THE SCIENCE OF MUMBLE RAP...
Yes, I said “science”. Most will find this statement to be an oxymoron, but please allow me to explain. Anything that we, the Hip-Hop community and Black people in general give our energy, time, and creativity to usually results in something magical, yet is always rooted deep within the subconscious streams of our DNA. So, on the surface, these trends that may appear to be a new phenomenon, (mumble rap) when studied a little further, are in fact, sequences within our DNA that are resurfacing, reformulating, or reformatting themselves to mirror our current external environment. If there is chaos in our world, and there is, it is not uncommon for our DNA to sequence itself in a non-linear format which may appear to be chaos (mumble rap) but is order on a whole other level.
Thought travels at 24 billion miles per second, yet sound only travels at 12,000 miles per second. So, there is an obvious bottle-neck affect that takes place when trying to bring thoughts into existence. Therefore, it is important to think before you speak...at least in the realm of order. If you are trying to speak in a rhythmic format, the process becomes even more difficult. What if you spoke before you thought, or spoke and thought simultaneously, breaching the invisible line between order and chaos? What would that sound like? Let me slow down, my words are getting ahead of my thoughts (get it?) We’ll come back to that later. The language in which these words are expressed is only relevant to those who can comprehend it. In other words, if I do not speak Arabic, it can be defined as gibberish to me, correct? A baby’s frustration to communicate with us is expressed in a language called “goo goo gaa gaa”. While the baby may clearly understand what it wants to say, it has not been taught to formulate the proper words in the proper language to fully express itself.We think it’s cute, to the baby it’s frustrating because it has not been given the code sequence of language to transmit its thoughts from the chaos realm to the realm of order. I’m only making this point to illustrate that what we call mumble rap is a matter of perception.
Let’s examine James Brown for a moment, shall we? A lot of his music would be considered mumble rap today, would it not? Yet is was still funky, powerful, and groundbreaking. You didn’t have to understand it to feel it. Now to be fair, James Brown’s words weren’t always inaudible, only when he reached a peak point in his show where it seemed like “spirit” took over. Then there will be those who will say that James Brown mastery of the English language wasn’t that great to begin with due to him being born in the deep south. True, but where are the mumble rappers of today originating from? hmmm. In the 90’s there was a group called Das Efx who created this funky unorthodox style of rap that could be considered mumble rap today. We didn’t consider it mumble rap, we considered it creative. I, along with many others, to no avail even tried to mimic it, even though we knew that biting another person’s style was against Hip Hop law! Nearly ten years before Das Efx, there was a rapper by the name of the Rappin Duke who released a song that went “da ha ha ha, da ha ha ha ha ha” on the hook. We couldn’t find these words in the English dictionary, but we all sang along. Prior to the Duke, one of the founding fathers of what we call Hip Hop today, Afrika Bambbatta released a groundbreaking song called “Planet Rock”. At one point in the song, Bambaataa can be heard saying “zu zu zu zu zu, zu zu zu, zu zu zu zu zu zu zu” To this day, we don’t know what it means, but we all sang along. Busta Rhymes whose entire style was chaos had a song out in the 90’s where the hook went “ya ya yaaaa ya ya, ya ya yaaaa, ya ya” Even though none of these words or phrases could be found in the English dictionary, not once did we consider them anything less than dope, true story. Rappers like Mystical, Juvenile, and early Lil Wayne are the ones who laid the foundation for modern day mumble rap.
This mumbling bumbling style is not just restricted to Hip Hop and Rap. Let’s delve into the realm of Jazz, shall we? Louise Armstrong was one of the most famous scat singers of our time. His song “Heebie Jeebies, recorded in 1924 was a Scat classic! Cab Calloway record the “Scat Song” in 1932. Scat goes all the way back to 1911 with artist like Gene Greene, Al Jolson, Mississippi Mud just to name a few. With Scat, you became the instrument or were an extension of the instrument. Beatboxing served a similar purpose for us in the eighties when we couldn’t afford drums. There was never a question about Scat’s legitimacy. Now let’s go to church, shall we? Speaking in tongues or catching the Holy Ghost has always been synonymous with churches in the south. It is the breaking point where spirit overtakes the physical body. The body becomes a vessel for energy so powerful that mere words cannot express. Thus, inaudible words, chants, and languages can be heard, along with uncontrollable body movements. In most cases this is brought about by the fast pace drums, organs, and singing by church band and choir. Some would say that these people are “possessed”. Perhaps, but maybe not in an evil sense of the word. Maybe there are just no words to express their current feelings so they lash out in an attempt to break the language barrier. Have you ever been at a loss for words? It could be because you don’t have full mastery of the language in which you were indoctrinated into, or the language itself is limited in its ability to cover all ranges of one’s physical, spiritual and emotional state. In either case, we know that English is not our language. It is the language of our captors, and it is a low vibrational one at that. It is not sonically or phonetically connected to the many languages that our elders spoke and still speak to this day.
Mumble rap could be this generations way of doing the same thing, but musically.
