Rap music upstaging rock; bands not pushing boundaries

Andrew Linnabary

Whatever has happened to rock music?

Maybe I read too much Pitchfork, but over the last few years, rock music seems more and more stagnant.

This comes from someone prone to listening to rock music ranging from The Beatles to metal band Iron Maiden, which I grew up with and still love.

Radiohead, arguably one of the most genre-pushing and innovative rock bands of the ‘90s and 2000s, realized this “death” of rock at the turn of the century, releasing a nearly all electronic album with the 2000’s “Kid A.” Since then, they’ve kept the synths and computers around, meshing their sonic textures with traditional instrumentation.

And yes, there are surely many other objectively good rock bands still around making solid music, but where has the musical innovation gone? It seems most rock bands tap into formulas established decades ago instead of pushing themselves to advance their genre.

Maybe rock has truly been pushed to its limits. Undoubtedly there have been countless advances within the field, whether through technique, song structure or gear.

It seems right now rap is leading the way in sonic innovation, whether in Drake’s (typically) minimalist approach, Kendrick Lamar’s free jazz-funk-soul melting pot or Future and Young Thug’s auto-tuned rap singing.

Young Thug stands right now as one of the most polarizing figures in rap music. Many of his lyrics are unintelligible, and those lines that are understandable can leave listeners wondering if the man can even think straight.

Yet despite lyrical shortcomings, Young Thug is able to convey genuine, unequivocal emotion. Isn’t that what music’s ultimate goal is?

Genuine emotion is something today’s rock music generally seems to lack. Bands appear happy to release carbon copy songs knowing the subject matter or melody will satisfy listeners. That has led to musical stagnation.

That’s not to say that rap music doesn’t have plenty of unoriginal artists — it undoubtedly does. But that is unavoidable in any kind of music. The difference is rock has become sustained by unoriginality, whereas rap is sustained by new ideas and approaches.

Maybe some new band will come forward and take rock in a new and exciting direction, but for now, rock is stuck shamefully in the past given how it was built on pushing ideas and music forward.