Mr. Sensitivity and Rap’s Emotional Core

Nas, Lupe Fiasco, Jim Jones and others have shown their soft sides. But the trend goes way back.

Nas (Valley Jean/FilmMagic/Getty); Lupe Fiasco (Joe Kohen/Getty);Jim Jones (Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty)
Nas (Valley Jean/FilmMagic/Getty); Lupe Fiasco (Joe Kohen/Getty);Jim Jones (Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty)

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 The self-confessional part of hip-hop is a fundamental aspect of the music and its focus on storytelling. The transparency allows listeners not only to piece together the personalities of their favorite artists but also to identify exactly what binds their seemingly distant worlds.

According to Nas, it’s important to show fans the “regular guy” inside. “You know me — I’m pretty much a private cat — but today’s game is all about the social media, and the social media is the devil. It puts all your business out there,” he told Michael Eric Dyson in an interview on MSNBC’s The Ed Show.

“My divorce was very public, and so many people were talking about it,” he continued. “I felt like it was very necessary to address it myself. As I was recording the music, I tried to stay away from it for a little while, but I couldn’t, so I thought it was just therapeutic to just put it all out there.”

Last year, certain songs from a generation of artists — including Drake, Kid Cudi, Community actor Donald Glover (who goes by “Childish Gambino”) and Kanye West — were dubbed “emo rap” and put the subgenre back into the forefront. According to Kennedy, artists like “Drake and Kid Cudi really represent the current paradigm shift of hip-hop being in touch with its emotions.”

West’s 2008 album, 808s & Heartbreak, an artistic fusion of love lost, loneliness and distress, was conceived in the wake of his mother’s death and a breakup with fiancee Alexis Phifer a year earlier. Whether the album was “good” or “bad” is debatable, but it was no doubt a standout moment in his career, when he produced a platinum-selling album while at an all-time low.

Similarly angsty rap bubbled from the indie underground even before that when Slug and Atmosphere headlined a concert at the Scribble Jam festival in Ohio in 2004, where the artists showcased lyrics of love and insecurity in “F–k You, Lucy.”

The Angst Starts Here