Emo Rap’s Family Tree

Let's map out how exactly the genre of emo rap came to be.

Although it may be hard to pinpoint exactly who started emo rap and when, the genre is very much alive now. With their brightly colored hair, face tattoos and eccentric attitudes, this new wave of rappers, by creating an entirely novel subgenre, has changed the music industry.

Using punk rock elements and various vocal styles, these musicians rap about the heartaches and hardships they face in life, wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Even though the subgenre is fairly new, emo rap seems to have substantial staying power.  

To better understand what the genre is and where it came from, we’ve created a family tree detailing the most influential artists in this burgeoning, boundary-pushing new style of rap.

Yung Lean (2013)

Born Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, Swedish rapper Yung Lean is arguably — although mostly unknown — one of the founding fathers of today’s mainstream emo rap scene. In 2012, Yung Lean struck up a friendship with two other musicians, Yung Gud and Yung Sherman.

The trio formed a group, deeming themselves “Sad Boys” in which Lean Gud and Sherman produced and mixed beats with Lean writing the lyrics and performing the vocals. By 2013, the public eye noticed Lean when the music video for his track, “Ginseng Strip 2002,” went viral.

He then released his first full projects, “Unknown Death 2002” and Lavender. With his melancholy beats and dark lyrics, many consider Yung Lean to be the epitome of emo rap.

Lil Uzi Vert (2014)

Bringing emo rap to the masses, Philadelphia rapper, Lil Uzi Vert took the music industry by storm with his rapid-fire emotional lyrical delivery (staying true to the name Uzi, a submachine gun) and his punk rock beats with the release of his mixtape, “Luv is rage” in 2015.

Although his stand out hits, “Money Longer” and “You Was Right” reached the Billboard Hot 100, his album released in 2017, “Luv is rage 2” carries a darker tone throughout as part love ballad and part coping with heartache lyrics encompass each song — eventually leading to the ultimate emo rap song: “XO Tour Llif3.” In the track, Uzi spits, “She say I’m insane, yeah wanna blow my brains out, Xanny help the pain, yeah please, xanny make it go away.” If that’s not emo rap, then what is?


Incorporating elements of punk rock, hip -hop and r&b, South Florida rapper, XXXTENTACION, has been a controversial — to say the least — member of the new wave rap community. Uploading his first track “Vice City”  to SoundCloud in 2014, XXXTENTACION began to catch the attention of listeners.

With his various vocal styles ranging from whispering to screaming and beats embodying heavy metal rock, XXXTENTACION soon became a stand-out figure in the music scene with the explosion that followed the release of his single “Look at Me!”

With his seemingly endless legal troubles and death of a close friend, it’s no wonder why he calls his debut album titled “17,” “A collection of nightmares, thoughts, and real-life situations I’ve lived.” In the album, track titles such as “Dead Inside,” “Depression & Obsession” and “F**k Love” accompanied by melancholic melodies, and dark piano ballads show a clear display of the heartache and mental state that exemplifies the art of emo rap.

Trippie Redd (2015)

In 2015, Trippie Redd, a teenage rapper from Ohio, surfaced on the internet with a few tracks that proved to be clues as to what his musical style would turn out to be: blends of trap rap and punk rock. He gained the masses attention in 2017 with the release of his album “A Love Letter to You” — a project that Apple Music refers to as “Rap cast from an emo mold that laments the trappings of success.”

With a dark and intriguing production, the opening track “Love Scars” details his feelings for a lost lover. His vocal style is almost whiny — surprisingly not obnoxiously — as he tells of his hardships. He repeats the phrase “love scars” throughout multiple tracks on the album — making it known that he’s been hurt by romances in the past, and he’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve.

Lil Skies (2017)

Lil Skies, a 19-year-old rapper from Pennsylvania has just been launched into the music scene. With barely releasing his first project “Alone” in January of 2017, Skies is already making big moves with emo rap’s very own, Lil Uzi Vert as a cosigner. Uzi asked Skies to accompany him on his “A Very Uzi Christmas” holiday tour — a huge opportunity for the young rapper.

His two breakout hits “Red Roses” and “Nowadays” were released on his project “Life of a Dead Rose” in December 2017 and have since garnered over 28 million views on YouTube between the two of them. Using dynamic and thought-provoking vocals over emo-centric melodies, Lil Skies is a new voice on the scene that should be watched out for. With his potential, the sky’s the limit.

Lil Peep (2016)

Although he suffered a tragic death in mid-November of 2017 caused by an accidental overdose on Xanax and Fentanyl, Lil Peep was an up-and-coming rapper in the emo rap scene. Many argue that he mashed the two genres together better than any of his predecessors.

Pitchfork proclaimed Lil Peep as “the future of emo.” With his brutally honest lyrics, Peep spoke on his struggle with substance abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts backed by guitar, thrash-metal riffs, and electric drums. His most played song on Spotify, with more than seven million streams is “Benz Truck” — a song that perfectly exemplifies the darkness that encapsulates Lil Peep’s contribution to emo rap.

Lil Xan (2017)

California rapper, Diego Leanos, known professionally as Lil Xan first emerged in the mainstream emo rap scene when his song, “Betrayed” landed on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 2017.

Rapping of sex, drugs — namely Xanax (as if his stage name wasn’t enough of a clue) and money in his classic raspy voice over a piano-driven trap beat that highlights flashes of pain in the song. Singing “Xans gon’ take you / Xans gon’ betray you, Lil Xan tells a cautionary tale about addiction to the anti-anxiety medication speaking from his own personal experience.

Since he is now promoting an anti-drug narrative, he has said that he plans on changing his stage name to Diego but is still not certain. Being fairly new to the emo rap scene, Xan only has a few singles out, but his debut album, “Total Xanarchy,” is said to be released April 6, 2018.

These artists are just a few of the many that have delved into the emo rap scene, and with the success and popularity of this new subgenre that blends cultures together, that number is likely to keep growing.

Sarah Marchan, University of Texas at San Antonio

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Sarah Marchan

University of Texas at San Antonio

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