I was thirteen when Kanye West dropped ‘808s & Heartbreak’ and I’d be damned if my emotional capacity was capable enough to comprehend the complexity of the emotional disarray that was the dystopic mind of Mr West at the closing of his mother’s life and yet ever since I have always had a wallowing underlying love for this underrated turning point in Ye’s career. Perhaps overdosed on my latest classroom crush and overthinking why they don’t crush on me back, I obsessed over ‘Heartless’ like I was Kanye himself, and as I’ve grown older – I’m twenty-two right now – I’ve occasionally picked it up, dusted it off, and listened to 808s with a far more wiser and weathered mind. It’s emotional, it’s raw, and it’s Kanye at his best. No gimmicks, no Kardashians, no Donald Trump – just a mic, some low-key darkwave beats, and a bleeding heart.

Fast forward a few years to 2011 and sixteen year old me was introduced to ‘Take Care’ by Drake, which was yet another learning curve for understanding the complexities of emotion, only this time I was a little more understanding of the way a woman could break your heart. But I was also awkward, so I dropped this album, started listening to metal music, and went full-on emo for a couple of years.

Skip the story ahead to 2015 where twenty year old me is really coming out of his shell musically, allowing any genre to flow through thy ears no matter what. Drake drops ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’, and having always been infatuated with ‘Over’ – citing it as a sheer guilty pleasure – I thought, yeah, why not, let’s go for it, so that I could write a review of it for a music journalism class where the hip-hop kids were seemingly carrying the favour. It was dark. The beat was tense throughout, the tone teetering on tediously terrifying, especially at the emotional depth Drake hits at points. Having just gone through a less-than-easy break-up, the line in 10 bands – my ex ask me where I’m moving I say onto better things – was like handing matches to an arsonist and giving them the keys to the kingdom, only to go around and burn it all down. It was fire to my ears, it was what I wanted to hear, and it was what my metal music wasn’t giving me. I went back through Drake’s catalogue, I went back to Take Care. I got up on Marvin’s Room. Listening to that song when you’re thinking about an ex-lover is like tying a noose around your own heart, and when I heard it, I couldn’t believe it.

It was like my world was opening up, like flowers were blossoming from my ears and my mind was expanding to sizes that were simply unknown. Drake was a rapper, and he was hitting hard where my heart was. A rapper, hitting my heart, hitting me in the feels? From there on in, I low-key built up an obsession with hip-hop, which for some time was almost exclusive to Canada and it’s overwhelming overpopulated overflowing coffee pot of emotionally-wired artists who were essentially spitting out bars of emo music across beats rather than breakdowns. I’ve since found myself wrapped up in Grime music, and in that real down-and-dirty low-key RnB rap that guys like 6lack are pioneering.

I always had this notion in my head that rap was strictly about being in a gang, committing violence, taking drugs, and hating on woman, and yet here, I found far more. I found that to be utterly and totally masculine in rap felt somewhat fake and overpompous in a world where Mansionz are spitting out shit as relatable to a 22-year old middle class white man as a university degree and the bank of mum and dad are.

“I hate all the things that I love, I hate all the things that I love, I love this whole bottle of Jameson, I love all the things that don’t make sense, like I love you so  I love all the things that I hate. It would be better if you moved away, maybe somewhere with clouds and more rain, where you don’t know me ’cause you don’t know me anyway” – Nobody Knows by Mansionz.

Blackbear, 6lack, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty – what ties them all together? They write emo rap. It’s a dirty word right now, which is bloody weird because it’s been floating around like the stench of the homeless on Abington street for as long as I can remember in the rock and metal scenes and its somehow become cool – mainly because grunge bands like Sorority Noise and Turnover are getting labelled it and they’re the bomb – and yet the old guard of hip-hop aren’t handling the new frontier so well.

It’s strange how even in twenty-seventeen there’s an ideology that rappers can’t be anything but the epitome of masculinity, that to stray from the formula Death Row and Bad Boy records pioneered back in the day would be a crime with a fate worse than death. It’s weird that there are people that just can’t accept grown men grabbing a mic, spitting a flow, and spilling their guts. It’s all well and good listening to Skepta be a big man, but when Devlin ripped his own heart out of his chest and performed surgery on it for all of us to see on this year’s ‘The Devil In’, there was something far more significant in the underlay of it all. Where are these guys mental health at? Who’s keeping an eye out on them? It’s a difficult world to live in, one where you’ve risen from the streets, with a strict straight-line ideology, to trade it in for one of fame and fortune, of high-rise tower blocks becoming high-rise penthouse apartments, and that life isn’t for anyone, it’s not a frame of mind you can adapt to overnight, and so if a rapper’s gotta drop the façade and speak about the shit that’s going on in his head, then let him. It felt like a breath of fresh air and a sigh of relief when I heard Devlin spit out the same things that have been swallowing up the space in my head for weeks on end.

“Wanna know where I’ve been? Me too, It’s a blur of booze and birds wake up with a hand all bruised and I ain’t got a clue what occurred. I’ve been the prick too long, going on like I don’t care about the career I tailored from the stones and bricks in Satan’s lair, but life will take you there when you get robbed of a relative and when I drive by your old flat, I blow and kiss and reminisce. I can’t write inside this pad, I’m more pissed than I’ve ever been so I try to escape this curse, tryna run from the devil in” – The Devil In by Devlin

Emo rap is a thing whether you like it or not. I’m not sure if either Kanye or Drake knew what they were doing when they dropped 808s and Take Care, but they sowed the seeds for a movement that is now becoming a revolution in the world of rap, and you know what, why not?

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