Emo rap needs to end

The genre squanders its chance to have a serious discussion about mental illness

Rappers like Tekashi 6ix9ine and Juice WRLD popularized the emo rap genre.
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The emo music genre of the early 2000s was defined by eyeliner-donning men stalking around a stage and lyrically releasing pent-up rage. Today, emo music dominates pop culture as emo rap: joylessly auto-tuned rap songs about numbing pain with drugs, and often sung by face-tattooed men with more criminal charges than they have hits.

The burgeoning genre of emo rap fuses elements from classic hip-hop, like 808-heavy beats and objectifying women, with aspects of classic emo music, like dark narratives and blaming women for heartbreak. 

Emo rap's place in mainstream music is well-established—Kid Cudi and Kanye West made melancholy hip-hop an integral part of their brand more than a decade ago. The difference today is how much space the genre occupies within the music landscape, as stars like Juice WRLD, Trippie Redd and Tekashi 6ix9ine continue to gain popularity. 

XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, pioneers of the genre who passed away before seeing their 22nd birthdays, also continue to see their fanbases grow as supporters champion their legacy and propel their posthumous releases to top Hot 100 charts.

These rappers all draw from the same lyrical well of musings about depression and heartbreak. Juice WRLD's "Lucid Dreams," which peaked at second on Billboard's Hot 100 a few weeks ago and currently sits sixth, touches on using drugs and suicide to avoid confronting his true feelings for a woman. He talk-sings in the second verse, "You were my everything / Thoughts of a wedding ring / now I'm just better off dead." 

Juice WRLD’s recently released album, Goodbye and Good Riddance, delves deeper into these feelings and even extends to a point where he discusses murdering the woman who broke his heart: "Baby do your worst / I've come to the conclusion that you can't kill me if I kill you first."

Trippie Redd, whose latest mixtape currently holds the top spot on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart, raps about similar violence against women, and even brings guns into the mix. The mixtape's lead single, "Topanga," aggressively discusses his feelings towards a girl: "If you run out on me then I’m gunnin’ / Hit you in the stomach / we tote 'em in public." Tekashi 6ix9ine extends this destructive theme on his biggest hit, "FEFE," where he raps, "N—s say they killin' people, but I really f—ng do it / I don't really want no friends."

Trivializing violence and treating women as sexual objects are rooted in rap's history. It’s long been accepted by society as part of what hip-hop is, and the influences of underprivileged areas where facing crime and domestic violence. Emo rap adds new elements to this already problematic message: it popularizes the notion women are to blame for men’s drug addictions and mental illnesses.

These rappers don't only talk the talk—their behaviours show the way they refer to women in songs, transfers into the real world too. 

Tekashi 6ix9ine's list of crimes include beating the mother of his child and posting a sexual video of a 13-year-old girl on Instagram. Trippie Redd has been arrested for assault twice this year, once after hitting a woman with a pistol. At the time of his death in June, XXXTentacion was facing charges for aggravated battery of his pregnant girlfriend, and built up a reputation for inciting violent riots at his concerts.

There's immense value in men sharing their experiences with mental illness. Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and experiences with depression could lead others onto a better path by providing appropriate resources to cope. Instead, current emo rap consists of rappers using destructive behaviour, placing their burdens on women, and releasing it in a format that pushes listeners to mindlessly shout harmful lyrics at a nightclub. 

Emo rappers don't push people to healthily confront their mental illnesses or emotional dilemmas. They perpetuate a world where there's no light at the end of a depressing song—what exists is an endless cycle of drug abuse to avoid embracing how we feel.

[Emo rappers] perpetuate a world where there's no light at the end of a depressing song—what exists is an endless cycle of drug abuse to avoid embracing how we feel.

Emo rap has the tools and platform to become a constructive means for discussion about the hardships of mental illness, and the ways to which you can improve your condition. But with its current roster of hopeless lyrics and the absence of positive role models, shining a spotlight on emo rap does more harm than good.

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