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Rapper-Singers And Singer-Rappers: Hip Hop's Latest Introspective, Solitary Trend

Rappers turned singers and singers turned rappers has less to do with indecision and more with hip hop turning inward.

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Previous to this current decade, the idea of a rapper singing was more closely associated with a sort of earnest cheekiness - when Biz Markie hollers about being just a friend or Notorious B.I.G. sings along with his friends in a video or to start a song, it was to have a laugh as much as a jam.

The notion of a rapper doing his own singing, auto-tuned or otherwise, like Kanye West on 808's and Heartbreak, LIl Wayne on just about every Dedication mixtape or Drake ever since his sing-songy stellar second mixtape So Far Gone, is a trend that is fighting for respect in the hip hop world, and appears to have achieved it with the undeterred success of those just listed. Rap-singing even went the other way, seeing traditional R&B artists like Trey Songz and Chris Brown occasionally trying their hand at rapping or interjecting a sung verse with a few rap bars. Hip hop delivery in general is being toyed and experimented with by the likes of Travi$ Scott, Kendrick Lamer and Young Thug.

The biggest influence, in directing artists inward and the appearance of mixtapes and albums full of moody, lonely tracks of rappers lamenting something by singing along to the instrumental, is the recent shift in hip hop to self-examination, to radical introspection. Just before this period, in the mid-aughts, when Lil Wayne was considered one of the best, if not the best, rappers in the world, two, for the most part, trends have slowed down, allowing some space for more singing/rapping cross-over: having a bunch of features on a bunch of songs on a record and hooks sung by R&B artists.

Featuring has been proclaimed dead for some time, but that is an overstatement. In fact, sticking with Lil Wayne, whose 2013 album I Am Not A Human Being (15 tracks, 12 features) had more features than his inaugural eponymous record The Carter (2004, 19 tracks not including skits, 9 features). An R&B singer laying down a melodic hook for a rapper's single has not and does not appear to be going anywhere any time soon, but the days of seemingly compulsory R&B vocals for the chorus of a rapper's new single are behind us.

Rapper-singers and Singer-rappers have proliferated and been culturally accepted, then, not out of utility or a music fan base tired of features or R&B visiting hooks, but a shift in the function of rap. What was once an external art form, concerned with chiefly expressing outer-observations from inner-city mayhem to the opulence of music industry success - has never been that concerned with what reaction or affects any of these sights or experiences have on the rapper individually. When keeping things outside of a rappers mind or heart, the songs tend to be more celebratory, social and fun-loving, full of friends - young up-and-comers, respected rapper emeritus who only show up for the occasional verse, anyone that can hype the dance floor - hoping on the instrumental for features.

Now that there are popular artists like Drake, Kanye West and Travi$ Scott that are more interested in parlaying more than what their lifestyle is (in the words of Kanye West on the song "So Appalled," N***** is going through real s***, they outta work, That's why another god damn dance track gotta hurt"), but what living the way they do does to a person. This inner exploration and observance can be surprising, pernicious and confessionary - not necessarily the elements in a large, rollocking song with a bunch of buddies. So, when a song calls for a a more emotional treatment, maybe a few moments of heartfelt singing, rappers no longer turn to traditional singers, looking to borrow their pathos, but belt out their own.

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