Other factors to consider when we talk about mumble rap is…drugs. Drugs bring about altered states where time and space collapse into one. There are certain secrets that artist rarely share with their audience, and that’s the creative aspect that drugs play in their music. In my book “Urban Culture Decoded” I speak about how drugs factor into the creative process. All drug users are not depressed, lost, or confused, facts! Music alone is enough to induce an altered state within the body, imagine when you add today’s choice of drugs such as molly, lean, and super grades of marijuana. The process can be alchemical. Bear with me, I am trying to paint a picture for you that most of us outside of that reality will never experience. Imagine creating from a state of chaos and bypassing the realm of order altogether. Meaning, when most rappers hear a beat that they plan to rap to, they will instinctively begin to hum or “mumble” inaudible words to lock in the rhythm, tempo, and style that they intend to use. This is just temporary until they find the right words to use to complete the creation process. Remember, the words represent “order”. Usually after careful consideration, thought, and planning, the rapper knows exactly what words they are going to say and how they are going to say them. There is nothing, (beyond an adlib here and there) that is spontaneous about the process. However, mumble rappers are creating from the chaos realm and have no idea what they are going to say next! If they record ten takes of a verse, there would probably be something different said every time. That’s creativity in real time. That’s bypassing the realm of order. Imagine going to the studio and not knowing what you will create when you get there! The synergy of drugs, alcohol, and good music can make this process magical. Now here’s the key to it all. For your audience to appreciate and understand your music, they must be on the same frequency as you were when the creative process took place, and that frequency is drugs, alcohol, and powerful music. most of our young people are in “tune” with each other and locked into the same frequency. When the frequency is matched, the inaudible becomes the audible. Words that don’t make sense when you are sober, now make perfect sense. Have you ever arrived at a party late and it sounds very loud, chaotic, and a little disorienting? That’s because everyone else is already locked into the same frequency. In most cases they have been partying, drinking, smoking and listening to great music. the frequency is so strong you only have two choices, leave, or tap into the frequency and enjoy the ride.
How many times can you listen to words in English shifted around in different sequences over drum beats and call it creative? We have already mastered that box, have we not? Then along came a new generation of young people who decided to defy that logic and at least try to create outside of what we have been conditioned to hearing, and we call them crazy, savage, and retarded. As much as I love J.Cole, Dake, Kendrick Lamar, and others, they are rapping or emceeing in the language of English!!! This format can be traced all the way back to Melle Mel of this paradigm, and Pigmeat Martin, the Golden Gate Quartet, and others from paradigms past. Sure, the words have become more complex, the vocabulary more extensive, the double and triple entendre style has evolved, but at the end of the day, it is still…English. Our best emcees have done a magnificent job of using their words, styles and cadences to demonstrate just how deep the rabbit hole goes in terms of English and the possibilities that exist within it. Yet, at the same time, they have dug us deep into a hole of the very language that enslaves us and stands guard over our perceptions of reality. In the grand scheme of things, English is the enemy. Now I am not saying that gibberish and mumble rap is the answer, no, but it can be symbolic of the “flash” in the movie “Get Out” which temporarily breaks the spell that locks us into the frequency of English.
In my humble opinion, this is their attempt to distance themselves from those of us who are at least 30 and over. Just as we used Hip Hop in the 70’s to distance ourselves from the Disco era and our parents who listened to it. To our parents, using two turntables, scratching on the record, only playing the drum section, and talking in rhyme form over it was considered crazy! To our parents, none of it made any sense, but it was our way of coding our style, language, walk, music, and life. The rest is Hip Hop history. The law of correspondence is a hermetic principle that states “as above, so below” which mean what’s going on in the heavens (spirit realm) is taking place on earth. Is it possible that the physical and the spiritual can be contrary to each other? Is it possible that in the physical, mumble rap is trash, degrading, and of a low vibration, but the spiritual realm is rejoicing because we are being upgraded with new programming and this mumble rap, emoji, encrypted text era is a way of descrambling our signal so that we can receive the new downloads? Only time will tell, but everything this generation does is unorthodox, different, and “weird” so stay tuned.
The last thing I would like to say on this subject is this. If you are thirty- five years or older, leave the young people alone. Allow them to play with their “blocks”. You never know what they might eventually build. Let them have their fun, we had ours. After all, we are the ones responsible for mumble rap if you want to get technical about it. We allowed it to happen on our watch. We allowed our culture to be taken from us, and now the decisions are coming from corporate outsiders who don’t care about the advancement of the culture, only the money that can be made by lowering the vibration, stagnating the creative process, and making the music simple and palatable to those outside of the culture. I find that Hip Hop purest are the worst. They stay stuck in a time zone, usually in the era in which their music was created or connected to their youth. They refuse to acknowledge anything beyond the basic boom bap, hard rhyme, etc. meanwhile the world around us is changing ever so swiftly. We will always hold the original codex to what Hip Hop is, but we must allow the current paradigm to destroy itself so that we may rebuild again. Are we not witnessing the “Mumble Rap” of politics as we speak? The world is going through changes, so is our culture. No need to panic, and this too shall pass.
The Black Dot is the author or the underground classic Hip-Hop Decoded, and his new book, Urban Culture Decoded.