“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.”
“The government tried to ban me from the dark web. I downloaded TOR Browser and got back in. Went and got a VPN, just bought another BIN,” raps away Teejayx6, a 19-year-old from the east side of Detroit. Decked in a black ski mask, the young rapper illustrates the process of accessing the dark web in great detail—down to the bank identification numbers he uses to make fraudulent transactions. Welcome to the fringe world of scam rap, a viral subgenre glorifying and breaking down fraudulent activity step-by-step for listeners.
Mentions of fraudulent activity in music is nothing new. Future, Meek Mill, City Girls and Kodak Black are all on the long list of rappers with scamming-related lyrics. You are most likely to have already been introduced to this subgenre even if you don’t follow any of the artists mentioned.
In The Secret Life Of Pets 2, Kevin Hart voiced a bunny named Snowball—a former anti-human revolutionary who has come to believe that he is a superhero. The movie ended with Snowball rapping away Desiigner’s 2015 smash ‘Panda’. “Credit cards and the scammers!” bellowed Snowball in a snapback as scam rap quickly infiltrated the kid movie pantheon.
Scam rap has been associated with Detroit-based artists where the subgenre is deeply rooted in credit card frauds, identity thefts and other illicit ways of splitting people from their money. Credited with its own rap scene, scam rap in particular seems to be flooding out of Motor City with many upcoming rappers mentioning scamming in their lyrics.
Though not exclusive to Detroit, the city’s scam rap can be differentiated from the rest with its off-beat flow and rap style. Artists like Kasher Quon and 10kkev leverage bouncy beats filled with high synths to produce sounds similar to “a loading screen on a low-budget video game.” Their rap style lies somewhere between frenzy and monotone to create feverish energy that eventually matches the anxiety-ridden sentiments of the scamming lifestyle they allegedly live in.
Scam rap surfaced in 2017 when Bossman Rich dropped his single ‘Jugging Ain’t Real’. The track featured the rapper flashing stacks of cash while rhyming off-beat about BINs, Bitcoins and credit card frauds. Interest in the subgenre along with true scam cases peaked post that.
Scam rap went mainstream in 2019 with the rise of GuapDad 4000, an Oakland-based rapper. Styling himself as a charming conman, the artist is credited with scamming celebrities like Drake into performing at his afterparty for free—later boasting about it on Instagram. However, it wasn’t until Teejayx6 (real name unknown) came onto the scene that the subgenre really took off.
Incriminating himself to insane degrees in just about every song, Teejayx6 shot to fame with his breakout single Dark Web where he coaches listeners by giving them step-by-step instructions on how to access the dark web using the TOR browser. Immersed in pop-culture references and terminologies, most of Teejayx6’s songs are dramatic scam stories that play out like heist movies.
In Swipe Story, the 19-year-old artist breaks down the process of stealing PS4s from Walmart, outlining everything from embossing fake credit cards to lying to the cashier about why he needs $3,500 worth of gaming equipment. He later raps about scamming different Walmarts in a sum total of 50 times. In Violin he raps about buying social security numbers, and in Blackmail he goes as far as scamming his own grandmother.
During his first-ever show in Los Angeles, Teejayx6 was arrested on-stage by US Marshals. But internet nerds were quick to theorise that the arrest was staged with a bunch of actors and that the whole thing was a publicity stunt—yet another scam. So why hasn’t the real police caught on yet? Is scam rap legal in the first place?
Scam rap’s existence highlights a cultural shift to psychological, data-driven crimes where rappers involved aren’t afraid to delve into the details regardless of the authenticity of their claims. Given that many of Teejayx6’s ‘alleged’ crimes involved swindling some of the wealthiest companies on Earth, artists like him are considered “Robin Hoods for the age of cryptocurrency.”
Acknowledging the fact that “scamming celebrities is easier than normal people because they fall for it quicker,” Teejayx6 has allegedly scammed Blac Chyna and Dave East. The young rapper further separates himself from the ruthless types of frauds with a positive motive backing him up. “I’m really helping people in the long run,” he admitted in an interview with Genius. Upon purchase of his mixtape The Fraud Bible, Teejayx6 stated that his fans get an actual fraud bible—a guide which includes “actual methods, BINs and everything required” to carry out scams.
“People want to label me a scammer,” he mentioned in an interview with Pitchfork. “But I’m really helping fans out, giving them advice and even money if they need it.”
“Scam rap is going to be a thing for a while because it’s money,” admitted Teejayx6. “Anybody would like to make money. So it’s just a matter of time before the whole world catches on.” The artist, however, warns against the repercussions that entail the subgenre’s mainstream popularity.
“It might bring problems like the police only if it gets too popular,” he said. In an interview with Complex about the future of scam rap, the young artist mentioned how scamming is increasingly becoming the “standard job for rappers” replacing what once was drug dealing. When asked if he was worried about the repercussions of his self-incriminating lyrics, Teejayx6 stated that he was only worried about seeing somebody he has scammed in real-life.
“If I ever get big, somebody that I scammed in the past might book me for a show just to rob me. In the life I live, I always have to be careful. I scammed so many people from different cities, different states. I don’t know who’s trying to book me. So I’m really terrified.” In his No Jumper interview, the 19-year-old perfectly sums up the doubts we currently harbour in the back of our minds, “Even if I was under investigation, there is no proof, there’s no video proof. I could be saying all this, it could be a lie, it could be entertainment.”
While scam rap’s influence is yet to ‘ill-favourably’ manifest itself in popular culture, you can either head to the comments section of these music videos for detailed how-to guides from other fans (in hopes of not being scammed yourself in the process) or bop your head to its anxious synths and off-beat rhymes. The so-far legal choice is yours.