Migos’ recent announcement that Culture II is around the corner finds the Atlanta trio facing a marketplace in which everything sounds like...well...2016 Migos. The hallmarks of the group’s sound—triplet-based vocal rhythms, staccato delivery, and trap-style hi-hats and melodies—are literally everywhere in commercial hip-hop today. Add in the sung/rap hybrid of someone like Future, and you have a firm grasp on the mainstream rap scene of 2017.
So, what’s next? What happens when the current phase ends, and something new takes its place? I reached out to several experts to get their thoughts on what may occur once this incarnation of trap music runs its course. Here are their best guesses:
Lyrics of Fury: Conscious Rap Makes a Comeback
Several people talked about the existence of a new generation of rappers who put a primacy on intelligent lyrics, in the vein of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. Tunji Balogun, RCA’s Senior VP of A&R, mentioned J.I.D. and Isaiah Rashad as examples:
“There’s a group of lyrical, introspective, forward-thinking rappers that are somewhat overlooked,” he tells me. “[They] aren’t really on the charts and aren’t really on the radio yet, but are garnering a lot of fans and growing quickly and selling tickets. A lot of them are just one song or one or two smart moves away from hitting the mainstream.”
This position is seconded by Randall “Sickamore” Medford, who has an equivalent job to Balogun’s at Interscope, and prior to that helped shepherd the careers of Travis Scott, YG, and Lil Durk.
Sickamore thinks that young fans—he mentions college students in particular—will want “super-conscious” rap to help them deal with Trump’s America. He shouts out Noname, Smino, and, like Balogun, J.I.D.
“Those college kids are tired of the retarded rap, the druggie rap, the Future rap,” Sickamore explains. “They're gonna want something else. They're gonna want somebody with a lot of substance.”
Punks Jump Up: Punk Rock Influences Both Music and Style
Both Balogun and Sickamore agree that one of the things to watch for is hip-hop going punk. They predicted that an aggressive, punk rock attitude will bubble up to the mainstream in a big way.
“There are groups like Suicideboys or artists like the late Lil Peep that are drawing from a lot of punk influences both musically and stylistically in terms of how they dress and style themselves and present themselves to the world,” Balogun says.
Sickamore agrees. In tandem with lyrical rap, he sees a punkier aesthetic gaining traction. He mentions a current track that serves as a touchstone for him.
“I think Trippie Redd has a song that kinda sounds like the peak of this wave—this new track he got with Travis Scott called ‘Dark Knight Dummo,’” he tells me. “That record, to me, is, ‘Okay, this is 2018. This is where it starts.’ Getting a little bit more melodic, a little bit more musical, but way more aggressive. Before, [fans] were mosh pitting to bounce songs, like ‘Look At Me.’ These days, the music is trying to match the energy.”
Been Around the World: International Sounds Play a Bigger Role
David Drake, journalist and host of the podcast So Many Shrimp, perpetually has his eye on industry trends. He tells me that similar to the way popular artists like Drake adopted the West African sound of afrobeats in 2017, he sees the same thing happening soon with another African style.
“South Africa has spent the last year being a big new sound, sort of the way afrobeats was a year or two ago,” the writer explains. “I think that this style called gqom, that's the hot new international sound.” While not getting as specific, Balogun cites “a growing American appetite for international hip-hop” and talks about the likelihood of African and Latin rhythms working their way into hip-hop in the coming year.
Ladies First: A Resurgence of Female Rappers in the Mainstream
A new batch of female rappers gaining commercial success seems to be on the horizon. David Drake attributes this at least in part to pushback against the male-dominated wave of “Soundcloud rap.”
“There have been a lot of female rappers who have come up in the last couple years that I feel like are pushing stylistic ground more than guys are,” he says, mentioning Queen Key, Rico Nasty, Cupcakke, and Molly Brazy as examples. “I feel like there's gonna be a gender rebalancing happening.”
Of course, there’s no way to predict the future. There’s always the chance of an unexpected game-changing success that will set the music industry off in an entirely new direction—it’s certainly happened before. But the smart money is on at least some of these predictions serving as a guideline of where hip-hop is headed in the coming year and beyond.