What are you hoping to find today? A lifestyle choice with well-deserved intervals to implement in 2022? Affirmations to make the coveted switch from consumer to creator? Perhaps a ringtone you can vibe with and channel your inner badass before answering calls? If the purpose of your itinerary checks one of these boxes then congratulations, the algorithm has selected you to take a 5-second funk break with Exmiranda—a DIY West African Canadian rapper and poet—redefining the future of social media-based creatives as we speak.
For half a decade, the singer-songwriter has been marking territory in Toronto and beyond with her unique gender non-conforming presence and dynamic rap flow. Equipped with a modern 90s aesthetic fused with West African rhythms and funk, she differentiates her music from the traditional Northern sound. Apart from being featured on Spotify’s editorial playlists including Fresh Finds, Outliers and Best of 2020 Hip Hop, the artist has also been listed as one of the “Black Social Media Creatives To Watch In 2021” by ET Canada.
This momentum further extends to TikTok, where Exmiranda—with a viral presence of over 2 million likes—is known to offer 5-second funk breaks to those who are lucky enough to find her on the algorithm. In order to analyse her perseverance and growth to, in turn, offer insights into the upcoming sphere of digital creation and entertainment, Screen Shot sat down with the artist whose debut album Funk Break is inspired by her success on TikTok rather than the other way around.
Before tumbling into Exmiranda’s 5-second video bops, let’s retrospect her initial brush with music and its eventual manifestation into a journey she decided to embark upon. Born Brittany “Exmiranda” Manu, the artist was about seven or eight years old when she started jamming to the music her mother would play out loud. “Every weekend or so my parents would always play a bunch of music while forcing us to clean the house and do our chores. So I remember them listening to Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton and different types of Afrobeat music,” she reminisced.
Jamming to a plethora of music styles, the same interests bled into the artist during her childhood. “My brothers were also huge fans of hip hop, so they would play the genre everyday and that kind of got me into the groove of wanting to create music that was versatile.” If you tune into Funk Break, you’ll know exactly what the rapper is talking about. While ‘PIMP’ douses your senses in the candlelit sunsets of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, ‘Steam’—featured on HBO Max’s Gossip Girl alongside the likes of Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande—immediately catapults one into sultry 12am bedroom jams. ‘Fresh Fro’ and ‘give that girl some room’, on the other hand, are straight-up ringtone bangers you’re guaranteed to vibe with while ghosting your toxic ex in the process.
For Exmiranda, the goals backing her childhood initiations have evolved over time. “One thing for me now, compared to when I was younger, is that I’m very keen on rhyme patterns and discovering ways where I can express different messages subtly, but still have an impact with the flow,” the artist explained. This is in contrast to her childhood, when she was into R&B—given the genres she picked up on from her parents. “I’m more heavy into hip hop now when it comes to the music style that I enjoy creating,” Exmiranda continued, adding how this transition also mixes the variety of elements she was exposed to early on in life. “I’m geared towards honing in on my writing and craft at the moment versus before when I was more of a consumer of music.”
Now, onto the algorithm-based 5-second funk breaks that have been blowing up on Music Tok. Wildly catchy, the video bops effectively capsize gen Z’s eight-second attention spans in under—you guessed it—five seconds. Heck, play it on loop and you can experience a 10-second funk break with no care in the world. Nevertheless, Exmiranda’s music has been featured on everything from viral vlogs and tie-dye tutorials to styling and cake decor videos on the platform. Versatile queen, who?
“When I first started releasing songs, no one was really listening to them,” the ‘Steam’ artist admitted. “I experimented with different ways of expressing myself and getting my music out there on social media, but I just couldn’t grow the audience that I was hoping for.” In comes TikTok as a pitstop for Exmiranda to push both her existing and upcoming music. A month after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020, the artist posted her first TikTok. According to Exmiranda, however, her efforts weren’t translating into success until she developed a routine of posting consistently on the platform. “After I’d uploaded my first TikTok, it was probably a month before I got a considerably ‘viral’ video,” she added.
Then came ‘Epiphany’ in July 2020. “The song had a jazzy-funky feel and a lot of people were gravitating to it. In fact, the video hit about 100,000 views in just the first few weeks,” Exmiranda mentioned. “It actually proved that if I create an innovative music style that was performance-based on the app and use that as a way to showcase my music in a short-form, I could get loads of people to hear my music.” ‘Fresh Fro’ followed ‘Epiphany’ and quickly achieved the same viral status on the platform.
