Scene to Watch: #DREAMO, emo rap and its offshoots
Guest post by music journalist Leah Mandel*
Emo, pop-punk and rap have long been intertwined. Emo rap stars like Lil Peep, Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD have famously declared their indebtedness to Good Charlotte, Paramore and Panic! At The Disco, respectively; raised on emo pop and mall rock of the early ‘00s, their music incorporates pop-punk and emo melodies and vocal styles into the world of hip-hop.
In 2018, following Lil Peep’s death the previous year, emo rap became a full blown phenomenon. Its rise and the subsequent pop-punk revival, feels oddly similar to the mid-2000s commercial height of pop-punk and emo pop (think My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, all massively popular amongst Gen Z). A theory called the 13-year rock-pop cycle could explain it, although in this case it may be less nostalgia and more about the younger generation reclaiming a genre that’s been historically uncool. Rap-rock, for instance, is huge again—just look at Post Malone and Yungblud. GOTHBOICLIQUE’s YAWNS has coined this particular emotional subset of rap-rock, “Bop-Punk.”
Lately there’s been an even further offshoot, a wave of emo rappers and their genre-adjacent contemporaries making straight-up rock and pop songs. Take shrimp for example. In 2017, the Atlanta songwriter released the definitely emo rap THE SHRIMP TAPE. Since then, however, his songs have been leaning increasingly in the emo rock direction. Songs like “i don’t wanna do anything anymore, i’m scared,” dispense with even a whisper of the trap sound; “u suck” almost echoes Modest Mouse, with a country-rock solo; and recent track, “this body means nothing to me” is a fully realized indie rock song of his own style.
Similarly, post car crash scene, DEADx, moonlet archive, scum and poppy tears have begun embracing a more pop-punk side of their music. Take post car crash scene’s extremely emo “is the taste of him a sour reminder of everything that went wrong?” and poppy tears’ fully pop-punk track “fuck views i just want tattoos.” OCTAVIO, from Knoxville, went from mainly rapping to “This is What Remembering Feels Like,” which lands somewhere between dream pop and emo and “4LETTERWORD,” a pop-rock track with, of all things, saxophone. #AlternativeRock, a tag often used by emo rap artists, is becoming less and less tongue-in-cheek.
Harry Teardrop, on the other hand, has approached the same sound from the opposite direction. Originating with dreamily instrumental surf rock, he’s more recently begun blending trappier sounds with his spin on pop-punk, as on the track “Strawberry,” made with similarly genre-fluid collaborators Instupendo and Maxwell Young. Both Teardrop and prolific San Francisco artist High Sunn, who makes emo rap-tinged lo-fi garage and surf rock, use the tag #DREAMO—a portmanteau we’ve borrowed to title our Emo Indie Rap playlist, a collection of songs blending emo rap with dream pop, pop-punk and indie rock.
Elsewhere, artists like Landon Cube, MESSY! and American Dead Cross mostly stay in the rap lane, but will occasionally drop pop or rock tracks like “19,” “Never Enough,” and “Steamin Tea And Malibu,” respectively. Others, such as phem, BLESSED, Kenny Hoopla and JEAN DAWSON, came out of the gate sounding like a fully-formed emo rap and chillwave fusion. These indie rock spin-offs of emo rap—as well as the popularity of the rap offshoot careers of Dominic Fike, YEEK and Brockhampton’s Matt Champion—reflect this generation’s eschewing of genre paradigms. The future is genreless, and it sounds bright.
Want to hear more? Check out SoundCloud’s #DREAMO playlist to hear all the different offshoots of emo rap.
*Leah Mandel is a music and culture writer from New York City with a focus on rock, pop and electronic music, particularly up-and-coming artists. She manages SoundCloud’s indie music hub, Scenes.