The Lonely Island’s latest song featuring Solange, “Semicolon,” amusingly mocks hashtag rap. Aside from their incorrect use of the semicolon (spoiler alert: they should be using colons instead), the Lonely Island boys actually employ hashtag rap with the same fervor as some of our favorite rappers today, including Childish Gambino, Big Sean and Drake.
Hashtag rap has been a major source of contention for rappers and rap fans alike in the past decade. Most of all, it has offered an outlet for rap nerds looking to point blame for the death of “real hip hop” by way of forums, blog comments and even Quora.
What’s so controversial about the rap style, you ask? It refers to the drop of “like” or “as” in what would normally be a simile or metaphor, substituting those words with a pause. The Lonely Island’s song illustrates hashtag rap’s simplicity and why fans might lament the lack of lyrical wordplay and context associated with the style. But if anything, “Semicolon” just gives us a really good reason to revisit a short history of “hashtag rap,” in case you missed it:
On FunkMaster Flex’s HOT97 radio show in 2010, Kanye West coins the name hashtag rap, delivering the first known line since, well, Kanye West created the term: “We develop and change rap styles all together. Like, look at say the hashtag rap — that’s what we call it when you take the ‘like’ or ‘as’ out of the metaphor. ‘Flex, sweater red — firetruck.” Fire.
In the same interview, Yeezy claims to have birthed the hashtag rap style altogether, claiming that your favorite rapper’s favorite rap style spawned from his song “Barry Bonds” on 2007’s Graduation (“And here’s another hit/Barry Bonds.”). We love Kanye’s grandiose ego but we beg to differ. Let’s snatch that mic back from him Kanye-West-at-the-VMAs style for a second.
There’s nothing better for an artistic style than having multiple people claim it as their brainchild. In 2011, Big Sean says he changed the game by introducing the style on his 2009 mixtape. But being the fair person that he is, he gives credit to Drake (and Lil Wayne) for popularizing the flow on Drake’s ’09 song “Forever.” Not to be outdone, or miss an opportunity for a minimum-impact beef, Drake soon after tweets: “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." #Rude.
Drake, seemingly on a roll here, also targets Ludacris for his hashtag line in “My Chick Bad” (“Comin’ down the street like a parade/Macy’s!”), claiming the style (“his” style) is being used horribly in other flows. Ludacris then does us all a favor and shares a little history on the rap style in his song “Bada Boom”: “Counterfeit rappers say I’m stealing they flows, but I can’t steal what you never made up b-tch ... Let me explain, nothing's been new since Big Daddy Kane/Flows'll get recycled, passed around to different names ... May not like the way I used it, but you know you ain't invent it, boy/Do your research before you make a claim so bogus that's disrespecting pioneers in the game.”
Everyone from Jay-Z to Method Man to Cam’ron used this style before Drake even considered a career outside of Degrassi. And because you can never go wrong with a line from Killa Cam, as he stated on 2004’s “Girls”: “And hope is hopeless, disappear in the air/ Hocus Pocus.” Enough said, my friends.