Prescription cough syrup, aka “lean,” has taken over the rap game. It’s been a subject in hip-hop for decades, originating in Houston, but nowadays it seems every rapper’s on the purple drank. Go listen to any rap song from the last several years if you don’t take my word for it.
You’ll have a tough time finding current mainstream hip-hop that doesn’t mention lean. Evidently dirty Sprite is the choice beverage among the rap community, and they don’t shy from propelling this addiction onto audiences. Aside from being a hot subject in songs, “liquid heroin” is also altering the genre’s sound entirely.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand what’s being said in a lot of today’s rap, especially in the south. In fact, modern rappers are so leaned out that “mumble rap” could be considered a subgenre of its own. It’s what the listeners want to vibe to and bump while they also engage in illicit drug use. Rap has grown to emphasize melodic flow over thumping beats more so than the lyrics within or meaning behind. Hence why we the listeners get a lot of catchy music we can’t understand that’s not really about anything of value.
Who’s to say whether it’s a good or bad thing? I’m not. I am, however, here to force upon you my tentative list of the best mumbling rappers in the game. These incoherent murmurers are coming out of the woodwork, but I can list in confidence who laid the foundation, and who’s best at capturing the sound. I’m not saying these are all incredibly talented musical artists; merely that these are the go-to guys in the field of ignorant, difficult to make out rap.
I imagine you’re aware of the overplayed nightmare that “Trap Queen” was, and may still be. Fetty Wap is more than a one-hit wonder, despite what you may think. He can groan magnificently on almost anything, which he’s proven on multiple big tracks. Who knew sounding like you’re being awoken by stab wounds could sound delightful?
As an honest man, I can admit Fetty isn’t always on his A-game, though. I’ve heard songs from him and almost forgotten how to read in the process. His verses are horrendous, but he’s rap’s current king of hooks. He should stick with being catchy, as that’s his forte.
9 Bankroll Fresh
Bankroll Fresh is a true Georgia native who’s bringing back the gritty sounds and "braggadocious" bars of the early 2000s Jeezy/T.I. Atlanta scene. Those years were actually my favorite period in rap, so I love what Bankroll’s doing.
I was initially skeptical about including him because he’s not as much of a mumbler as the others. He does rasp and mutter quite a bit, but he verbalizes better than the majority of Southern rappers. Still, he qualifies, and he’s soon to be one of the most noted names in street/trap music.
8 Young Thug
Arguably the most talked about rapper of the decade, Young Thug is endlessly bringing new sounds and styles to rap culture. The man’s Instagram posts stir up constant debate regarding his sexual orientation and the current state of hip-hop. He hits a million views in a day with each new video. Nobody sounds like him. Nobody dresses like him. Nobody’s writing lyrics as bizarre as his. Nobody’s sure what he’s doing most of the time, but it’s impossible to deny he’s a true artist and a captivating individual.
I can’t say much more about Thugger. You either like him or you don’t. His work is at least worth checking out if you’re not already familiar. Be prepared for some Lil’ Wayne-esque raspy whimpering over incredible beats. Thug has more melody than Wayne, though, and a lot more mystery behind his art form. His music’s stranger. He’s stranger. Young Thug’s about as questionable as a human being gets but his music is (most of the time) remarkable, and he’s a fascinating character.
7 YFN Lucci
I was late to the party on YFN Lucci. I heard him groaning in features on a few tracks, mostly about money, and wasn’t too impressed with what I heard. As time went on, he continued pushing and consistently releasing music, and he earned another shot from me. I’ve checked out nearly every video he has dropped in recent months, all of which have been hits. Lucci somehow makes rhyming “money” with “money” sound majestic.
6 Johnny Cinco
One of my personal favorite mumbling rappers, yet it seems he’s unknown to even the general rap audience. Johnny Cinco’s possibly the most incomprehensible musical artist of all time, which is why his music is such a joy. He’s not exactly bringing any new subject matter to the table; touching primarily on the basics of selling cocaine out of abandoned houses. Johnny shines through his unparalleled way of letting words flow over an instrumental, as if he’s choking on kielbasa in a basement full of carbon monoxide. I recommend “Understand Me” as his standout track.
Earlier I stated “I’m not saying these are all incredibly talented musical artists.” That doesn’t apply to Key! I’ve been following him for years now, wondering when he’s going to break out. He used to be part of an Atlanta-based group “Retro Su$hi," who also deserve to shine, but he’s been turning a lot of heads with his solo work. Recently, he’s been collaborating with big names like Migos and Rich The Kid, and it’s only a matter of time before he blows up.
4 Rich Homie Quan
Nobody’s ever quite certain what Rich Homie’s saying, but his melodic murmurs over happy and triumphant trap beats make for outright bangers. Mr. Homie Quan steers clear from the overly hood content and dark beats in favor of a more fun, fresh, club sound. The ignorant rap game needs people like him. More groan of booty clapping and less about murder.
If you haven’t heard such hits as “Type of Way” or “Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh Ooh),” crawl out from under that intelligent rock and witness the borderline-deaf sounds and suspect behavior of Rich Homie Quan. Those unfamiliar with his music may know his dance craze, “The Quan,” which was impossible to avoid on social media a few months back. Granted not everybody keeps up with black teens on Vine.
3 Chief Keef
I intuitively know I’ll catch a lot of flack for throwing Chief Keef aka “Campaign Sosa” on a “best rappers” list. Mind you I’m talking the early, more refined Chief Keef (if there is such a thing). You can’t deny the kid’s debut mixtape “Back From the Dead” was an absolute smash.
With time, and a lot of lean, Chief Keef grew dumber. His music is now far too unintelligible to be considered listenable. It sounds like a dude with a mouth full of garbage talking while inside a fish tank. Since he split ways with producer Young Chop his beats have gone downhill also. It’s as if a 4th grader got hold of a Casio and some Fruity Loops tutorials.
2 Gucci Mane
Whether you like him or not, Gucci’s still the king of ignorant rap. He’s a pioneer who paved the way for so many. He’s almost fully responsible for the careers of Nicki Minaj, Migos, and a laundry list of others (including most on this list.) You can’t talk modern rap, Southern rap, or mumble rap without mentioning Gucci.
Sure, he doesn’t always mumble. If you listen through Gucci’s discography you can pinpoint the periods in which he was most affected by lean. He always sounds like he’s congested, but during his years of lean addiction he was at his most indecipherable.
Future has been crafting his sound for many years but the immense shine didn’t arrive until recently. Today, if you were to ask rap fans on the Internet, you’d probably get the overwhelming opinion, “Future is running rap” response. Why, you ask? Check out any of his mixtapes from the last 3 years. Begin with the most recent collab tape with Drake. Future’s a veteran in the field of mumble rap, but the newish sort of manic, emo outlook he’s been bringing to street rap is what really broke ground.
People laughed at me back in 2010, as a freshman in college, when I tried to put them onto Future. I played his early mixtapes in my car constantly, and only a select group of people were down with the sound. Now look at the man today - one of the top 3 artists in rap, idolized by many, sought after by other major artists, and an undeniable trendsetter.
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