I’m a white kid from Southern Fairfield County, aware my credibility when it comes to discussing rap music is limited. My brother was a Soundcloud rapper though, if that helps. And I have a grossly expensive Sunday Manhattan excursion to Governor’s Ball in June under my belt, which was worth every penny - $12 pizza slices however, are not. But Lil Uzi Vert was there; it didn’t matter that upon getting my bracelet I had never listened to a second of Khalid, Amine, or Quinn XCII’s music. I was just there for the Philadelphian 5’3” energy ball.
I would see him another Sunday night months later in Hartford, after hastily buying tickets days before, despite having work the next morning at seven. My friends and I had a need to see him - even if it was just as an opener.
Our night was made thanks to ‘Do What I Want’ and ‘XO T0UR LIF3’, one boastfully optimistic, one suicidally pessimistic, both incomparably lit. Both venues were stuffed, mosh pits of sweaty, thrashing bodies, pushing and shoving aggressively. At times I was put on the ground. There were fights - lots of them. With complete strangers; as it often does, raging turned real, fast. I can’t forget holding friends back during Uzi’s performance of ‘New Patek’, while my people were escorted to emergency tents - one of their faces literally dripping, yes dripping, with blood. But we were having fun. Thanks to the security and event staff on duty though, I was unsure if I’d see some of them again. But I know, had one of them been leaving the Xfinity in an emergency vehicle, we definitely would’ve still stayed until L.U.V finished his set. Patrick Coulter (‘20) turned to me while leaving with one of the most accurate things I had ever heard - something like “Uzi is just so lit your boys can be in a full on fist fight next to you - and you just don’t care”.
This is while Uzi was singing about contemplating suicide while self medicating his way through heartbreak, “she said I’m insane, yeah, I might blow my brains out”.
It was conceivable we were watching this generation’s Kurt Cobain, the new genre-creating, raw, openly messed up, tortured-but-gifted, face of teenage angst everywhere, capable of creating anthems that captured just that, star. Maybe just sing-songier. And yes, I know what happened to Kurt Cobain.
Something’s happening in Rap. Artists are reverting to angry, Seattle underground, raw - punk, pained sounds of 25 years prior. But their aggression isn’t towards police, or rival gangs; it’s towards the Anti-Depressant, Weed, Xanax alchemy not doing its job, and the girls that sent them into an even darker place - they’re not rapping about (what our parents would call) nothing anymore.
When 19 year old ‘Juice WRLD’ burst onto apple music charts out of Chicago last summer - he took something that had been developing for a while, what the late Mac Miller, Lil Peep and XXXTentacion had excelled at - making ‘emo rap’ the mainstream - unmasking the iron-curtained oppressive stigma of mental illness. But Juice’s was explicitly, uniquely alarming - “this sh** ain’t fiction, it’s too real… F**k one dose, I need two pills”, he ached on ‘Lean Wit Me’, off his first album “Goodbye and Good Riddance”, which ascended to as high as #2 on the Hot 100.
On his second record, ‘17’, XXXTentacion rapped on ‘Jocelyn Flores’, (a song named for a friend who recently killed herself), “I’m in pain - wanna put ten shots in my brain… pessimistic - wanna f**king end it”. It sounded less like a chart topping rap song (though it enjoyed such success), and more like a battered cry for help.
Even Post Malone, one of the most upbeat, ubiquitously cheerful, carefree bros one could see sell out two nights at the Barclays Center, acknowledges there is a painfully real downside to his fame. In a late 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, Malone confessed “I’ve always had a loneliness. I’ve always been anxious.”... “Big brain. Lot of thoughts”.
I’m unsure if rap nowadays could be classified as nihilistic, but if you were to listen to up-and-coming Trippie Redd’s incandescent squawking on 2018’s ‘WISH’, “Won’t you'd get out my face?, might go M.I.A - Might just blow my brains, I’d be Kurt Cobain”, you wouldn’t exactly call it hedonism.
Should I, and the thousands of others who in 2019 will go infinitely hard, have the time of their lives to music that is yes, lit, but frighteningly depressing and mournful, feel guilty about it? On some level? Maybe that’s just art.