Editors’ Note: Although there is no profanity in this article, some of the artists mentioned do have explicit lyrics in their music.
There is a new genre that’s causing a generational chasm in rap music. However, this one is not defined by the content of the songs, largely because older people have no idea what some rappers are saying. Welcome to “mumble rap.”
Mumble Rap (a term coined by Wiz Khalifa) is a sometimes derogatory name for the emergence of playful inarticulation in Trap music. Trap music, much like the cough syrup abuse it so frequently references, is known as a concoction of the “Dirty” South. It is known for 808 bass, lyrical content, and layered synthesizers. Mumble rapper Lil’ Yachty (a.k.a. Lil’ Boat) considers his music “bubblegum” trap.
The Southern branch of hip hop has been known for unusual experimentation in widely respected music (see OutKast) and sometimes largely disparaged (see the “Has the South Ruined Hip Hop?”). But a rapper named Young Thug has seemingly delved into the avant garde. The question is whether it was intentional.
In 2010, the famous and famously reclusive graffiti artist Banksy released a movie. Exit Through The Gift Shop told the story of how a filmmaker transforms into an artist and then sells out. According to the New York Times, the documentary has a feel of a “con.” A con that has a more powerful message against consumerism, given that it tricks its audience. It is widely thought that Banksy orchestrated the entire movie in an effort to détourn the commercialization of street art (the commercialization of street art itself being a détournement).
The practice of détournement was developed by Guy Debord and Letterist International in the 1950s and consists of breaking apart the components of existing art and creating something new. It can be studied in Dean of Faculty Dr. Z. Bart Thornton’s Anarchy English elective. Détournement frequently delves into the absurd, and so does Young Thug.
Young Thug never showed up for his own music video shoot for the song “Wyclef Jean.”
The video is accompanied by a text overlay from the director, Ryan Staake. It is, at its core, an explanation of why the video did not get made. It features both Young Thug’s and Staake’s visions, which include: models in kiddie cars, kids in adult cars, and flying ten-year-old rapper Lil’ C-Note out from Mississippi. Young Thug arrived ten hours late for the video shoot. He never got out of his car. Apparently, his instagram had been hacked, and he needed to deal with that. He does appear in the video at one point in footage he shot of himself, with a private jet, eating Cheetos.
The video plays like a deconstruction of the music video-making process. The end of the video reveals to the audience that even though the video never got made, none of that matters because you just watched the entire music video. As of this writing, the art piece has over thirteen million views.
How intentional were Young Thug’s actions? Was it planned from the beginning, or just a clever move by the director? Should Dr. Thornton include this video in his curriculum? The answers are not quite clear.
Young Thug’s videos typically have a playfully outrageous vibe. His video for his song “Best Friend” features him as his own chauffeur, dinner entrée, and sweetheart. These self-esteem disporting acts are intercut with him and his squad roaming the woods. The video is depicting the average day from Thugger’s perspective, where he is his own best friend. He also had quite a bit of creative influence in the video, which he co-directed. His creative vision was “I want a random video, I don’t wanna’ do nothing with the song, so let’s just think of something random.”
Young Thug seems to generally enjoy absurdism and making music videos. My conclusion is that he had to approve this video at some point of its development, so he is at least in on the “con.” How much creative input he had, we don’t know.
“Mumble” Rappers in general have strayed away from the traditional rap video. Migos, trap rappers with mumble crossover, recently released a Revenant-styled music video, while Lil’ Yachty’s “Minnesota” video takes place entirely inside a hockey rink.
Regarding Young Thug, only one thing seems certain: mysteries abound.
Featured image: Ben Watts via GQ.