Hip-hop, like punk, was from the streets. It was always more of an emotional vehicle than a musical one. So it makes sense that you would someday see them aligned with each other. - Tom DeLonge, co-founder of Blink-182
Rap, as a young genre of music, is in a constant state of evolution, with rappers mining different sounds and subcultures throughout the years to varying degrees of success. Sometimes it’s in an attempt to push hip-hop further and experiment with the form, while other times it comes from the media these artists consumed growing up. This isn’t anything new, but it is something that continues to dominate the outer fringes of rap and wriggles its way into major releases from time to time.
One of the most notable recent examples of a rapper incorporating new sounds is Kanye West’s disruptive, abrasive Yeezus, which is still one of the most unique albums to come from a mainstream rapper. However, on the other end of spectrum you have albums like Lil Wayne’s Rebirth and more recently Kid Cudi’s Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. To say that these two albums weren’t well-received is to put it lightly.
Taking a closer look at Yeezus, in particular, it’s evident that it was inspired by specific types of rock and electronic music rather than a simple fascination with the rock star aesthetic. In other words, he didn’t just look to the world of mainstream rock music—Kanye decided to get a little weird. Industrial and full of confrontational sounds, Yeezus is a groundbreaking record that left a lasting imprint on rap music.
So, what’s next at the intersection of rap and rock music? Taking a look at SoundCloud where the likes of Lil Peep and Lil Uzi Vert are thriving, it’s not hard to imagine pop-punk becoming rap’s next big obsession. Substantially easier to get into than the off-putting sonics of visceral industrial pioneers like Throbbing Gristle, Blink-182’s template for early ‘00s pop-punk is starting to resurface and make its way into the world of rap.
The age of the rappers adopting these sounds are all very young, with Uzi at 22 years old and Peep only 20. Without knowing exactly what they were listening to as kids, the time frame for coming to age in the heyday of pop-punk matches up. Bands such as Blink and Taking Back Sunday dominated the late '90s to mid '00s, and these artists were of a similar age back then as these rappers are now.
There’s an increased embrace of pop-punk style melodies and sounds in rap music right now, and it could take over in a bigger way soon. Take, for example, Uzi’s “XO Tour Llif3,” which features a hook and refrain that would sound right at home paired with some power chords. The production is still rooted in hip-hop, but there’s a distinctly “I want to leave this town” vibe about the forlorn track, which manages to be both sad-as-hell and a banger at the same time. “She say I’m insane, yeah, I might blow my brain, yeah / Xanny help the pain, yeah / Please, xanny make it go away,” he sings in a dramatic, angst-ridden drawl at the end of the first verse.
If this sounds familiar, it's because the biggest bands in mainstream emo and pop-punk frequently adopted this approach. My Chemical Romance got their big break with sad-bangers “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and “Helena.” The line between “damn this bumps” and “this makes me a little sad” is definitely on-trend right now, as the continued dominance of Future should make abundantly clear.
The line between “damn this bumps” and “this makes me a little sad” is definitely in right now.
There are even shades of pop-punk in Lil Yachty’s fun, bubblegum trap approach to rap music, too. His shows are all about the energy, and his songs frequently feature cute choruses with whiny vocals akin to the best pop-punk had to offer back at its peak. That’s not an insult, either, with it being used to fantastic effect on recent single “Harley.” The same could be said of Mike Will Made It’s “Come Down,” which sees both Chief Keef and Swae Lee sounding like they’re ready for the Vans Warped Tour. But there are a lot of rappers on the fringes going even deeper, especially Lil Peep.
Peep, for his part, is quite versatile, but there’s a definite leaning toward the sounds of Blink-182 at times. He isn’t afraid to rap over samples of emo legends like Phil Elverum, either. With a Tom DeLonge meets Mark Hoppus drawl, tracks like “Worlds Away” bridge the gap between pop-punk and rap more than ever.
But this trend extends beyond the music, too. L.A. songwriter Lil Aaron full-heartedly embraces the pop-punk aesthetic, warts and all. His debut solo EP Gloing Pain$ often sounds like Travis Scott meets Green Day, and that’s a distinct combination that will bring in as many fans as it will haters. Internet-incarnate Nok from the Future also perfectly replicates the sounds of peak-era Blink-182 on “Things Never Got Better" and "Good Friends."
Hip-hop, like punk, was from the streets. It was always more of an emotional vehicle than a musical one. So it makes sense that you would someday see them aligned with each other. - Tom DeLonge
Considering the way pop-punk encourages sing-along choruses, this marriage makes a lot of sense. When you have a memorable, poppy hook on your hands, you pretty much have a hit. Rebranding pop-punk to better fit the youth today is wise, especially considering how, commercially speaking, pop-punk has fallen off in a big way. That’s not to mention how bands such as Blink-182, now minus co-frontman DeLonge, aren’t the pop culture forces they once were.
Speaking with DeLonge over email, he believes that the marriage was always inevitable. “It’s always interesting to see how music evolves and makes its way into new ideas,” he explains. “Hip-hop, like punk, was from the streets. It was always more of an emotional vehicle than a musical one. So it makes sense that you would someday see them aligned with each other. It makes me feel good to know that the music that shaped my life because of its ethos, is ever-changing and charting new territory.”
Pop-punk is a youthful genre, and as such the bands that came to define the sound in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s have stopped making music that’s truly engaging. There have been attempts to bring it back, but the music won’t chart on the Billboard 200 in the same way it used to.
For example, Good Charlotte’s The Chronicles of Life and Death peaked at No. 3 on the chart back in 2004, while their 2016 album Youth Authority charted at No. 23. Of course, there are bands like Blink-182 and Green Day that retain dedicated followings off the strength of their previous output, capitalizing on nostalgia and selling out tours, despite the music itself not being as vital.
Given how much both radio-friendly and internet-friendly hip-hop is dependent on hooks, the melding with pop-punk works far better than one might initially think. Even though it’s been happening for a couple of years now, it’s still a growing trend. Maybe it’ll just stick to the fringes with cult artists like Lil Peep, but there’s every chance the weird combination might show up in the form of an even bigger artist soon. It’s probably a stretch to say that Uzi looked towards pop-punk when making “XO Tour Llif3,” but the similarities are there, and they show up in some of his other popular tracks, too.
The sound has already attracted some negative attention, but so did Kanye’s Yeezus and Death Grips, although they were decidedly more provocative in their industrial approach. “The only thing that matters to me is authenticity,” Tom DeLonge answered when asked about what he thinks of the trend. “If it’s coming from someone’s heart, for the right reasons, then I’m a fan.”