Sad Rap: The Strangest New Thing in Music or a Logical Next Step for Hip-Hop?

Little Pain is a 21-year-old rapper from Brooklyn. The first time I heard from him was through an email submission much like many of the email submissions from artists who want to be heard:

“Yesterday I released my track “SMH (Broke Boyz Anthem)” produced by Suicideyear and was hoping that Pigeons & Planes could post it. This song will be on my up and coming sad tape When Thugz Cry.”

Nothing about the email jumped out as extraordinary, but I did a double take.

Sad tape?

I pressed play  on “SMH.” It starts off with crying sounds. The opening line is, “Little Pain the thug, I’m the saddest out.”

What was happening here?

The entire song is as boastful as rap songs about money and game, but Little Pain is bragging about being depressed; he is proudly proclaiming himself to be the saddest thug, crying tears all over the place, hanging with a bunch of broke boys and going on a “sad boy tantrum.” I would soon learn that this tantrum was part of something much bigger. It’s called sad rap.

Hip-hop is moving in some really weird directions. Aritsts like Lil B and RiFF RAFF have opened up the floodgates for a meme-ified hip-hop that falls somewhere between serious music, a joke, and a lifestyle. It’s a product of the Internet, the expansion of a genre historically associated with the streets, and the changing expectations of a still-growing fan base.

Basically we represent the side of rap that isn’t being glorified. We’re embracing the reality of the struggle rather than trying to portray a facade or a lifestyle that we aren’t really about without going about it in a conscious way. We’re sad and proud.

I responded to Little Thug, “Can you tell me a little about what you guys are all about? I’m not familiar with sad rap.”

“Basically we represent the side of rap that isn’t being glorified,” he wrote back. “We’re embracing the reality of the struggle rather than trying to portray a facade or a lifestyle that we aren’t really about without going about it in a conscious way. We’re sad and proud.”

But there was clearly more going on here. The background of Little Pain’s Twitter profile is a picture of Warren Sapp crying. His bio reads, “Crying in the trap.” The few pictures that do exist show him pouting and sobbing and his tweets are littered with hashtags like #been #sad and #sadderday, and he tweets things like, “I’M THE SADDEST NIGGA IN THE HOOD! :(” and “I’M IN THE TRAP, SAD AS HELL. TRAP PHONE OLDER THAN PATTI LABELLE :(“

It seems like Little Pain is approaching sad rap the same way Lil B—who Pain shouts out as an inspiration—pushed based music to his fans. It’s about associating with something that isn’t necessarily immediately accessible, something that will undoubtedly leave some people confused and on the outside. We can’t all be based. If we were, it wouldn’t be any fun. Little Pain seems to understand this insider appeal, and he seems to be playing into it to encourage others to latch on and rally around their sadness in a way that’s entertaining, communal, and a little odd.

But if he is purely taking on a role, he’s not willing to break character. “I cry everyday at least once a day, sometimes more. Sometimes I shed a couple tears and sometimes I full out start bawling. It just depends on the situation. I’m not worried about people taking me as a joke at all because at the end of the day the music is as real as it gets. Some may laugh and shrug it off and some may relate and love it.”

Last time I cried was 20 minutes ago when I hit my pinky toe on the side of a dresser.

So, maybe he is serious about this. The next question I asked was when he last cried.

“Last time I cried was 20 minutes ago when I hit my pinky toe on the side of a dresser.”

Little Pain sees how people could interpret what he’s doing as humorous, but he insists that from his end, it’s completely serious. The reason that he looks up to Lil B isn’t because of the funny tweets or the absurd memes. He explains, “Lil B also has a big influence on my music due to the fact that he motivates people to be who they are and stay positive without the fear of being ridiculed for it.”

The truth is, this all kind of makes sense. It wouldn’t have made sense five years ago, but things are changing. Rappers like Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Drake have pushed the boundaries of what’s acceptable in hip-hop. It’s okay to be sensitive. It’s okay to be lonely. It’s okay to be sad. Drake still receives a fair share of ridicule for being so open about his sensitive side, but let’s face it: he’s one of the most popular and successful rappers in music today.

With the softer side of rap coming out and the meme-ish tendencies of the Internet going mainstream, 2013 is the perfect melting pot for something like sad rap to happen. It’s the logical next step for hip-hop to push the boundaries even further, and it’s inevitably going to end up in some strange places that might not be so easy to grasp at first. Pain says he came up with the idea of sad rap himself, but he works closely with a couple of producers, Suicideyear and Karman, and he’s familiar with Yung Lean and the Sad Boys from Sweden, but says “it’s kind of different because they don’t actually make music about being sad.”

Little Pain is gearing up to drop his sad tape When Thugz Cry and will release another song in a couple of weeks. What if this sad tape catches on and Little Thug launches a career and gets rich?

The reality of it is just that some people are just born sad and would actually prefer to stay sad.

“As crazy as it sounds there’s a bunch of people out there that actually embrace being sad as long as it doesn’t spiral to out of control, and that’s what my music represents. No matter how much success I gain or if my financial status changes I feel like I’ll still be able to make sad rap since money and success doesn’t necessary equate to happiness. I will always be able to make sad rap because sad is something that comes from within. The reality of it is just that some people are just born sad and would actually prefer to stay sad.”