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2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Rap
From TikTok challenges to a rise of the Dirty South, revisit some of the biggest trends that rap's rising stars and heavy hitters brought in 2021
After a social injustice-battling, pandemic-stricken 2020, rap returned this year with a much-needed dose of bangers and star power.
This year was mostly dominated by extravagant albums released by rap's elite, as well as impressive entries from promising up-and-comers. As fans inched toward a place of somewhat-normalcy, rap once again provided the backdrop to our collective moments at concerts, music festivals and get-togethers.
While it may have been easy to get lost in the year's rapid-fire releases, there were a few artists whose songs and albums either started new trends or advanced old ones. Below, find eight lyrical, sonic and cultural trends that appeared in rap this year — and may just continue in 2022.
Florida rappers Yungeen Ace, FastMoney Goon, Spinabenz and Whoppa Wit Da Choppa got fans’ attention with "Who I Smoke." The ruthless diss track went viral for its head-turning sample, Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles," as well as its golf-inspired music video.
The quintessential 2001 pop song and sunny golf course video are a stark contrast to the song's graphic lyrics, which shed light on longstanding gang beef and gun violence in the rappers' Jacksonville community. Shock value is nothing new to hip-hop, but the song's disruptive juxtaposition, anchored by an admittedly infectious beat, opened new doors.
Foolio, one of the single's targets, continued the trend in his response track, "When I See You," which samples Fantasia's song of the same name. While sampling an R&B hit is a classic rap maneuver, the 2006 song’s contrast with Foolio’s particularly vicious lines made "When I See You" another unexpected offering.
Beginning as a forceful subgenre in Chicago, New York City and U.K. rap scenes, drill has been steadily creeping its way into the mainstream since the 2010’s.
Polo G, a Windy City native known for his somber, auto-tuned bars, carried drill further into the mainstream this year with his third studio album, Hall of Fame. Unlike its volatile predecessor, Polo uses a more melodic form of drill to wear his heart on his sleeve, making the sound more accessible to mainstream audiences.
Of course, the 22-year-old isn't the only rapper to capitalize on the growing trend. G Herbo's 25 and Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow's Still Sleep? also furthered drill this year, with Migos even dabbling in the subgenre on Culture III.
"Beat Box" by SpotemGottem was already picking up steam in 2020 with a remix by Pooh Shiesty — but in 2021, remixing the bass-heavy track became a full-on trend.
Rappers have long put their own spin on another artist's song, but "Beat Box" snowballed into a frenzy of derivatives like rap fans haven't seen in a while. After its first 2021 remix by DaBaby, "Beat Box 3," the song got new life with versions by Latto, Polo G, Renni Rucci, Lil Yachty, Calboy, Deante' Hitchcock, Dreezy, NLE Choppa and more.
The remix sensation shone a light on up-and-comer SpotemGottem, also giving hip-hop's competitive nature and borrowing culture an opportunity to thrive.
Pop-rap crossovers enjoyed chart-topping success this year, one prime example being Lizzo and Cardi B's "Rumors." The larger-than-life collaboration — which arrived with an equally extravagant video — peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Songs Chart, proving pop-rap collisions are a trend that is here to stay.
Rap and pop were this year's most popular genres on the app, a trend that doesn't seem to be slowing down going into 2022. Beginning with Erica Banks’ "Buss It" and continuing with fiery tracks like "I Am" by Baby Tate and Flo Milli, rap music once again dominated viral dances and challenges on TikTok.
One artist whose music has become a comfortable fixture on the app is Coi Leray, whose song "TWINNEM" elevated the #MeganKneesChallenge. Though the challenge was initially inspired by Mouse On Tha Track's "Knees Like Megan" (an homage to Megan Thee Stallion's indisputable twerking skills), the pulsing beat of "TWINNEM" helped the tune become the second soundtrack to the challenge.
