The Internet Has Feelings – ‘Emotional Hip Hop From The World Wide Web’

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A certain corner of Hip Hop has slowly been undergoing a peculiar transformation of the emotional kind. Rappers these days certainly aren’t afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeve, with both KANYE WEST and DRAKE unleashing a flood of feels in recent years on 808’s and Heartbreak (2008) and Take Care (2011) respectively.

Recent rap heavyweight Future’s new album Honest mixes hard-hitting trap with passionate love ballad. Never before have major figures in the hip hop game been so open about their relationships and the way these make them feel. The change is certainly a result of living in a time and age where it is becoming more acceptable for men to show their vulnerability. But the Internet has been the main catalyst in creating and maintaining a culture of a younger generation of artists who use the hip hop genre to express an attitude of emotional solitude.

Sweden’s Yung Lean and his Sadboys collective have had a very strong online presence since the release of Unknown Death 2002 last year. Yung Lean lazily raps over faded cloud-beats about a variety of things but mainly his feelings. Similarly, rap-scene newcomer and oddball Lil Spook spends most of his time eulogising a past relationship and fantasising about suicide on mixtape Black Silk. The highlight from this collection is “Without U” on which Spook casually mumbles “Baby I’m about to die, baby wanna watch me die? baby don’t you wanna know why? didn’t even try.” It’s this kind of self-depreciation that both Lil spook and Yung Lean seem to revel in.

YUNG LEAN ‘Die With Me’

But why so many emotions? For young enthusiasts, no longer is the record store, the live venue, the radio or a friend’s stereo system the premier place to discover music. Instead it is online. On SoundCloud, on our favourite music blog, we’ve all discovered that perfect song while trawling the net after hours. And in each case we’ve done it alone. Surfing online has always been a very individual activity tailor made for introverts, so it is only natural that music itself manifests this experience. While amusing, Memes like “Drake the kinda Ni**a” and “Sad Kanye” ultimately reflect the newfound humanity of leaders in a genre of music that traditionally ignored emotion, sticking to tried and true methods of arrogance in order to gloss over any chinks in a fearless veneer. Not so anymore. Music is an internalised experience these days and hip hop figures can accordingly take pride in their capacity to feel.

Tyler The Creator and his Odd Future posse were perhaps the first rap group to really take advantage of Internet culture to disseminate their ‘fuck everything’ blunted brand of hip hop. Certainly Tyler was angry, but he was also explicit in explaining why he was so emotional. His 2011 release Goblin took us inside the rapper’s conflicted mind, conveying a swath of emotions through self-analysis (see opener “Goblin”). The album comes to explain that he’s angry because he doesn’t know his dad, because he’s lonely, because he feels misunderstood, because he doesn’t understand himself. Over droopy synths in “Her” he explains the unrequited love he has for a girl as a source of much distress. Their relationship largely takes place online, the net becoming the vehicle by which Tyler experiences and expresses these feelings of yearning and dislocation.

“The closest that I got was when I’m pokin’ her on Facebook”

“Video chats are so exciting cos it’s like she is inviting me to her world full of privacy”

“Her name is my password”

The paradoxical relationship online between connection and disconnection is what encourages this melancholy. Tyler’s rapid success can certainly be linked to the fact that his emotional subject matter was resonating with others on screens across the Internet who felt the same way. Indeed, parallels can be drawn between the widespread popularity of Odd Future Wolf Gang and 90’s grunge and punk rock bands like Nirvana and Blink-182, who sung about experiences of life in suburbia. For angsty teenagers of the 21st century, the Internet is now their domain, and if online were ever to be defined as a geographic location, it would be the bedroom.

It’s this culture that Yung Lean and Lil Spook are a part of. Both artists make music that leaves the realm of reality and enters the cyber-sphere of the bedroom. Yung Lean doesn’t drink alcohol he drinks Gatorade, listens to music on his IPod Nano rather than at the club and wears Nike sports gear instead of designer brands. “Gold on my wrist, phone in my pocket” he drones on “Motorola”, in an almost comical spin on rap culture that brings the genre into Lean’s own world. In his music video for “Without U,” Lil’ Spook lethargically raps in empty rooms, against empty backdrops and in snow-covered areas with little personality. He exists somewhere else, a complete anomaly in our ears and on our screens, a foreign vision brought exclusively to the individual from somewhere else via the Internet.

LIL’ SPOOK ‘Without U’

The emotional phenomenon has its roots in hip hop, but the Internet’s inability to discriminate between genres has also seen the tendency manifested in other types of popular music. Canadian Ryan Hemsworth’s outstanding mix earlier this year “COOL DJ MIX” begins with a naive voice proclaiming to be Ryan himself. Amongst other things, the voice goes on to state that “This is a mix inspired by life, death, technology, rap music, Japan, being a cool DJ, kissing, cuddling, feeling hurt, feeling happy, feeling dumb and other feelings.” Despite Hemsworth’s popularity as a musician, he wants his audience to know that he is just like them, that he has feelings, emotions, and that he wants to share them. His latest album Guilt Trips was one of many albums of 2013 like Baths’ Obsidian, Colour is Breath from Scotland’s Soosh and Australian Ta-ku’s Songs to Break up to, that added to the emotional flavour of hip hop influenced, ambient electro music already produced by artists like How to Dress Well and Shlohmo. Even underground producer Burial warmed up a little, mixing his usual menace with real moments of stirring compassion on the excellent Rival Dealer.

These are all relatively young artists to whom in most cases the Internet has taught them everything they know about music. It is a testament to the widespread influence of the net that such a cultural variety of artists are making music of a very similar quality.  Where emotion used to be reserved for the voice and the guitar, these musicians are expressing it in younger genres of music. The Internet certainly doesn’t exclusively contain emotion and neither does every tune released by the musicians mentioned above. Variety is nice, but not only is emotion becoming increasingly common, its becoming increasingly cool. So get surfing and get sad! More often than not the most sentimental music sounds the best.

RYAN HEMSWORTH ‘Cool DJ Mix’

Words by Sebastian Henry-Jones