The genre known as “Emo Rap” (or “Sad Trap” if you want to be a hipster about it, which I do) is the unlikely combination of rap beats with emo vocals and guitars. Sure, it’s more complicated than that, but in the simplest definitions that’s what it is. And it fucking rules, which is a real shame because I’m 37 and that’s way too old to be listening to this stuff. But the truth is, if this music came out when I was in high school it would have blown the JNCOs off my 20-inch waist. Discovering emo rap felt like when I discovered punk, which is something I’d love to tell my favorite emo rappers but they’d probably just get offended that I called them a “punk.”
Lyrically, the genre combines aspects of rock and hip-hop, often in a way that contrasts the other. For example, a rapper may brag about their clout, financial status, and hoe inventory. An emo rapper, on the other hand, will brag about these things but they also want to kill themselves. It’s like if DMX had depression. Wait… I think I just realized why I love DMX so much.
While the genre as a whole peaked around 2019, many of these emo rappers have gone on to incorporate different styles of music into their sound, leading to a slew of artists to watch. From afar though. I’m not trying to be the old guy at an emo rap show.
Honorable Mention: “Awful Things” by Lil Peep
Lil Peep is the godfather of emo rap. However, he’s an honorable mention because he’s more of a personality and aesthetic than a great songwriter or musician. But that’s okay because Lil Peep wasn’t about music. He was about rebellion! About political and social upheaval! Or maybe that was The Monkees. Either way, I completely get the fandom surrounding the Peepster, it’s just that the artists he inspired went on to greatly improve upon his sound.
Burn me down ’til I’m nothing but memories
10. “Get Lost” by Convolk
Convolk’s sound hasn’t changed much over the extensive history of the genre (the length of which is somewhere between 5-7 years depending on who’s little brother you ask), but he keeps perfecting the classic “emo rap” sound. It’s depressing how much I relate to his lyrics that are likely designed to appeal to dramatic tween girls, which works out since it’s the perfect emotional state to listen to his music.
New tattoo/aren’t you cool
You look like the girl who broke my heart in two
9. “Feel Like Shit” by Shinigami
Shinigami is an insanely talented singer and producer. “Feel Like Shit” has subs so deep you’ll feel it in your soul. I don’t mean that figuratively. Researchers found that low vibrations at certain frequencies can trigger sadness in humans and many songs in this genre apply to this. But I’m too cool for all that school shit, I’m a middle-aged dad who likes emo rap.
Kiss my lips/Make me feel like I have you
This is it/And I know that you’re sad too
8. “Hurt Before” by guccihighwaters
This is a classic emo rap song. guccihighwaters got signed to Epitaph, which is pretty surreal but definitely makes me feel less alone about listening to this stuff. This one has a great video of repurposed cartoon footage. I made a playlist of these artists and now YouTube is giving me targeted ads for Lexipro and Better Help. My algorithm’s fucked but my mental health has drastically improved.
We’ve all been hurt before, it don’t make you a savage
7. “Pumpkins Scream in the Dead of Night” by Savage Ga$p featuring Shinigami
It’s hard to tell if Savage Gasp (aka “Gasper” on this track) is entirely ironic, or just strategically. Either way, this song is hilarious and it’s a good example of the sense of humor a lot of these emo rappers have about themselves. There’s a self-awareness that makes the vulnerability of the genre less cringy. Basically, they know what they’re doing is “weird” but they just don’t care.
Shinigami told me, “Kill ’em,”
I said, “Let me grab my death note”
6. “Someone” by 6 Dogs
“Someone” is a great example of the dichotomy of emo rap lyrics. It’s about the alienation of being separated from your peers by success. It’s about achieving what you want but paying the heavy price of losing everything that you now realize truly mattered. Or as 6 Dogs so eloquently puts it, “Fuck this cash. Makes me sad.” Also, go on YouTube and find the video of this song that’s all Simpsons scenes recut to tell a sad story about Bart’s love life.
Dough make me feel like a no one
Prolly ’cause I’m just another someone
5. “Hammer” by Nothing, Nowhere
Nothing, Nowhere is one of the more popular emo rappers on this list and “Hammer” is a great song to start with if you’re still iffy on all this genre-bending. It’s a more straightforward rap track about being a loser who finally won. It’s a classic emo rap topic and this song spells it out perfectly. This is great music to pump yourself up if you’re still holding onto baggage from being an outcast in middle school.
In high school, they would laugh, try to label
Eatin’ lunch with nobody at my table
Everyone that used to doubt got a day job
I just made a few stacks off a merch drop
4. “Long Way Home” by Fats’e featuring XLHC
On the 2022 record, “Arson Green Nostalgia,” Fats’e (pronounced “fat-see”) perfectly showcased his own version of the emo rap sound. He showcased his most unique skill among this cohort of emo rappers: midwest emo guitar. The whole record is full of tracks like “Long Way Home” with trap beats, autotuned emo vocals and, taking center stage, two twinkly guitars. Also, this song features a dude from Hot Mulligan, which is the first thing about this whole genre that doesn’t make me feel ancient.
Didn’t know that I was capable of being what you want
‘til you’re sick of it
It was good to feel on top for a little bit
3. “Toothpaste” by 93FEETOFSMOKE
93FEETOFSMOKE is my personal favorite on this list. He’s the most interesting emo rapper to watch moving forward as each new album brings in new genres and influences, while maintaining the core of emo rap. His albums each have a cohesive sound and it’s clear they were written as collections of songs as opposed to random singles that were later compiled together. “Toothpaste” speaks for itself and features an incredible “production solo.” Production solos have slowly usurped the typical instrumental solo ever since Kanye West and Skrillex made it a thing in the early 2010s. 93FEETOFSMOKE also makes his own merch that’s clearly meant for fashionable Zoomers. I have so many 93FEETOFSMOKE shirts I can’t wear in public.
Let the skeletons dance around town
But I’ma dip once they start to hash it out
‘Cause I ain’t really got a bone worth picking now
2. “Candles” by Juice Wrld
Juice Wrld should be Kurt Cobain for Zoomers. Unfortunately, kids today have such short attention spans for trauma. It’s like they’ve become desensitized to it somehow. Anyway, Juice Wrld was one of the best vocalists to channel emotion into melody. Ever. His sense of melody in general was off the charts and he had the ability to make hits on the spot. His popularity transcended genres, but his album “Goodbye & Good Riddance” will always be an emo rap masterpiece.
Don’t pray for me
Just bring me drugs
1. “Scraped My Knee Pt 2” by Fats’e & 93FEETOFSMOKE
A lot of the best emo rap songs aren’t even on albums. Case in point, “Scraped My Knee Pt 2” (of the 3-part knee scraping trilogy) is simply amazing. It shows the split from classic emo rap to a new musical landscape where tons of these artists can venture off into their own style. Like several bedroom artist/SoundCloud genres, emo rap didn’t just popularize an unlikely genre of music. It also massively expanded what alternative music could sound like. Musically and lyrically, “Scraped My Knee Pt 2” is the embodiment of this musical expansion.
I’m glad I got out of my head and got out of my hometown