Old Classics, New Hits
Recycling old classics into new hits is a typical win-win in hip hop, and it proved to be a successful formula again this year. Several 2021 rap hits were powered by nostalgic samples, such as Polo G's "Bad Man (Smooth Criminal)," borrowing Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal"; Drake and Young Thug's "Way 2 Sexy," sampling Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy"; and Moneybagg Yo's "Wockesha," using DeBarge's 1983 track "Stay With Me" — a song famously sampled “Foolish” by Ashanti, who was featured on a remix of "Wockesha."
While City Girls' "Twerkulator" first reached fans as a viral TikTok leak, the Afrika Bambaataa-nodding track emerged as one of the best sampling rap songs this year. Plagued by clearance issues, the song — which samples Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" and interpolates lyrics from Cajmere's "Percolator" — didn't appear on City Girls' 2020 album, City on Lock. However, its official release in May of 2021, along with a Missy Elliott-directed music video, gave the twerkable anthem potential and served as the Miami duo's comeback hit following the release of their album.
While Atlanta and Houston have often stolen rap's southern spotlight, Kentucky and Tennessee-born players came through in a major way this year. Gritty street tales told with southern swagger resulted in albums like Moneybagg Yo’s A Gangster's Pain, EST Gee's Bigger Than Life Or Death, Pooh Shiesty's Shiesty Season and more.
A Gangster's Pain by Moneybagg Yo was a particular win for the southeastern region, earning the Memphis native his first-ever platinum-certified and Billboard 200 No. 1 album.
Women-powered collaborations have been a hip-hop mainstay for decades, but they arguably hit their commercial stride last year with the viral successes of songs like Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé's "Savage (Remix)" and Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's "WAP."
As female rappers continue to stake out more of their deserved territory in the genre, the trend continued this year, whether through raunchy raps or friendship-celebrating singles. One of these releases was BIA's "Whole Lotta Money (Remix)" featuring Nicki Minaj. Peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100, the collaboration showed the potential for when a female rap veteran offers a helping hand to a burgeoning star.
Honorable Mention: Posthumous Albums
Though posthumous albums are not a flash-in-the-pan hip-hop trend, they were once again a somber necessity this year after the loss of several genre pillars. Always a bittersweet listen, posthumous efforts like Juice WRLD's Fighting Demons, Pop Smoke's Faith and MF DOOM's Super What? were a way for fans to hear what artists were working on and enjoy what they wanted us to enjoy.
One posthumous album that perfectly accomplished this was DMX's Exodus. While some posthumous works have been criticized for lacking completion and content, listeners could tell that Exodus was DMX's vision.
All but one collaboration, "Money Money Money" featuring Moneybagg Yo, were recorded prior to Dark Man X's passing, and the body of work he was so excited to release was pushed forward by his longtime friend and collaborator Swizz Beatz. With Exodus, a truly genre-shaking death was honored by a fitting and respectful tribute, which could influence future posthumous efforts for years to come.
Photo: Daniel C. Sims/Getty Images
Solange To Play Benefit Show For Hurricane Harvey Relief
GRAMMY winner adds her name to the list of artists who are helping to raise millions in relief efforts for victims
GRAMMY winner Solange has announced she will be performing a benefit show to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The performance, called Orion's Rise, will be held at Boston's Orpheum Theatre on Sept. 8.
"I'm committed to partnering with organizations on the ground in Houston and making contributions to uplift the city that raised me with so much love," said Solange, a Houston native.
This announcement comes on the heels of other artists pledging their support, including Solange's sister, Beyoncé. But they are certainly not the only ones.
Comedian Kevin Hart pledged $50,000 to relief efforts, and the fund he organized has earned nearly $2 million in additional financial support, with contributions from artists such as the Chainsmokers. All funds will go to the American Red Cross.
The Kardashians and Jenners, Nicki Minaj, and DJ Khaled have also announced they will make donations. Jennifer Lopez and her partner Alex Rodriguez joined in the fundraising efforts, pledging $25,000 each to the Red Cross.
In addition, GRAMMY winner Jack Antonoff is matching donations up to $10,000 for the Montrose Center in Houston, an LGBT community center. Chris Brown will donate $100,000 directly to "the people," and T.I. will donate $25,000 to relief efforts.
Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Aerosmith, Gwen Stefani And Blake Shelton To Perform At The 2020 GRAMMYs
Some of music's biggest stars will take the stage at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, taking place Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, and broadcasting live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT
Get ready to #UnexpectEverything as the first wave of performers for the 62nd GRAMMY Awards has been announced. Artists taking the stage on Music's Biggest Night are first-time nominee breakout stars Billie Eilish and Lizzo, who will each make their GRAMMY stage debuts; powerhouse artists Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, who will take the GRAMMY stage together for the first time ever; and four-time GRAMMY winners and 2020 MusiCares Person of the Year Aerosmith, who will perform a medley of some of their legendary hits. It all goes down on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, live from STAPLES Center in Los Angeles and broadcasted live on the CBS Television Network at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
Rock icons Aerosmith make their triumphant return to the GRAMMY stage this month as performers, nearly 30 years after making their GRAMMY stage debut at the 33rd GRAMMY Awards in 1991. In addition to their career-spanning performance, the legendary band is also being honored as this year's MusiCares Person Of The Year, which will recognize their considerable philanthropic efforts over five decades as well as their undeniable impact on American music history. Through the years, Aerosmith have shown support for a number of charities around the world, including frontman Steven Tyler’s Janie’s Fund.
The 2020 GRAMMYs will also feature highly anticipated debut performances from two of the biggest breakout artists of the past two years: Billie Eilish and Lizzo.
First-time GRAMMY nominee and performer Billie Eilish is in the running for some of the night's biggest awards, including: Best New Artist; Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album for her 2019 album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?; and Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance for album single "Bad Guy."
Lizzo, who received the most nominations at the 2020 GRAMMYs with a total of eight nods, is making her debut as both a GRAMMY nominee and performer this month. She's up for several major awards, including Best New Artist. Her 2019 album, Cuz I Love You [Deluxe], is also up for Album Of The Year and Best Urban Contemporary Album, while album track "Truth Hurts" is nominated for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. Album tracks "Exactly How I Feel" and "Jerome" are also nominated for Best R&B Performance and Best Traditional R&B Performance, respectively.
Taking the GRAMMY stage together for the first time ever, three-time GRAMMY winner Gwen Stefani will perform alongside Blake Shelton, a current GRAMMY nominee who's up for Best Country Solo Performance for his 2019 track, "God’s Country."
Tune in to the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, which are once again hosted by Alicia Keys, on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, and broadcasting live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT to catch all these amazing performances and to see who will take home the night's biggest awards.
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Marc Jacobs
Nicki Minaj Announces Europe Tour With Juice WRLD
Juice WRLD will replace Future, who was originally scheduled to tour with the rapper on the NICKIHENDRXX tour
GRAMMY-nominated rapper Nicki Minaj has announced that Juice WRLD will accompany her on the European leg of the Nicki Wrld Tour in 2019.
“I’m so excited to bring the full Nicki Minaj experience to my fans in Europe,” Minaj said in a statement. "I have been carefully crafting the most exhilarating, unique, memorable piece of art to share with my incredible fans. I’m in love with Juice Wrld’s music & feel so stoked to have him join me. This will be one for the books."
Juice WRLD will replace Future, who was originally scheduled to tour with the rapper on the NICKIHENDRXX tour.
The Week In Music: Who Is The Fairest Of Them All?
GRAMMY ladies go head-to-head in the battle of the pretty
What are the attributes that make the perfect woman? Is it a camera-ready glow? Fashion sense? Intelligence? Sense of humor? Talent? An uncanny argumentative ability? Chances are the ladies making AskMen.com's Top 99 Women of 2012 list have all of the above, and much more. With actress/television personality Sofia Vergara topping a list containing the usual abundance of actresses, models and paparazzi favorites, current Best New Artist GRAMMY nominee Nicki Minaj led all female musicians at No. 5. Other GRAMMY nominees putting the "s" in scintillating in the top 20 include Rihanna (No. 9), Zooey Deschanel (No. 12), Katy Perry (No. 16), and Lady Gaga (No. 18). Other notables making the grade include Selena Gomez (No. 14), Beyoncé (No. 39) and even hot newcomer Lana Del Rey (No. 95). Of course, lists of this nature are always subjective. But if you're a female looking to get in on the competition, we invite you to sample some tips from our GRAMMY Glam Squad.
