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Did The Roots' Black Thought Create 'Mumble Rap?'

Mumble rap is older than you think

In early December, Black Thought spit the freestyle heard round the world. Ferocious, witty, and cutting, The Roots frontman astonishingly rapped for 10 minutes straight as Funkmaster Flex looked on in amazement. The freestyle went viral, as many celebrities and fans praised a return to hip-hop form. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Black Thought discussed his thoughts on modern rap and how his penchant for deep and intricate lyricism, colors his viewpoint.

"There are some millennial artists that I totally get and understand, and I know what they're talking about" said Thought. "People who I've worked with and who I'd like to work with. But there's a whole element of artists that I can't explain what they're talking about. And it's not just because of their stylistic approach with the whole 'mumble rap.'"

For those that aren't aware, mumble rap is a blanket term for a current stylistic form that champions melody, cadence, and emoting over lyrical content or coherence. Generally, the phrase is more dismissive than it is descriptive, but has entered the popular lexicon of music criticism. The Philadelphia MC asserts that he had a hand in creating this form of rapping earlier in his career.

Lots of people are saying that I shut down mumble rap in one 10-minute setting. But that wasn't my intention, because mumble rap – if we go back – that's something I invented. I invented rapping without actually using the words. … [W]ith songs like "Don't Say Nuthin'," freestyles like "New Year's At Jay Dee's," I essentially invented mumble rap, where you go for many bars without saying any words. And when I did it, it came from a place of being inspired by scatting.

As farfetched of an idea as it might be, if someone as talented as Black Thought helped create mumble rap, maybe we can stop arguing about its merits in 2018.