Is Kanye responsible for Mumble Rap?

That’s right, the man who took us from; drop out, to graduation, before revealing his heart break, letting us into his dark fantasy, declaring his divinity, pushing the definition of art, then reappearing with his 7 song theory, may be responsible for one of the most divisive issues in Hip Hop at the moment, Mumble Rap. Does it signify the death or evolution of the culture?  

This investigation is made of 4 parts:

  1. The influence of Kanye on Mumble Rap (Speed, Clarity and Autotune)
  2. Understanding Mumble Rap
  3. Why Mumble rap is a natural progression
  4. Conclusion

This idea came to me after watching a TED talk on how we hallucinate reality. Now hold up, I appreciate that’s quite the jump, but just bear with me on this. I will come back to it in part 2.

In 2004, Kanye releases The College Dropout, from which we are going to look at 3 songs. The massive hit single ‘Slow Jamz’ feat Twista, which goes on and dominates the clubs, radios, parties and the charts, as well as ‘Through the Wire’ and ‘Jesus Walks’.

SPEED

I remember Twista came on with so much fire, it was like a Rasengan to the cranium. To be honest, I had no idea what he was really saying, but it sounded amazing. I figured I didn’t need to understand what he was saying, to appreciate the skill and dexterity on display. I’d listened to Busta Rhymes and Tech 9 before, I knew what was going down. But as time progressed, I found that the wannabe speed daemons had blocked that lane, with people rapping fast for entire songs that it was becoming utterly unintelligible.

CLARITY

As for the issue of clarity. I’m sure most of you have already figured this one out, we are of course looking at the record, ‘Through the Wire’. Kanye tells us

“Forgive me if this sounds unclear at all, I’ve got my jaw wired shut”

Now, we know this track was huge, but that unclarity in his flow, makes you want to listen to it over and over. Even if you didn’t know all the words, everyone was still bumping it.

AUTOTUNE

The next thing to come along was autotune. It is worth pointing out the Kanye uses Auto tune as early as the College Dropout, ‘Jesus Walks’ being the prime example. That digital wail in the background, is an example of the melodic use of Autotune within the context of Hip Hop.

Prior to the release of Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak, autotune was something I had heard of, but mostly in Pop music. Applied more as a way to create the effect of reverb whilst also catching the stray notes in the variations of vocal takes. Kanye admits that using autotune in that manner doesn’t work for him, in fact singing through autotune actually makes his voice sound worse.

Yet Kanye and Kid Cudi, transferred us to another musical dimension on this record. This time using autotune as a creative tool for expression, as opposed to only catching stray notes. The vocal manipulation at times making the words unclear, but certainly changing the textural quality of the vocal sound.

[It should be noted, that Lil Wayne is associated with popularising a style, that could be described as early mumble rap. He was in fact the first person to rap through autotune and he does feature on 808’s. That might become a separate discussion if enough people want to have it.

Come back next week for part 2 of this discussion.

Follow Kanye here

Follow Twista here

Follow Lil Wayne here

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