Look, I’m all for rappers trying to expand their sound or even go into other areas of entertainment. But everyone has their limits and, in recognizing those limits, we have to act accordingly and play our positions. Lately I’ve noticed a gang of rappers seriously braving their vocal chops on records and the results leave much to be desired. To be brutally honest, their vocal forays don’t add much to songs or make them sound worse in my opinion.
Granted, singing rappers is not a new phenomenon. Ja Rule got blasted for singing, most notably by 50, only for 50 to come around and croon on his hit records. In reality, they both weren’t good vocalists. Sure, they made catchy hooks and whatnot. But that’s only half of the equation when it comes to making a song. All the emotion in the world, especially in Ja’s case, can’t rectify a poor singing effort marred by a raspy, grating tone. Such is particularly true in the song above.
Let’s go back to the present. Take a look at Eminem’s “Not Alone.” Em already convinced me about his path to get clean through his poignant lyrics. Then his singing brought the whole thing down since it sounds straight up amateurish on the hook and even more questionable on the bridge. Perhaps it would’ve sounded awkward to have a more capable R&B singer take his place. But I’m willing to bet it would’ve been better had he stuck to writing the single and let a more capable talent handle the singing.
Drake’s often lauded as an entertainer that happens to sing and rap. But he ought to be taken to task on his abilities to sing since that’s a major hook to his music. Point blank, there isn’t anything remarkable about his voice. He’s shown capability to carry a tune at best throughout many of his singing endeavors. Then he gets destroyed when paired with the likes of Omarion and Lloyd. They’re not even at the top of the pecking order when it comes to singing ability. So how does that make Drake look? Throw in Alicia Keys’s feature on “Fireworks” and you’ll see the writing is on the wall. He can write R&B songs just fine as evidenced in his writing credit on A Keys’s “Un-Thinkable.” Still he’s one of those cases where, more often than not, just because he’s in a position to sing doesn’t mean he should.
Here’s another case of solid lyrics and a compelling theme wasted on sub par singing. “Welcome To Heartbreak,” heck 808s and Heartbreak in general, is a prime example of a rapper overextending himself. Kanye’s voice on this track makes KiD CuDi sound like Maxwell. And last I checked, auto-tune is supposed to make your voice sound better, or at least in how it’s used in this song and others, add a computerized effect to a capable singer’s voice. Such simply isn’t the case with this record as ‘Ye sounds like he’s struggling to sound convincing throughout. This song and the rest of the album would’ve been more palatable had Kanye stuck to writing and made CuDi, for example, take his place for the vocals since experimental/alternative music is more suitable to Cudi’s style. That’s saying a lot since Cudder is a suspect singer as well.
I could go on and on but I think I subjected you to enough moonlighting for one post. The lion’s share of singers get blasted for braving the mic with garbage rhymes. Vice versa ought to be true for rappers who, even with solid lyrics and well made melodies, can’t bring songs home with their voices. Yet somehow these cats get away with it despite having less than stellar voices: mostly through catchy hooks. Well, I guess it goes back to my point in a previous post about music being subjective experience. Believe me, I’m far from an elitist. But I can’t help but see through efforts like the examples provided.
Singing rappers (or rappers that sing?) should be obligated to back up that shift with an ability that maintains a level of professionalism. In closing, we wouldn’t have rare talents like Lauryn Hill emerge (and fall off, but more on that later…) if the lines were so rigid. And, of course, everyone can’t be as good as Lauryn Hill when she was on. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get called out for dropping some sub par material for the sake of broadening your scope.