Looking at the Billboard Hot 100, it’s evident that rap is today’s dominant genre. The top 10 is almost exclusively rap music, with only one song from another genre featured this week. Similarly, four of the five most streamed albums from last month were of the rap variety. That, of course, definitely makes it interesting for us to curate distinct sounds for our Hip-Hop and Pop contests in the FanLabel app.
Today, rap music is as diverse as any genre. The most widely listened-to artists, like Drake and Post Malone, owe their success to catchy hooks and relatable lyrics. Beyond the mainstream, today’s rap artists have created new and vibrant subgenres, taking influences from everything from R&B to metal. Here are some of those rap offshoots.
As a whole, rap has never been more popular. The existence of these grittier location-based subgenres help create a case for “pop rap,” with Drake at the center. Drake’s winning formula consists of a commanding vocal presence combined with production that consistently spotlights international genres like Brazilian baile funk and Jamaican dancehall. Drake performed better on the charts than the entire genre of rock. Due to its overwhelming popularity, rap has a noticeable influence on pop as a whole. Pop stars like Rihanna and Beyonce released rap songs this summer, and pop mainstay Maroon 5 featured Cardi B on the band’s most recent song, which is currently number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Does that mean people will start using the terms “rap” and “pop” interchangeably? Probably not. Still, rap has established a commanding presence on the charts, and it owes much of its current dominance to the rise of the 808 drum machine. Popularized by T.I.’s 2003 album “Trap Musik,” this production element gives rap music a catchier, more energetic feel.
Trap influences are found in most of today’s rap songs, including many hits by Drake and Post Malone. The style has pushed the limits of rap’s ability to appeal to a broad audience while retaining its signature controversial status. Countless trap songs have topped the chart, including hits like “Panda” by Desiigner and “Bad and Boujee” by Migos.
Soul has always had a strong influence in rap. Sounds from the genre have been featured in songs by rap legends like Nas, Jay Z and N.W.A. Today, artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper continue the legacy with soul and R&B inspired instrumentals. Fans of these rappers are in luck: there is an entire subgenre that consists of rap vocals over similarly soulful beats.
The soul rap scene is growing fast, churning out rising stars like Anderson .Paak, who recently released the hit album OXNARD. Smino, another name to watch, is a St. Louis rapper and singer with a unique blend of rap and R&B. One of soul rap’s boldest contributors, Chicago native Mick Jenkins mixes poetic, thought-provoking lyrics with jazzy instrumentals.
West Coast rap has come a long way from “Straight Outta Compton,” with countless transformations spanning over three decades. It’s most recent form is a blend of hard-hitting vocals over retro, uptempo beats. With beats inspired by ’90s G-Funk and producer DJ Mustard, the new West Coast rap scene is an eclectic blend of old and new.
Los Angeles artists like LNDN DRGS and G Perico take influences from their ’90s G-Funk elders, including Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg. Their harder counterparts, like 03 Greedo and SOB X RBE, swap funky instrumentals for more aggressive beats. Like NWA and Tupac before them, today’s rising West Coast stars often rap about their life and struggles in the rougher parts of southern California.
In the 1990s and 2000s, rap-rock was a pretty big deal. Today, emo rap is one of the fastest-growing music subgenres. What’s the difference? While rap-rock featured rap vocals over rock beats, emo rap does just the opposite. Rising stars like Juice WRLD, Trippie Redd and Lil Uzi Vert are topping the charts by belting out punk rock vocals over hard-hitting trap beats. Above all, these bold new artists take inspiration from ’00s pop-punk bands like Fall Out Boy, Blink 182 and Paramore.
Like many subgenres, emo rap has a harder side. Florida’s booming rap scene features hard-hitting artists like Denzel Curry and Ghostemane. With aggressive, metal-inspired vocals over distorted, hard-hitting beats, this genre appeals to fans of rap and metal alike.
Rap continues to take new forms. In the process, it takes in elements from other genres, like dance and pop-punk. As the most widely listened-to genre today, rap rivals pop in its versatility and mass appeal. As its influence in pop culture has only increased, it’s becoming clear that rap is one of the defining genres of our time.