MM – LiL Lotus, emo rap, & the scene

On this very first installment of Miscellaneous Monday, I want to discuss an artist I find extremely interesting, and the work he’s doing for the overall alternative scene.

As a quick sidenote before I get started: when I say “the scene” throughout this post, I’m using a common loose term for non-mainstream alternative music, like pop punk, metalcore, heavier rock, etc. I’m not referring to any super niche stuff, like technical death metal or progressive black metal or whatever. I’m not saying those aren’t a part of the scene at all, but that that’s not usually what people refer to when they say “the scene” loosely, since those latter genres have fewer listeners than the former that I listed.

With that aside, let’s jump into talking about an artist I’ve known about sort of peripherally for some time, but who only really hit my radar recently.

I’m talking about LiL Lotus, one of the current main voices of the emo rap genre, a newer type of rap music pioneered by Soundcloud artists heavily inspired by pop punk and emo. If you haven’t heard this stuff, it sounds like this:

And this:

And this:

It essentially sounds like rap and rock joined forces, more specifically I’d argue, trap and emo-inspired pop punk. It combines guitar riffs with trappy 808s, auto-tuned vocals with pop punk melodies, and finishes off the whole thing with usually pretty downcast, emo lyrics about mental health, relationships, and substance abuse difficulties.

Some of this sound’s big names and pioneers include Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, shinigami, 93FEETOFSMOKE, nothing,nowhere., Juice WRLD, and many others.

I’ll be honest: personally, I’m extremely picky with what I like from this genre. If I had to pick one, I’d probably say nothing,nowhere. is my favourite.

However, this genre’s impact on the music industry is undeniable and cannot be overstated. It was the fastest growing genre of music on Spotify in 2018, and has been completely overtaking Soundcloud since late 2016.

And it totally pissed off the rock and punk establishments. Punk and rock are often at odds with rap because of their often very different sound. Emo rap took the best from both and created something brand new, and to many, especially in the punk scene, it felt like a cheapened version of punk, since “real punk can’t have 808s” apparently.

Yet YouTuber and former hardcore kid Finn McKenty makes an excellent counterargument to this, which is the fact that everything these emo rappers are doing actually embodies the DIY, establishment-antagonizing spirit of punk better than anything we’ve seen in the last few years. While other guitar-driven music has mostly fallen off due to a lack of new ideas, emo rap is flourishing because kids everywhere who grew up loving My Chemical Romance, Paramore, and The Used and playing guitar are creating 808 beats in their bedrooms and changing the entire concept of what it means to make music, which of course rattles all the gatekeepers. This is the new face of the scene, whether we like it or not, and I share McKenty’s opinion that we should embrace it, because they’re almost singlehandedly keeping guitar music on the map.

Now, let’s turn to LiL Lotus specifically, who I think is a particularly interesting case within the emo rap genre. If you’ve never heard him, he sounds like this:

And this (my favourite song of his):

He grew up playing in underground metalcore and post-hardcore bands and quickly blew up when he started doing emo rap as a solo project after getting sick of being unable to play more experimental music within these bands.

The first interesting thing I want to mention when I talk about Lotus is his truly seemless blend of the punk and rap sounds, a quintessential aspect of emo rap. But while many artists will lean more one way than the other (for instance, I’d argue that Juice WRLD sounds a lot more like a mainstream trap artist than he does an emo rapper), in my opinion, Lotus has found that sweet spot right in the middle.

First, he loads his voice with auto-tune and sound effects to achieve that slick, modern trap vocal style, but he’s also got a higher-pitched voice with a bit of that typical, slightly whiny tone I like to jokingly call the pop punk twang, which many of the biggest pop punk singers in the world have (Tom Delonge of blink-182, Jordan Pundik of New Found Glory, Deryck Whibley of Sum 41, etc.). It makes him super reminiscent of that classic late 1990s, early 2000s pop punk sound.

Second, Lotus varies the use of instruments in his songs to create varied final products that seemlessly blend the two scenes he draws from. While his hooks are almost always guitar-based, he goes for a trap-inspired beat more often then not, meaning using 808s. However, he doesn’t totally forgo the use of real drums and belted, strained vocals (drawing from pop punk) or electronic riffs and simple, catchy vocal hooks (drawing from trap). All this to say that his music isn’t just taking one thing from each genre, and doing the same shit over and over again like so many others.

He’s constantly innovating and making an active effort to blend genres, and this shows in his music. Sure, he has some songs that are more trappy (“pretty thing”) and others that lean more towards rock (“Sleep Paralysis”), but even those are really solid and unique because he refuses to settle comfortably into one box.

