Following the untimely deaths of influential stars Lil Peep, XXXTentacion and Juice WRLD, some critics expected the emo rap scene to start to lose some momentum. Yet with Juice WRLD’s first posthumous album, Legends Never Die, recently topping the charts in the US with the highest first week sales of the year, this seems unlikely -- even if emo rap could do with some fresh voices to help take it forward.
One of the artists hoping to pick up the baton is BVDLVD (pronounced Bad Lad), a 19-year-old, UK-based emo rapper/producer with a penchant for blurring genre lines and dismantling his demons through song. Take Adderall, a blunt track that moves from soft spoken introspection to agitated rage rap (“Binge until I vomit / Feel like I’m a comet / Mommy I'm high”) as BVDLVD conveys how being in the grips of a drug-induced depression can also be weirdly exhilarating. Even if its message is pretty thin, its bratty energy is endearing.
His new album, LUNATIC, is similarly sporadic, with its mix of cocky boasting and melancholic wailing (a combination particularly prominent on fragmented highlight WEEPIN, where he raps: “Devil on my shoulder chirpin' / Cuts on my wrist still burning”) leaving you with the feeling BVDLVD is fighting to make sense of his place in the world. The music is rough around the edges and it’s obvious he’s still far from the finished article, yet the record shows potential too -- and will likely resonate with some British teenagers who might just recognise their isolation across its 15 songs.
“The new album’s title, LUNATIC, tells you everything you need to know, man,” BVDLVD tells me over the phone. “It’s a concoction of drum’n’bass, metal, trap, rap, grime, and sad shit too. Yes, the music is all over the place, but I wanted to make music that spoke to the chaos of 2020 and young people trying to process everything that’s going on right now. The music is grim but also lit, so I think it’s perfectly timed.”
Although his genre influences spread wide, BVDLVD considers himself an emo rapper first and foremost. Emo rap, which splices the baller melancholy of artists like Future and Kid Cudi with the softer, emotionally charged pop theatrics of bands like Paramore and My Chemical Romance, exploded into the mainstream in the 2010s. BVDLVD is convinced it will do the same this decade as well, particularly in the UK.
“Emo rap takes an alternative route,” he claims. “It’s about talking through traumatic experiences rather than just bigging up how much money you’ve got. It’s about making people feel like they’re not alone. It is an escape, like a video game where you can go into a character’s head and feel what they’re feeling.”
He adds: “So long as there’s kids feeling isolated, emo rappers will thrive. I know there’s been a lot of deaths and it feels like emo rap has this curse, but real music never dies, it just keeps moving forward. I would say the UK scene is only just getting started and there’s a real hunger for this music in Britain that hasn’t been answered yet. That’s what me and my collective [LOVE SEPT., which includes artists Hen$haw, KXZARI, and V.RI] want to do!”
To celebrate the release of LUNATIC, BVDLVD spoke with us about his favourite emo rappers, mixing British upstarts with more established names from across the pond.
“I remember my first introduction to X was during an English class at school. A friend played Look At Me on his phone loudspeaker and I had never heard anything like it before. It sent me down the rabbithole of listening to emo rappers, and also wanting to be one myself. I know he’s a controversial character and did some terrible things, but his core fans feel like he was a lost kid trying to become a better human being, particularly towards the end of his life. I loved that his music had all this anger but also a real gentleness to it too. That mix was so interesting and different, and it’s what emo rap is all about. To release a soothing, acoustic guitar-driven emo rap record like 17, when people are expecting you to make more screamo rap, is such a bold risk. He still doesn’t get nearly enough credit for doing that, in my opinion.”
“There’s not a lot of people doing emo rap in the UK, but KXZARI is smashing it right now. His lyrics and his melodies always speak profoundly to what he’s going through. You can really feel it deep in your bones when he’s going through some shit. In a few years time he will be the staple for the whole of the UK emo rap scene, trust me!”
"I know technically she's more of a singer, but ZAND really embodies the emo rap values, in my opinion. She's got green hair and a full head tattoo. She's like a darker Billie Eilish. Her music is crazy but in a great way."
“Emo rap should help people going through depression. It should speak to them and help them feel like there’s a way out. Lil Peep spoke to the people going through substance abuse or who were dealing with that internal pain. He paved the way for a lot of artists to have careers and shouldn’t be forgotten. It was like listening to Kurt Cobain over trap beats. Peep still sounds so fresh; I prefer the stuff he put out when he was alive to the posthumous stuff, though. The older stuff was a lot more raw.”
“Drug Lullaby is definitely one of the best emo rap songs of recent times. He reminds me of X a lot, which is probably driven by the fact he’s been working with Ronny J (a producer who worked with XXXTentacion). It’s a big reason why he’s blown up so much, because he gives people that same feeling. His vocals move from anger to tenderness in a way that’s really addictive.”
“I want to select myself because I don’t think there’s many artists with my commitment to taking emo rap forward and creating this weird new sound within it. I want to progress this scene and I think that’s evident on the new album, particularly with a song like WEEPIN.”
“Another big player in the UK scene is my friend and collaborator Hen$haw. I call him Henny. He’s doing something I haven’t seen before by mixing emo rap with drill and garage – it is really new! It’s an old vibe brought into an emo rap aesthetic. It’s lively and downbeat at the same time -- he’s doing something genuinely different.”
“I’ve genuinely never heard anything like Biv before. He has his own sound. Maybe it’s not pure emo rap, but it fits into it and I love his New York accent. You have to listen to him to understand it. The music is so heartfelt and melodic, but it’s also very cybernetic. It hits hard.”
“Again, he was another loss that hurt. The reason I think Juice is such a good emo rapper is because he could crystallise the trauma he was going through into something so relatable. Goodbye & Good Riddance was a whole album about his ex and the heartbreak he felt, and it got me and my friends through the summer. The melodies felt different. He was just a breath of fresh air! He could sound raw but also soft, and that balance was his appeal, just like it was for X. His loss will continue to be felt.”