“After that, I kept releasing more and more music and it was the same pattern—where I would instantly drop a video that captures a few seconds of the songs which hooked people and gave them a taste of my actual music,” Exmiranda continued. This essentially boosted the artist’s digital exposure as users stumbled upon her funk breaks, found her music interesting and ultimately connected with her outside the platform. “It made them want to go and listen to whatever else I had out there,” she added.
‘But using TikTok as a locus to promote one’s work is nothing new’, I hear you say. True, over the past few years we’ve even witnessed a trend among musicians who are rolling out songs and albums just to go viral on TikTok. In short, the industry has been banking on the platform as an “instant fame machine.” But in the case of Exmiranda, her debut album Funk Break was inspired by her TikTok series, not the other way around.
“The goal was to take the concept of 5-second funk breaks and create an entire album with a similar vibe—where there are different elements that touch into a variety of sounds but are still catchy to engage audiences,” the artist explained, summarising how the album essentially translates such funk breaks into an extended form of consumption compared to TikTok. The result? Funk Break takes listeners on a groovy hip hop ride through a selection of curated songs that embody Exmiranda’s eclectic style while blending genres like pop rock, funk, dance, jazz rap and soul.
“I had released about seven songs over the year, so I picked ones that fit the theme and maintained that throughout the album. I added four new songs on top of that too,” she said. According to the artist, Funk Break is also a token of appreciation for the followers and audience she has garnered through the platform.
“If someone has actually watched any of my videos, they could just Google ‘Funk Break’ and the album would pop up. So, the entire premise was also to enable them to find my music this way too.”
While Exmiranda was transparent about using TikTok to market herself in addition to everything, she hit me up with some mind-blowing statistics about the upcoming sphere of digital creation and entertainment. Before joining the platform and uploading her groovy 5-second funk break series, the artist had a total of around 8,000 streams. “And that was me putting out music over a period of three to four years,” she highlighted. But after Exmiranda’s initiation into TikTok, the numbers grew to about 400,000 in under a year.
“That was six months into joining TikTok. Now, I have over 2 million streams in total!” the artist exclaimed. “That just shows you the stark difference in using social media and presenting your music across all the spaces available.”
When asked about her take on the future of social media-based works and creatives, Exmiranda outlined how digital platforms like TikTok are giving independent labels—or those who are signed to such labels—opportunities to have the same access to broader audiences on a par with mainstream artists. “In the past, and I would say before the pandemic, you would’ve needed huge marketing budgets to actually pay in order to get your music on specific platforms like the television or even the radio. There were also politics and gatekeeping—all of the things that can create barriers for smaller artists,” she started.
With a pandemic-accelerated boom in digitisation and interconnectedness, however, the music industry is finally free from the shackles of tapping into audiences across the world directly. “The way that the algorithm works on TikTok is that it’s based on your watch time,” the ‘Steam’ artist continued. “So if people watch your original video, it’s going to push that out to other users—giving you the opportunity to promote yourself.” Given how TikTok has transitioned into a booming space for creators, with some even ending up on the Billboard charts thanks to their viral music, Exmiranda also acknowledged the presence of artists—who once leveraged mainstream platforms—flocking towards TikTok as a means to share their work. Oh hello there, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, fancy seeing you here in 2021.
Then comes the entire world of cryptocurrencies, blockchains, NFTs and the metaverse which, according to Exmiranda, are taking things one step further. “When you look at TikTok and other similar platforms, they give artists the opportunity to control how they want to monetise and present themselves. You don’t have to go through a mediator who’s going to help you with your branding—you can do that on your own and people will naturally gravitate towards you.”
Personalisation. It goes a long way in terms of your relationship with the audience—and digital spaces seem to build that exact connection almost spontaneously. “With NFTs and the metaverse, they’re fostering a space where artists can have full control without having to worry about anything related to music royalties, having issues on the backend or people intercepting their finances,” Exmiranda continued. With Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Rihanna and Migos getting official metaverse avatars, such digital venues are essentially enabling artists to both increase and monetise their audiences to the fullest.
