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A Brief History Of Hashtag Rap

Big Sean at Reliant Arena Wednesday night
Big Sean at Reliant Arena Wednesday night
Marco Torres

Every rapper brands himself as an original, but few merit that distinction. The ones that do rarely profit from their innovation.

When it comes to emceeing, those who favor intricate rhyme schemes will scoff at a technique known as "hashtag rap." G.O.O.D. Music rapper Big Sean is credited with pioneering the style. But I'm not even sure that Sean thinks it's a style worth pursuing full-time; he rarely employed it on his own debut, Finally Famous. Still, Sean wants his just dues.

"It's crazy because the whole rap game did it, so I was sitting back," he told Detroit's Big Boy in a recent interview. "At first, I was like, 'Man, this crazy! Everybody doing this!' But then I thought about it and I was like, that's not the way to be. You gotta keep it G, man. G's don't get mad. G's is like, that's what it is. They congratulate you. I changed the game, so I'ma keep changing the game. It is what it is."

A Brief History Of Hashtag Rap

What the hell is "hashtag rap" anyway? It appears in many incarnations, but there are three main ingredients: a metaphor, a pause, and a one-word punchline, often placed at the end of a rhyme. Let's look at some examples: "You're the type to get wet [pause] -- diapers."

Here's another one, this one you might recognize: "Swimming in the money, come and find me - Nemo," from Drake's "Forever." Sean and Drake have been embroiled in a mini-feud lately over who truly pioneered that style.

"Drake is my homie," Sean said in the same interview, trying his best to remain diplomatic. "[Drake] gave me a lot of credit, because I came up with rhyme scheme a lot of people thought that he came up with," he said. "I called it 'Supa Dupa Flow,' but he kind of made it more popular on the song 'Forever' with him, Wayne and Drake, it was kind of the one-word punchline.

"I did that on my second mixtape I released in '09 where I was like, 'I'm supa dupa troopa/ Used to the bottom scoopa.' I just gave them line after line after line of bar-code. He kind of took that and used it on his track. A lot of people thought he did it. The thing is, he gave me credit for it like a real G."

Drake posted this presumed response on Twitter earlier this week: "Damn i just took the beard down and realized I'm still the same age as ya'll boys... 447,000 first week off my flows. See you in the fall." Ouch.

Now here's the ice cold truth, fellas: neither of you invented hashtag rap. It's not well-trod ground, but it's definitely been around before Sean and Drake.

Let's take a trip down memory lane and take a look at other MCs who espoused the style long before Big Sean and Drizzy. Boyeee.

 

A Brief History Of Hashtag Rap

Cam'ron: Cam'ron practiced this style religiously in the 2000s. Aside from his chewy syllables and silly non-sequiturs, one-word punchlines popped up on many a Killa Cam joint. Here's Cam on 2004's "Girls": "And hope is hopeless, disappear in the air -- Hocus Pocus."

A Brief History Of Hashtag Rap

MF DOOM: While discussing this topic with Rocks Off's own Shea Serrano the other day, he mentioned DOOM. We went back and re-listened to some old DOOM joints and, sure enough, you can find traces of so-called hashtag rap here and there. Here's one from my favorite DOOM album, MMm..Food: "Look like a black wookie when he let his beard grow -- weirdo."

Lil Wayne: Lil Wayne is remarkably ki-yoot in his approach to this style. He's also damn near abusive with his. If he could teleport himself to his kiddie-rap days and pepper those songs with hashtag punchlines, he would. No complaints there, since he actually gets the Most Creative Use of Hashtag Rap award. Rather than employ the same ol' one-word punchlines, Wayne favors witty one-liners. For example, here's a line from "Wasted" off his No Ceilings mixtape: "I'm a New Orleans nigga -- I get Super Dome."

PM Dawn:

OK, now we're going way back. Remember "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss"? Of course you do. It's a sentimental rap gem. This is "hashtag rap" at its finest: "I guess I'll leave that question to the experts, Assuming that there are some out there/ They're probably alone -- solitaire." Drake was five when this bad boy came out. Big Sean was three.

Jay-Z:

Jay-Z may have actually popularized this without trying. He utilized the technique a lot throughout the '90s and still does from time to time. Here's one from '96: "At the end of the fiscal year than these niggaz can wish to/ The dead presidential -- candidate." Here's another from "Hard Knock Life": "Where all my niggas wit the rubber grips -- bust shots." There's no question that all these New School MCs grew up on a substantial Jay-Z diet. We wonder how many of them picked up the style from Jigga.

Surely, there's a host of other rappers who made careers out of this style. Feel free to add on to the list.


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