Words by Lily Mercer
Remember when rap was overtly masculine? In comparison to previous generations, today’s chart topping MCs are more like RnB singers. Drake is the pioneer of this Lenor scented scene but he’s not alone. The rising popularity of rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper also suggests a less rugged overall sound in the Hip Hop sphere. Though not necessarily soft, these rappers represent a change in the days of more aggressive artists like 50 Cent and T.I. While Drake is the most significant, Roc Nation’s J.Cole also flies the cashmere flag. Their song, Can I Hit It In The Morning? is rated 100% mink as far as Hip Hop songs go. While at a lesser percentage, Kendrick Lamar’s Drake-featuring Poetic Justice is also pretty tender.
Whether you’d define Drake’s music as soft, it does represent the more desirable side of life. Aspirational rap for the masses, his feel-good lyrics promote celebration and progression. And it works! Whatever the song, it’s a hit. From night clubs to strip clubs, his falsetto crooning has seen him rise to the top of the Hip Hop and RnB charts consistently for years.
His rose-tinted outlook is nothing new; Mary J. Blige embellished many rap songs during the nineties, as did Puff Daddy, who claimed he created RnB in its modern form. Ja Rule was also an enforcer when it came to melting Hip Hop’s cold heart. As he perfected the placement of RnB hooks on rap songs like Put It On Me, he contributed to the influx of love-focused rap songs in the early noughties. Emotional displays were typical of Ja as a rapper, who vented on his debut album, Venni Vetti Vecci.
DMX & Sticky Fingaz of Onyx are the likely originators of emo-rap as both pioneered the act of near-crying in the booth. DMX explored his tough childhood through songs like Slippin’, displaying an openness that was unfamiliar in Hip Hop at the time. Even looking at the back catalogues of one of the greats, Jay Z, there are many songs with an emotional focus, including This Can’t Be Life and Soon You’ll Understand. Eminem took the emotional childhood reflection a step further as he based his career on the breakdown of relationships between him and both his mother and girlfriend. Evidently a fan of Eminem’s early work, Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator’s albums feature skits in which he reflects on issues related to his father’s absence.
As it became more common for rappers to explore their emotions, it was a natural step for men to delve into their feelings towards love. Rappers like Drake and J.Cole have made this their forte, as they develop armies of female fans, plus men eager to emulate them. Technically, this is nothing new, as LL Cool J was talking about his need for love back in ’87, but then again, he was known for his macho personality. His romantic side was a ploy to make him even more attractive rather than an admission of softness. Big Daddy Kane similarly made moves to attract the ladies, as he appeared on the cover of Playgirl with only a box of chocolates to preserve his modesty.
2Pac was one of the greatest social commentators in rap, with songs like Do For Love and Dear Mama. Despite, or even because of his role in the era of gangsta rap, he was able to explore themes of love, often featuring an RnB hook. His looks made him a favourite of Hip Hop’s female fans and a David LaChapelle portrait in the bath tub added to his cashmere status, but wasn’t enough to counteract the countless photos of him toting a gun/blunt/raised middle finger.
With his ’10 softest rappers in the game’ countdown, cult blogger, the Big Ghostfase, has taken pride in naming and shaming his most strokeable MCs. Having nicknamed Drake ‘the kitten whisperer’, his annual list ensures the guilty ones are aware of their crimes against rap. Despite the strength of the softer MCs, there are exceptions in the industry. Chief Keef’s presence is a strong statement against cashmere rap as his lyrics glamorise gun toting and gang violence. Meek Mill’s machine-gun flow also counteracts the smoothness of rap’s care bears as he details the grittier side of life. Even Rick Ross arguably balances the scale with debaucherous tales of drug capitalisation and consumption.
Though rap has undoubtedly softened thanks to the influx of effeminate rappers, thankfully there are enough thugs to balance the industry. And what’s life without balance?
Published by RWD Magazine.