Emo rap has come a long way since it started making waves in 2017. Created during the SoundCloud era - around 2014 - the fusion genre was propelled into the mainstream thanks to artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Peep, Juice WRLD and Lil Tracy.
The success of Uzi's ubiquitous hit, XO TOUR Llif3 spurred a movement, one that eschewed the usual facade of strength and happiness in favour of vulnerability and frank discussions about mental health and millennial ennui. After the track spent 34 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, 2017 was anointed the year of emo rap.
While some are charmed by the sonic blending of the genre, which mixes 2000s Midwest emo guitar riffs and pop-punk melodies with booming 808s, for others it's much more personal. A pioneer of the genre, late rapper Lil Peep was known to openly discuss his drug use and suicidal impulses through his music. That raw honesty coupled with his charisma made him one of the genre's most promising stars.
Now, three years following Peep's death his legacy continues to live on through a generation of artists who saw him as a vision for the future. This new guard of emo rappers effortlessly stitches together woozy productions with candid storytelling, simultaneously tugging at listeners' heartstrings and inviting them into the most clandestine corners of their minds.
As the genre continues to evolve, what these five up-and-coming emo rappers do best is an amalgam of what Peep did and so much more.
Doused in autotune and warm Midwest emo melodies, Filipino-Australian artist daine creates sombre requiems while unpacking her teenage disillusionment. The 17-year-old funnels all her emotion into the music with no hard and fast creative method, resulting in whispery lullabies synthesised by sun-kissed productions. She's garnered a fandom of thousands of listeners - among them Charli XCX - who are hypnotised by her dark-pop emo riffs.
Citing American Football and Lil Peep as her biggest influences, daine's futuristic harness of the genre sees her transform mid-2000s nostalgia as she puts together songs that are resoundingly fresh.
On her latest single, My Way Out daine yearns to escape a world that feels milquetoast at best. "I wrote the song about forcing myself to socialise after a long period of isolation (pre-COVID), and then just finding it so painful and unsatisfying," she explains. "I wanted to reinvent myself after, focus on myself and my art rather than forcing myself to enjoy being around others."
South Korean rapper, Yuzion (pronounced "you-she-ohn") debuted in 2019. At barely 18 years old, she has all the bravado of a seasoned rapper, with rainbow coloured bangs and the attitude to match. Her first EP, Young Trapper is a kaleidoscope of genres and textures that all fall under the nebulous umbrella of emo rap. On Next Up produced by Laptopboyboy, Yuzion runs the gamut of the standard rap epitaphs, imploring she's the next biggest thing in rap while hoping that unlike her predecessors, she doesn't die young.
Despite being so new to the scene, Yuzion has a dedicated and discerning following. Long Reddit threads pick apart her collaborators wondering if they're positioned to get her where she needs to be. Perhaps it boils down to her age, but it goes without saying that Yuzion's fans are protective of the rising rapper. Her most recent release, Mess sees the rapper team up with Futuristic Swaver. The effervescent pop-tinged trap beat is fortified by the two rappers, who effortlessly dip in and out of English and Korean rhymes.
Yemi was just 12 when he started making music using a demo of FL Studio. Today, the 22-year-old Swedish rapper has grown an underground following that has garnered him attention in all the right places thanks to his irreverent style. Having already released two albums, Neostockholm in 2016 and Rave just last year, Yemi is yet to break through to the mainstream.
Gems like Eurotrance, produced and performed by the rapper himself, is a euphoric heavy-handed trap anthem. Gud, formerly known as Yung Gud is a close collaborator, often bringing Yemi into the spotlight alongside him. What makes Yemi special however is almost indescribable. Perhaps its the grit of his silvery voice, or his generous use of rolling 808s, but his ambitious risks make for infectious listening, as he creates feel-good moments that toe the line between emo rap and Atlanta trap.
Inspired by everyone from Slug Christ to members of GOTHBOICLIQUE it's fair to say that Pennsylvania rapper Fantasy Camp's output is nimble and varied but decidedly emo rap. As a multi-instrumentalist and a nascent vocalist, Fantasy Camp is constantly pushing the boundaries of his skillset tirelessly whittling away at perfecting his next release. Growing up listening to bands like Slipknot, Hawthorne Heights, Bayside and Silverstein, it would always be emo rap that tickled his fancy.
Getting his start on FL Studio at the age of 14, the rapper and producer has since put out three albums and several singles and EPs. It's through this newfound passion that he's been able to express a sequestered part of his emotions. "When I’m around people, I try to be a very funny, happy-go-lucky person. I think that’s always been my way of connecting with people and being comfortable in social situations," he told Underground Underdogs. "I’m not really comfortable talking to anyone about negative feelings or stuff that I’m going through. [Music] was just a really good outlet for me to speak unapologetically about things that I’m feeling."
Fantasy Camp's latest project, Disconnect sees the rapper purging a mountain of unreleased music. The production is atmospheric, with Fantasy Camp's voice barely discernible at times, making it oddly calming despite the heart-wrenching lyrical content.
Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Sickboyrari (formerly Black Kray) is the founding member of Goth Money Records. Under his new moniker, Sickboyrari is raw and unfettered. Unlike most emo rappers, he trades in heavy-handed autotune to let the grit of his voice push up against the speakers. It's undoubtedly unexpected but achieves what he intends it to do.
The experience with Sickboyrari ultimately feels personal, as though you're in the studio by his side, nodding along to freshly cut beats before they've received the glossy high production many bedroom producers scramble to achieve. It should come as no surprise then, that his biggest influence is Lil B, whose sincerity and charm garnered him an army of fans across the world. Instead of 'emo rap,' Sickboyrari prefers the term 'hood punk' for his raw and inhibited productions.