So, does Exmiranda plan on experimenting with this upcoming form of inspiration moving forward? “Some things I’m looking to do in the future is discover ways in which I can connect deeper with my audience and serve them more holistically,” she said. NFTs are in the mix too, as the artist plans on utilising the format while ensuring that it reflects the needs of the community she has built over time. “It’s definitely going to take some time to figure it all out but I’m committed to using all the resources I have at my disposal to do better as an artist.”
This made me curious to know if there’s a starter pack out there already for social media-based creatives. If so, is versatility an important factor for independent creators in this upcoming digital space? When I queried Exmiranda with the doubts, she highlighted the importance of ‘adaptability’ along with the former. “If you are a versatile artist and you’re able to tap into different sides of your creativity, you’ll do really well because people will be more exposed to you and see themselves reflected in your music. But adapting to the changes in the music industry itself is also an important factor,” she explained, outlining how this extends to changes in our society as well.
When Exmiranda is on a funk break from music herself, she’s actively involved in community projects. As an advocate for anti-racism, inclusion and diversity, the curator uses her artistic prowess to empower others by spearheading digital exhibitions like ‘Women In Hip Hop’.
“One of my ultimate goals as an individual is to be able to fully and authentically express myself and encourage others through my music,” Exmiranda admitted. The same has translated into her purpose in the professional sphere. “My overall mission as an artist includes different subsets of me wanting to create spaces for other women. So when it comes to black women, ensuring that I’m able to provide avenues for them to showcase their art.” That’s how Exmiranda dipped her toes into curation with ‘Women In Hip Hop’. Authenticity is also at the forefront of all her works across platforms.
So if you are looking to expand your audience into the numerous digital avenues with all your might, here’s what Exmiranda had to say: “Don’t box yourself in. You don’t have to follow the typical path that everyone else considers best. Create your own journey and instead of listening to the voices around you, introspect and develop your self-belief and self-worth.” According to the artist, this not only helps build the confidence to push your creativity out into the world but to do so without the thought barrier of “what will others think?”
“The key is to develop your mindset and understand that no one journey is the same,” Exmiranda continued. “One person may achieve success using a typical route of participating in different performances or signing to a label but that doesn’t have to be your journey.” The artist, once again, highlighted the importance of adaptability, open-mindedness and overall experimentation into the upcoming platforms that aren’t on people’s radar yet.
Manoeuvring and investing into the road less taken, however, is bound to come with uncertainty. For Exmiranda’s pitchforked decision with Funk Break, the artist mentioned how the constant development of her mindset has helped her cross the bridge. “Self-doubt can manifest while releasing a new project—especially if you haven’t released a full body of work before. It can be really hard on you and you might even fall into the space of being a perfectionist for a little bit,” she said. “But something I always do is listen to motivational content.”
Listening to different audiobooks like You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero, The Science Of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles and Atomic Habits by James Clear, Exmiranda focuses on uplifting her self-belief. “These books give me a perspective on where I should be looking and focus my energy. They also make sure I’m honing in on the positive skills that I bring to the table rather than the chaos that sometimes comes with social media and other people’s opinion in general,” she added.
With all that being said, Exmiranda described both her music and her personality as “encouraging, self-advocacy and boss energy.” If you need an auditory confirmation for these claims, go ahead and stream Funk Break during your next funk break. And if the artist makes it to your Spotify Wrapped 2022, hold my hand and chant: “If it ain’t a bop, it won’t drop.”
“Twenty Montana. Twenty Matana. Twenty Mytana,” chanted American rapper Future in his 2011 song titled ‘Tony Montana’. In interviews that followed, the rapper admitted to being highly intoxicated while recording the song. “I was saying ‘Taouny Mountayna’ ‘cause I couldn’t even open my mouth,” he claimed. Little did Future know that he would be changing the future—ba dum tss—of hip hop by birthing a controversial new subgenre. Introducing mumble rap, a form of rapping synonymous with ‘wait, what?’ and misheard lyric videos on YouTube.
Coined by Wiz Khalifa five years after the genre bled into the industry, the term ‘mumble rap’ refers to a form of rapping—or arguably not rapping—where artists incoherently mumble a bunch of words together. Think Migos’ iconic 2016 bop ‘Bad and Boujee’. The song was a regular in clubs until 2018, where people even used to make words up just to sing along. In a way, it was the year’s ‘Despacito’—incoherently catchy, even though it was sung entirely in English.
