Hip-hop is more than just beats and sounds

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By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

In the last decade, rap has been dominated by the big three: J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Each has had a tremendous amount of commercial success, and their names are often mentioned with one another. However, the three rappers have established their own respective styles, which have all achieved greatness in their own ways.

When rap surpassed rock as the most popular genre in the world in 2017, rapper and journalist Murs presented the “3 Lane Theory” during a HipHopDX Breakdown.

“With hip-hop and R&B surpassing rock as the most popular genre of music in the United States, rap is now technically pop, or popular music,” Murs said in the Breakdown. “I felt like it might be time to redefine how we classify the music of our culture.”

Each of the three rappers represents one of the lanes. The three lanes are defined as pop, hip-hop and hip-pop.

Popular music, better known as pop, has been integrated into rap to become its own subgenre. Pop is radio music, dance music and feel-good music. At the head of this lane is none other than Billboard “Artist of the Decade” Drake. Drake is a hit-maker. Almost every song he releases will get radio play. A lot of his lyrics could be tweets, Instagram captions or even TikTok dances. All of these things have led to Drake being Spotify’s most-streamed artist of the 2010s.

Since the 1980s, rap has been centered around lyricism. This is seen in the hip-hop lane. To everyone on this side of the culture, no matter how good the sound is, it isn’t accepted if the lyrics aren’t good. Lyricism can be displayed in different ways, such as complex rhyme schemes, clever punchlines and, my personal favorite, storytelling. 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar is the face of the hip-hop lane. Songs such as “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” are prime examples of this lane. The nine-minute song is much too long for radio play, the relaxed beat is far from dance music and the deep and darker storytelling keeps it from being feel-good music. However, it’s still considered by many to be a classic song.

Last, but certainly not least, is the Middle Child himself: J. Cole. The perfect balance of pop and hip-hop, or hip-pop.

“I’m dead in the middle of two generations; I’m little bro and big bro all at once,” Cole said in his song “Middle Child.”

Cole bounces back and forth between the two genres effortlessly. His third album— “2014 Forest Hills Drive”—captures the essence of his respective lane. In back-to-back storytelling tracks on the album, he delivers two completely different songs about his youth. The very popular track “Wet Dreamz” had an upbeat sound with a fun story about young infatuation. “03’ Adolescence” is a deeper story with a more intricate message; he details his insecurities and the confusion of trying to mature as a young man.

It’s nearly impossible to mention one without the others, as their names have become synonymous with each other. It’s often debated which of the three is superior to the others. However, each of the big three has cemented his own legacy in his own lane. Drake is the naturally-blessed one who everyone loves, Lamar is the one who sticks to his roots and is the people’s champ and Cole is the unlikely hero who no one expected but everyone respects. Each of them is a widely-respected Grammy Award winning and multi-platinum selling artist. Music is subjective, and that’s part of its beauty.

“Who’s to say that who’s greater, all we know, they ain’t the same,” Cole said in his song “Sideline Story.”