Alternative hip hop is a genre you don’t hear of often and though it combines two influential, powerful realms of music, it’s a collaboration that if not done correctly can sound like its in an identity crisis. But, fortunately there is one duo, Twenty One Pilots, who know exactly what elements blend well together from both genres and have shown us how it is supposed to be done. Twenty One Pilots may only consist of two members, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun, but they are much more than that: they are two individuals that have single-handedly transformed a once tired, unoriginal genre (of course there are exceptions, like Childish Gambino) and gave it the the upgrade it so desperately needed.
Hip Hop is a genre that has been at the forefront of music for decades, but it has curve balled a long way from its origin with artists like Tupac and Biggie. Hip Hop has been a platform of expression for many artists, but as we grew into the modern era, it became less about expressing and more about spitting out words. The only issue I’ve ever had with hip hop is the fact that many of the lyrics showcase a lack of care for grammar, are violent in nature, and they make you feel less smart for listening to them. For instance, these lyrics from popular hip hop artist Fetty Wap: “Why? Remember the days, was servin’ out my hooptie. Started from the bottom, hallelujah. Don’t come short with my shit, my bro will shoot yah.” I am only left with one question, “What did I just read?” There is a lack of complexity and though simplicity is said to be a good thing on occasion, this is not one of those times. On the other hand, Twenty One Pilots lyrics give listeners something to think about, almost philosophical in nature. For instance these lyrics from their song “Stressed Out” highlight the struggles of growing up and how our dreams can sometimes fade away in the face of money or success, “We used to play pretend, give each other different names, we would build a rocket ship and then we’d fly it far away, used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face, saying, “Wake up, you need to make money.” Music is clearly more than just a bunch of sounds with words in the forefront and that is something that modern hip hop has fell victim to. In the end, Twenty One Pilots said it best, “Lean wit it, rock wit it. When we gonna stop it. Lyrics that mean nothing, we were gifted with thought, is it time to move our feet to an introspective beat, it ain’t the speakers that bump hearts, it’s our hearts that make the beat.” They make you think and feel and that is the true power of music. This quote from an interview with Twenty One Pilots (Radio.com) really shows the creative ingenuity they value and how that bleeds into their music.
“I think that’s just a product of Josh and I having these big questions that we don’t have the answers to. I’m talking like big questions, like “What’s the point?” type of questions. I guess when I first started writing music I really had no idea if anyone was ever going to hear what I was writing and almost no intention of people hearing it. So, it was kind of this journal. It was pretty unfiltered. And then when things started picking up, people started listening to the record, all of a sudden it’s all out there in the open. We were kind of scared about that at first. But then we realized that once your honest and you say some of the things that you’re going through, you realize there’s a lot of people thinking the same thing. So, then it became this back and forth where people were saying, yeah, I agree with you or I resonate with what you’re saying, and it gave us more confidence to continue to try and tackle some of these big questions. It was this big snowball effect of transparency, I guess.”
In order to truly revamp the hip hop genre, Twenty One Pilots added in alternative rock elements to their music. Though the vocal presentation is clearly related to hip hop, they have included guitar and drum pieces as well as singing chorus sections that are all too characteristic of alt rock and indie music. This collaboration has added a refreshing sound to hip hop. Their recent album Blurryface really highlights their vision as musicians. Though they love to play with multiple genres Twenty One Pilots ran into an issue in the production of the album: Rap and alternative rock are two very different, very characteristic genres. In an interview with Radio.com they stated, “When you start saying words fast without any note value attached to it, it’s then called rap and if you rap you can’t be played on any alternative radio stations. There’s all these rules that we weren’t aware of.” As a result, they created a project that is both satisfying to rock and hip hop fans. But, this doesn’t mean that they sold out to who they are as artists. Since they value many sounds and different takes on music, they simply just combined what they love into one album. Overall, Twenty One Pilots are truly the best of both worlds. They are hip hop with their empowering beats and fast-paced vocal approach, but they are also rock with the utilization of instruments, such as guitars, ukuleles, and drums. Thus, they have created the category of alt hip hop.
There is no doubt that Twenty One Pilots have revitalized the once tired genre of hip hop with their witty banter and their infectious, unique beats. They proved that hip hop doesn’t have to be confined to a certain set of elements or sounds and have given it a spin that has both refreshed and revolutionized the genre. Sometimes, as shown by Twenty One Pilots, fitting the mold isn’t the best thing. Sometimes its simply best to just be who you are, make the music you want, and make no apologies.
Get their latest album Blurryface here.
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