Now, that definition of mumble rap is as neutral as they come. Also known as ‘emo rap’ and ‘SoundCloud rap’, the genre is widely criticised for its little to no emphasis on lyricism and lyrical quality. Several entries on platforms like Quora and Urban Dictionary echo these criticisms by questioning the very existence of mumble rap as a genre.
“They tend to slur their words in an unintelligible manner and call it music and art,” reads an entry on the latter, adding how you can understand every single word in normal rapping if you slow it down—in contrast to mumble rap where everything is gibberish, no matter what the speed. An overdose of adlibs in the genre is also not missed out on. As noted by The Conversation, mumble rappers tend to use the ‘aye’ flow, where they add words such as ‘yeah’, ‘aye’ and ‘uh’ to the start or end of their lines. The use of such adlibs add to the notion of supposed ‘cultural laziness’ the subgenre allegedly preaches.
This controversial reception of mumble rappers extends into the internal works of the music industry—where the term is often used as a label with derogatory connotations. On his album Kamikaze, Eminem criticised the genre by rapping away the lyrics “Hatata batata, why don’t we make a bunch of fukin’ songs about nothin’ and mumble ‘em… Shit is a circus, you clowns that are comin’ up.” His diss track ‘Killshot’, which was targeted at Machine Gun Kelly, also included a line where he pejoratively called MGK a “mumble rapper.”
“I don’t even consider that hip hop,” said Grandmaster Caz in an interview with Vlad TV. In another interview with the publication, Kool G Rap highlighted how the mass public has been “dumbed down.” “Part of rapping is being lyrical, being a wordsmith and slick with your wordplay, so how do you even achieve that if you’re mumbling your words intentionally?”
When Desiigner dropped ‘Panda’, everyone mumbled along with him except for the “I got broads in Atlanta” and “skkkrrraa” parts of the 2016 banger. All of this was until the rapper made a Genius video dissecting the lines bar for bar. According to Billboard, this was when he carried the torch for mumble rappers everywhere, leading its ‘Hot 100’ chart for two consecutive weeks. Everyone was tuned into Desiigner’s success, even Kim Kardashian, who shared the decoding video across social media platforms herself.
Mumble rap style can be induced through three main factors. First up is its characterisable Southern drawl and pronunciation, which is often hard to comprehend. The continual intake of the drug ‘lean’ (a substance made with Codeine cough syrup, soda, and hard candy) can further slur their speech patterns while the placement of golden teeth grills add to the genre’s incoherence.
According to Stephen Niday, Genius’ head of lyrics, however, there have always been artists who were hard to understand, be it for the fact that they don’t fully enunciate all of their words or simply because they rap really fast. “It’s nothing new, so the process of transcribing and decoding lyrics isn’t any more difficult,” he said in the interview with Billboard. “A little bit different, sure, but definitely not any more difficult than it’s ever been before.”
While veterans in the industry continually express their concerns about the intelligence and speech capabilities of this new generation of rappers, the ones making the music are more than proud with their creations. In a viral video by Lil Pump, the rapper explained how he lives in his own world, far from criticisms. “I ain’t want none of that lyrical shit,” he proudly mumbled into his camera. “I just be having fun with what I do. Esskeetit.” With rappers like Future, Desiigner, Gucci Mane, Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert dubbed as mumble rappers by mainstream media, this collection of artists is undoubtedly owning the narrative despite what the ‘legends’ in the industry think.
At the time when Wiz Khalifa coined the term, he forecasted mumble rapping to be a temporary phase. “It’s cool for now, it’s going to evolve,” he said, punctuating the sentiment by explaining that if such rappers wanted longevity, they’d have to find another way to rhyme eventually. Given the amount of artists mumbling their way to the top, however, his forecast seems less plausible.
Art survives through evolution. Maybe lyricism was meant to take a hit in order to forge new paths and push boundaries of what rap is and who it’s for. In order to give the genre more room to grow and experiment, however, the criticisms and claims of what rap should be have to dial down a notch. And as Grandmaster Caz himself claimed a couple of years after alienating mumble rap from hip hop, “they’re a different generation, they do a different thing, they have a different agenda and their influences come from different places.”