Hip-hop Culture and the Dying Art of Lyricism in Rap

6 Min Read

Ahsab Rahman

What is culture? Culture is the way of life of a group of people. It is a set of characteristics and customary beliefs of a particular society. A group of humans comes together to form a culture. In that sense, hip-hop is a global culture; but in a broader sense, hip-hop is equivalent to a civilisation. It is more than just an art movement, and everyone is a part of it. Hip-hop is based on a few fundamental elements, such as breaking, rapping, DJ-ing, beatboxing, and graffiti art that dates back to the pre-historic times. How? Let me explain.

Breaking, or dancing in general, is the earliest form of body movement. This is how you move, how you act according to nature and everything around. When people dance, they also speak in a way. They express themselves, they provide a message. Hip-hop is all about expressing. It is our collective consciousness. When we are born, the second thing we do after movement is, we utter. We utter sounds, vowels, small words, etc. Way before we learn the organised language, we still express things in a way. That is the root of rapping/MC-ing that we call today. Speaking, expressing, delivering a message — these are what hip-hop is about.

Graffiti art is a modern term but its usage goes way back. In the earlier days, people used to write on rocks, trees, caves. This is the earliest form of writing. So, you see, the elements of hip-hop go way back to pre-historic times. It is a culture and its roots are imprinted in us from the very beginning. We are all part of hip-hop in a way. The reason for me saying this is, people still don’t accept it as a culture and mix it up with “rap” only. Rap is an “element”, or in a modern sense, a “product” of hip-hop. Like the great KRS-One said, “Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live.” Hip-hop’s main goal is to deliver a message, and rap is a fundamental element to do so. Rap itself has three sub-elements — flow/delivery, lyrics, and beat. If any of the first two elements are missing, we cannot call it a rap (rap can be without beat as well, we call it acapella).

I remember, in my boyhood days, I used to go to CD stores to buy Eminem albums. I used to study the bars. I was always mesmerised by his ability to utilise literary techniques like double entendres, similes, punch-lines, etc. to deliver powerful verses. Not only I was learning new words, but I was also entertained beyond my imagination. Fast forward 10 years, I am 22 now. I’m in an era where Eminem is panned by critics for not having “content” (although he has content), but the same critics praise Lil Pump who has zero content. Double standards much?

When did this mumble rap phase start? My best guess is the mid-2010s when it became mainstream and pure rap started to decline. What is the content in Gucci Gang where the two mentioned phrases are said a million times throughout the song? Is this the “entertainment” this generation craves? Have we deteriorated this much?

As I have mentioned earlier, in order to be pure rap, you must have lyrics. Where is the lyricism in mumble rap? A bunch of mumbo-jumbos in a trap beat, and that’s it? If that is what this generation craves for, then this is surely a bad time.

In addition to that, mumble rappers are glorifying drug abuse in almost every song. Today’s generation is getting inspired by it and they are taking drugs too. I have a friend of mine who embraced this path by idolising mumble rappers. I’m not saying old-school rap music was entirely pure, but on a comparative scale, the oldies are a thousand times better.

“More drugs, more money, more women” — the motto of most of today’s rap. Gucci Gang is a masterpiece, but Eminem’s Walk On Water is a song lacking content, and it is laughable.

Nas once said, “Hip-hop is dead.” I both agree and disagree. Hip-hop is dead in the mainstream world, but it’s still alive in the underground. To save the mainstream rap scene, we should start listening to better and healthier music, and old-school rappers should be more active in spreading the true message of the genre.


Ahsab likes to spend time thinking about how the manga “Nana” could have continued, and daydreaming about getting Eminem’s blessings to start his own rap career.

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