That’s the first interesting thing I find about him specifically – in my opinion, he’s the one creating the most quintessential blend of the genres that make up emo rap.

The second thing I find interesting is Lotus’s apparent commitment to spreading guitar-driven emo music to the masses. In my opinion, this is something he’s actively trying to do and isn’t just a side-effect of him having his roots in the scene. Many of his creative and business choices reflect this spirit, which I respect a lot.

I would say I’m doing my best to keep emo music alive. Music is always going to change […] but it shouldn’t be forgotten at all. If people listen to my music but they’ve never listened to emo bands before, they like emo music […] If you like beats instead of listening to bands, that’s cool. I’ll make a beat and throw on some guitars that sound exactly like one of the bands I listened to. You’re gonna like it because it sounds new.

LiL Lotus [April 28, 2020 AltPress interview]

Amen to that. That’s part of why I created this blog – to discuss music in a new way, while spreading the stuff that I think deserves to be heard.

Let’s look at the specific things Lotus is doing to help the scene.

First, consider his name – LiL Lotus. Any artist with “Lil” in their name will usually be a rap or hip-hop artist, so I think that rap and hip-hop fans are more likely to check out his music because of it, and as a result, find his and other emo guitar-driven stuff. However, this can also have the counter-effect of deterring rock fans from listening, something he himself talks about in that same interview I just quoted.

Second, let’s think about his signing to Epitaph Records, which is what put him on my personal radar. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with this name, this is a quintessentially punk record label, owned by Brett Gurewitz of the band Bad Religion, one of the most influential punk bands of all time. In my opinion, this is way more monumental than if he’d gotten signed to a more pop-oriented punk label, such as Fueled by Ramen, because that’s a move that can be expected of them. Their listeners have likely already been exposed to a less traditionally punk-ish flavour of punk music, so Lotus wouldn’t have been a surprising signing for them to make.

This is very different for Epitaph, whose listeners are generally into way heavier music. The fact that he finds himself on the same label as a band like Every Time I Die means that he’s now getting listens from people in that “guitar music” scene, who probably wouldn’t check him out otherwise, like if he was on a rap/hip-hop or just a less heavy label. And he definitely got shit from some of those people saying he’s “just another rapper” and so did Epitaph for signing him, but ultimately Lotus still made a dent in that fanbase in the sense that several people, like myself, who again, probably wouldn’t have checked him out otherwise, ended up really liking his music and expanding their taste and understanding of what emo, punk, and guitar-driven music can be. Ultimately, spreading fresh ideas and material that way is what helps the scene stay relevant.

In turn, Lotus’s more trap-oriented fans might get curious about Epitaph and the heavier bands on it – and next thing you know, they’re checking out Falling In Reverse and La Dispute, and so again, emo guitar-driven music is disseminated further.

Third, and I think most importantly, is his very recent screamo side project, If I Die First. They dropped an EP just over a week ago, and honestly, it nails that mid-2000s MySpace screamo sound. When I first listened to it, I was immediately reminded of From First To Last’s early material (and coincidentally enough, one of the members of that band does guitar and background vocals for this project).

It’s a bit whiny for my personal taste and while it’s not really a project that I see myself returning to very often as a listener, I have to commend the artistry and Lotus’s absolutely insane versatility as a vocalist. His unclean (screaming) vocals really surprised me, and some of these notes… just, wow.

Don’t believe he can do this outside of the studio? Watch this.

Imagine all the rap fans listening to If I Die First right now. Any decently dedicated Lotus fan is going to hear about this project, and that’s not even counting the fans of the other members, some of who come from that same emo rap scene. I think screamo in this style is an excellent introduction to heavy music for a lot of people, because it has a bit of many things you can find in heavy music – poppy chorus melodies loaded with auto-tune, catchy drums, fast-paced guitars, and unclean vocals.

Ultimately, I think it’s clear that Lotus is trying to (and succeeding) at saving the scene, particularly emo, guitar-driven stuff. He’s not the only one, but in my opinion he’s very clearly among the best to follow in Lil Peep’s footsteps, and I’m very much on board with his mission to spread the emo sound to as many people as possible.

He’s doing more for the scene than many modern bands, full stop.

And I think that for those reasons, he deserves to be heard.

— H

What do you think of LiL Lotus, emo rap, or the current state of the “guitar music” scene? Feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts!

Published by mcharlow

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