There’s currently a vastly overhyped New/Trap Rap vs. Old/Lyrical Rap cultural war happening which isn’t really happening. People like to argue on the internet, but in real life I know more people who listen to Future and Talib Kweli than categorically hate one or the other, myself included.
I’m literally listening to Beatking as I type this, and next I might go listen to the new Royce EP. You don’t have to choose “sides,” choosing sides is stupid.
So while I know this article will likely get sucked into that fake cultural war, I want to make clear that this isn’t about inherently elevating Joey Bada$$ or putting Thug down. And I’m obviously not digging deep into sales stats here. There’s plenty of specifics to dig into here, differences between mixtapes and albums, that I’m going to avoid this time around because I’m really only interested in making a larger point. This is purely about dispelling this pervasive myth that I see echoed every day.
The sales projections for Young Thug’s new art-stealing Slime Season 3 album are out and they’re not particularly impressive, we’re likely looking at something like 22K copies sold first week, which reminded me of the sales for Migos’ Yung Rich Nation, which sold 15K first week. By contrast, singling out Joey Bada$$ as an example of newer “lyrical” hip-hop, his B4.DA.$$ debut sold 54K first week. And Joey’s not just a headphone rapper, he’s also doing global tours and selling out his merch.
And that’s just a small slice. If we zoom out to the last year and some change we see that Kendrick Lamar’s “weird jazz album” and J. Cole outsold trap’s most commercially successful rapper, Future, by a wide margin. And if we zoom out even more and look at the highest selling hip-hop albums of all-time, we’ll find Eminem, Tupac, Biggie and Outkast in the top ten repeatedly, all acts that prided themselves on their “lyricism.”
The lesson here isn’t that “trap” music is bad and “lyrical” hip-hop is good, the lesson is that those terms are pretty meaningless when it comes to commercial success. The only common denominator between the most successful artists across eras and styles is that they were their most authentic selves, so if you’re Lil Yachty be Lil Yachty.
I want to see everyone flourish, I’m just tired of hearing more lyrically-oriented artists told that pursuing the music they genuinely love means committing to a life of poverty when in fact it’s not just possible to get rich off lyrical rap, it’s common.
Get rich or die rapping my friends.