Emo rap isn’t so much a genre as a collection of styles where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Inspired by the emotional lyrics of emo and the mid-tempo beats of trap, around the 2010s artists began blending these two influences with whatever else they were listening to. Despite some criticism from veteran hip hop artists like Eminem and Snoop Dog, the genre’s persisting popularity is a testament to how modern hip hop beats with emotional and highly personal lyrics resonate with young listeners.
Emo rap has undeniably had a major impact on Gen Z’s youth culture. Young emo rap artists have embraced the internet as a means of production and distribution more than many other generations have. Memes, trolling, and dark, ironic humor are all commonplace. Emo rap lyrics also tend to reflect levels of emotion that simply weren’t an acceptable part of hip hop in prior decades. For these reasons, it’s unsurprising that emo rap has clashed with old school hip hop artists, who traditionally value skilled lyricism over a song’s emotional impact.
The related classifications of SoundCloud rap, trap metal, and mumble rap are sometimes used interchangeably with emo rap, but what sets emo rap apart is its tendency to use highly personal and confessional lyrical content. Drums usually resemble a trap beat, which provides a sparseness that supports evocative vocals. These vocals can vary from barely audible, soft-spoken rapping to wild screaming and shouting. Emo rap lyrics tend to focus on heavy topics such as mental illness, heartbreak, isolation, and drugs.
Kid Cudi – “Soundtrack 2 My Life”
Cleveland, Ohio, 2009
Kanye West signed Kid Cudi to his label after hearing an early mixtape by Cudi, who has since gone on to sell millions of records.
Trippie Redd – “It Takes Time (A Love Letter To You)”
Canton, Ohio, 2017
Trippie Redd lays down gentle keyboard chords on top of a smooth trap beat while rapping about his feelings in “It Takes Time”.
Yung Lean – “Kyoto”
Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden, 2013
The Swedish rapper Yung Lean was a trailblazer for both emo rap and SoundCloud rap, particularly with his vocal delivery and music video aesthetics.
Kid Cudi – “Adventures”
Cleveland, Ohio, 2015
By 2015 Kid Cudi had established himself as one of the genre’s most popular artists. He brings a dreamy, low-energy vibe over a stripped down hip hop beat and low-fi guitar on “Adventures”.
Juice WRLD – “Let Me Know (I Wonder Why Freestyle)”
Chicago, Illinois, 2017
The late Juice WRLD beautifully incorporates trap cymbal triplets with sorrowful singing on “Let Me Know”.
Lil Peep – “Save That Shit”
Los Angeles, California, 2017
The late Lil Peep’s “Save That Shit” is a classic emo rap song. His signature melancholic vocals sit over a trap beat with a minor key guitar chord strumming throughout.
Princess Nokia – “Morphine”
New York City, New York, 2018
Princess Nokia dove deep into the emo rap genre with “Morphine”, where she raps about her experiences with loneliness.
XXXTENTACION – “SAD!”
Like far too many emo rap artists, XXXTentacion passed at a young age. On “SAD!” he raps about his experiences with depression, a struggle that deeply resonated with his audience.