Elevator Rap - Image by SomatArt
Elevator Rap: Hip-Hop’s Newest Subgenre

You can’t dance to it, and it’s so inoffensive that your grandma can vibe to it.

There are many ways to categorize music—there are genres, subgenres, movements, scenes, and so on. The most straightforward parallel is how science classifies species—kingdom, phylum, etc. Today, I’d like to introduce a new genre subdivision in the R&B/Hip-Hop branch of the music tree: Elevator Rap.

What is Elevator Rap? 

Elevator rap is light R&B with a Hip-Hop flavor. The tempo is too slow or subdued to be danceable for the average person; the rapped verse (or verses) is more of a dressing than a main course. It’s background music that you might put on to provide atmosphere while doing something that requires a small measure of concentration, such as cleaning or exercising. It’s music that’s inoffensive and/or forgettable enough to be heard in a grocery store or your dentist’s office lobby. It’s the R&B/Hip-Hop equivalent of Easy Listening or the lighter side of 70’s AOR/Yacht Rock. Y’know, elevator music.

What Qualifies as Elevator Rap?

So, now that it’s been defined, what qualifies? A song like T-Pain’s “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’) doesn’t. It’s too danceable, and the rapped verse is too forceful and prominent. On the other hand, Swae Lee’s “Sunflower” does. It’s ephemeral and breezy, lighter than air, and Post Malone’s guest verse is in one ear and out the other. You can’t dance to it. It’s a song to relax with. It’s so inoffensive that your grandma can vibe to it. It’s a terrific song, but it’s still Elevator Rap.

The softer offerings from the likes of Drake (“Hotline Bling”) and Travis Scott (Metro Boomin’s “Overdue”) can be classified as Elevator Rap, as can much of Chris Brown’s later catalog. Any song with a slowed-down Trap beat and a forgettably mumbled or undersold verse is in danger of becoming Elevator Rap in the wrong hands. Does any of this make this new subgenre dismissable?  Of course not. There must be music for all ears and all occasions. Sometimes, you need something playing in the background that slides off the mind as easily as one of Slight Rock kingpin Christopher Cross’s early hits but with a modern edge. And that’s Elevator Rap.

But let’s not bemoan the watering down of Hip-Hop. Instead, let’s celebrate that a genre vilified and set apart for so many years has become successful and accepted enough to become background music.

Image: SomatArt

Adam is just a dude based in Brooklyn who enjoys thinking about music in all forms. He enjoys cooking, board games, baseball, and arranging songs for ukulele that shouldn't be played on ukulele in an extremely amateurish way. Adam is shown here at age 13 on his way to a bar mitzvah.

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