artists whose brands have become intrinsically linked with the personal turmoil and angst that they pour into their music. And I’m not talking about fringe rappers like Tyler, The Creator, either.
Drake is the voice of a generation of men who can’t reconcile their own sexism and desires. The women in his lyrics exist almost exclusively in a good girl/bad girl binary that he’s used to create his own personal conundrum: He doesn’t trust the “bad girls” he’s attracted to, but he’s not entirely sure he deserves or even wants a “good girl.” Not to mention the fact that he has a whole slew of rich people problems that stem from him being a child actor.
Future frequently waxes about drowning himself in a sea of drugs, clearly unable to cope with the isolating nature of fame. Not to mention the fact that he’s still butt hurt that his ex-fiancée Ciara has moved on with her life.
On the one hand, it’s admirable that these men are confronting their emotions in an environment where men are discouraged from expressing how they feel. But these rappers aren’t exactly shifting culture — they’re mainly using their feelings to justify their drug use and as an excuse not to question their own misogyny. And the same rap fans who are able to produce layers and layers of analysis about Future’s innermost feelings still can’t seem to understand why Black women feel moved by Beyoncé’s Lemonade. If anything, emo rappers prove just how fragile masculinity can be.
At the very least, however, the Drakes and Futures of the world are dispelling the myth that men aren’t emotionally adept. They have feelings — lots of them.