“It sucks that whenever we — and I mean guys that look like me — do anything that’s genre-bending or that’s anything they always put it in a rap or urban category,” Tyler, the Creator said at the 2020 Grammys. “…When I hear that, I’m just like why can’t we be in pop?”
At the core of rap music, the representation of localities rarely seen otherwise is one of its defining characteristics. It’s also possibly one of the reasons, in addition to good old fashioned racism, that rap continues to be judged on different merits despite all of music shifting towards those merits. What Tyler, the Creator said is clearly evident in the new generation of rappers pushing the genre out of the stale confinements of a defined category. One of the leaders of that generation, as was abundantly clear at his recent sold-out show at 9:30 Club, is Roddy Ricch (real name Rodrick Wayne Moore, Jr.), a young rapper from Compton with the Number 1 song in the country for the past seven weeks.
Ricch occupies a subsection of rap that feels like a subsection in name only. His inclination to lean into melodies with vocal harmonies that float above the production is distinct in that it’s the stylized evolution of what a heartbroken Kanye West introduced, a Degrassi actor refined, and Young Thug pushed into the artistically-forward sound stretching across 19 mixtapes and one studio album.
Ricch’s freedom to harmonize on the first half of a song only to switch back to pulsating lyrics about sex, drugs, and circumstance places him in no specific locality. He’s from the West Coast but you’d never know that through sound alone.
At the 9:30 Club, that freedom translated into unmistakable energy. There is an aura around Ricch in 2020. Somehow, out of nowhere, his single “The Box” off his debut album Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial is the top song in the country. At the same time, rap continues to be discounted by the same organizations that are meant to celebrate it.
Ricch’s subject matter is simple, but how he delivers it blurs the line between what rap was and is. That might be giving him TOO much credit, but one glance around 9:30 Club gave you a pretty accurate slice of who consumes music in 2020: young men and women of all races and all ethnicities. If that’s not enough to be considered pop music then I’m not sure what is.