While Music's Biggest Night is just a week away, Indianapolis will take center stage on Feb. 5 when the New England Patriots and New York Giants battle it out in Super Bowl XLVI. While the staff at ESPN is busy crunching statistics for their exhaustive game coverage, musicians are chiming in with their official predictions. Not surprisingly, JoJo, who grew up in Foxboro, Mass., will be pulling for Tom Brady and the Patriots. "I just feel like we [will] win by default, because we have heart," said the songstress. Putting on his analyst cap, Nelly thinks the Giants defense will be too hot for the Patriots. "I think the Giants play a little bit better defense, and I just think defense wins championships in the end," he said. Theory Of A Deadman's Tyler Connolly is leaning toward the Giants, but don't quote him on it. "I guess I'll go with the Giants," said Connolly, a San Francisco 49ers fan. When it comes to the halftime entertainment, Connolly did not mince words, however. "In reality you need to think about who's actually watching the Super Bowl — it's big dudes eating nachos and drinking beer," said Connolly. "And they want to watch the commercials with the Doritos girls. … Madonna? They're not going to watch Madonna." While there are few things better than Doritos girls, we here at TWIM we'd definitely rather watch Madonna, while enjoying a side of nachos.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, following Elton John and Madonna's Golden Globes feud last month, the Rocket Man is reportedly turning over a new leaf in offering the Material Girl some advice for her upcoming halftime performance on Feb. 5. "Make sure you lip-sync good," John advised Madonna on "Good Morning America." "I've never seen a decent one. Never ever." While Super Bowl halftime shows have arguably become more about the spectacle instead of the performance, it's hard to tell if John's advice is sincere. In 2004 the tiny dancer's response to Madonna winning the Best Live Act honor at England's Q Awards was: "Madonna, best f***ing live act? F*** off. Since when has lip-syncing been live?" While much of the Super Bowl action will happen on the field this Sunday, there's no doubt there will be lots more to see between Madonna's halftime spectacular featuring LMFAO and Nicki Minaj, and John's Pepsi commercial, set to air during the big game.
While Dave Grohl has long been known for his quirky sense of humor, evidenced by videos for Foo Fighters songs such as "Big Me" (Mentos, anyone?), "Everlong," "Learn To Fly," and, most recently, the GRAMMY-nominated "Walk," the Foos frontman is taking funny to a whole new, hopefully hysterical, level. According to a report, Grohl is teaming with comedian Dana Gould to executive produce a 30-minute sitcom for FX Networks. The show will reportedly center on a rock band that is in the midst of their big break, and a breakup. The band seeks help from a therapist, who ends up being broken herself. Did we say sitcom? This sounds like the makings of a perfectly good drama to us. But whatever the show turns out to be, we're sure it'll be a hit, given Grohl's vast voiceover experience in films such as The Muppets and television series including "Daria."
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich lost the Florida primary Tuesday to Mitt Romney by a wide margin, but that may not be the worst news he got this week. Gingrich also joined the long list of politicians who have been sued for misappropriating a pop song for a campaign without the artist's permission. On Monday, Rude Music Inc., controlled by the song's co-writer Frank Sullivan, filed suit against Gingrich for his use of Survivor's GRAMMY-winning "Eye Of The Tiger" from Rocky III. Gingrich was clearly gunning for some Rocky Balboa magic now that he appears to be the underdog again, and the anthem's other co-writer, Jim Peterik, who hasn't joined the suit, says that's okay with him. "If it motivates people to get out to the polls and create some excitement, that's what it's for," he told the Washington Post. And while Chicago-native Peterik is loyal to his native son, President Barack Obama, he concedes, "I like [Gingrich's] taste in music." Still, as Rocky himself might ask, "Yo, don't I got some rights?"
Adele's "Set Fire To The Rain" is No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" is tops on the iTunes singles chart.
Any news we've missed? Comment below.
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