The Ying Yang Twins came into a quick-rinse-and-dry era of hip-hop that used and abused one-hit wonders quicker than we do today. Now, artists can linger with viral antics, but in the early 2000s that wasn’t an option. One of their biggest hits was “Wait (The Whisper Song),” though the latter half of its title is all its remembered as. It was bold because it was more soothing than suggestive – even with its overbearing sexual explicitness. Take a look at the video; the two rappers whisper naughty nothings into a woman’s ear who becomes aroused at the message. While not connected to the rising cultural phenomenon that exists today, it surely could serve as rap’s first exposure to the spine-tingling effects of whispered words. This phenomenon is, of course, called autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR for short, and it is slowly becoming pop culture’s latest omnipresent trend, becoming ever so slightly more intertwined with hip-hop every day.
ASMR is the tingling sensation that flows like milk down your body when someone whispers into your ear. This tingling isn’t inherently sexual; it’s soothing, mesmerizing, and often surprising. It helps lower stress levels and even helps some people go to sleep. There’s an entire world of ASMR-related media – Snapchat accounts that comfort with related sounds and YouTube accounts of whispering people that get hundreds of thousands of views. The term ASMR itself was coined in 2010 by a cybersecurity official named Jennifer Allen; it was a way to place a name on the phenomenon that people had been describing without any scientific proof of its existence. In 2015, two psychology research officials at the Swansea University in Wales published the first peer-reviewed research study in the world about the ASMR, surveying 475 people. They found that many of the interviewees turned to the growing collection of ASMR videos on YouTube as it enabled them to deal with stressful situations and sleep better.
Since then, ASMR has become one of the more common prescribed home-remedies for calming the nerves. Many YouTubers are making a living off of the art form. There are live ASMR events held in places like the UK. Media companies like W Magazine and FuseTV are inviting celebrities to partake in ASMR experiences. W’s most-watched ASMR segment came courtesy of Cardi B, who gave a quiet, intimate chat that offered more insight into her record breaking single “Bodak Yellow.” FuseTV’s ASMR segments largely feature rappers that, again, don’t rap in the interviews themselves but instead rely on rap’s pop cultural allure to explore aspects of their careers. Some of the biggest FuseTV ASMR videos so far have come from Wiz Khalifa explaining the creative process of Rolling Papers 2, Quincy dishing out dating advice, and J.I.D. spilling about his new album DiCaprio 2. While there are other celebrity ASMR videos spread across the internet, the most prevalent ones seem to involve hip-hop’s cast of characters, most likely because there are similarities between the platforms.
Deep inside the ever-growing community of ASMR, one that’s quickly becoming an entirely new subculture instead of a niche interest, a profound intersection exists on the cusp of viral, whispering, ASMR rap videos. It’s amelodic nature makes reciting rap songs much easier than, say, properly remaking an Adele song through murmurs. For this reason, YouTube is home to a small sect of ASMR videos featuring YouTubers reciting contemporary rap songs, from artists such as Childish Gambino, XXXTentacion, and Drake. These mumbled renditions are much more drawn out and slower-paced than the originals – often times taking upwards of 20 minutes to cover a three-minute song. It’s a weird, surreal experience, kind of like listening to music chopped and screwed, but with a grassroots vibe to it.
Cedrick, also known on YouTube as Eatmygritzz ASMR, is an ASMR fanatic. In a little over a year and a half, he’s released nearly 345 whispering videos doing everything from playing video games to eating popcorn. What separates his channel from the rest is his insistence on having fun with his work; whereas most YouTubers err more on the serious side, sitting close to the microphone with a serious, commanding gaze on their face, he… not so much. He got into the scene in 2016 after watching a reaction video, but revealed to me that he loved for people to whisper in his ear growing up because it helped him to “relax, relieve stress, and just get away from the world.”
One of his most popular recent videos is his 15-minute cover of Eminem’s “Rap God.” With his version, you can hear just how silly the verbiage really is, with, at multiple points in the video, Cedrick stopping to laugh at how ridiculous it sounds. But as you listen, the union of ASMR and rap makes sense; the two cultures sound related. “ASMR and rap both tell stories,” he says. He believes that the union of ASMR and hip-hop comes from the way that mainstream media highlights cultures that are prevalent. “It’s the new wave at the moment,” he says. “A lot of people have been listening to ASMR but have never talked about it until now.” It’s true. There’s a sea of near limitless news articles in the last few months about it, from YouTubers getting interviewed by The Sun, to scathing think-pieces in the Washington Post.
Interestingly, there seems to be two types of ASMR rap videos: faithful recreations of rap songs and over-the-top parodies that turns up the comedic cringe factor. YouTubers like The ASMR Rapper, whose channel is devoted solely to remaking many of new age rap’s biggest hits, as well as AScleMR, perform songs straight through without much purposeful deviation. Then there are the others who like to have fun with the conventions; Karuna Satori’s “Shady SoundCloud Rapping Tattoo Artist RP | fAcE tAtToO 4 U” video has drawn over 238,000 views and is as ridiculous as its title indicates. With drawn-on face tattoos, a perplexing beanie and fitted hat combo, and a wall decorated with an unexplainable “condemned” building inspection notice (as well as pictures of SoundCloud rappers Lil Pump and Lil Uzi Vert), Karuna tattoos the listener’s inner ear while poking fun at SoundCloud rap clichés. Comments on the video immediately draw comparisons to Lil Xan, XXXTentacion, and Lil Pump. While she doesn’t explicitly rap in the video, the DNA is there.
Although she recognizes that her video does show a connection between the two subcultures, she doesn’t believe that there’s a true bridge. “I absolutely don’t think rap has anything to do with ASMR,” she explains. “Experiencing tingles through music is actually a different feeling called ‘fission,’ which is an emotional reaction through music.” Regardless of her belief, she finds the expansion of the platform to be perplexing. “It’s nice to see the community being popularized, just a bit odd that rappers are the ones to talk about it.” Her channel stretches back to 2013, and this video is the only of its kind – that it arrives now indicates the growing commercial status of the genre.
There’s a reason that ASMR and rap are intertwining now. The ASMR community is raw, untouched, and mostly honest – this makes it rife with commercial capabilities. It’s how hip-hop was in its hey-day; a non-toxic community with endless amounts of unclaimed culture. Now, hip-hop is pop culture. Ironically enough, mainstream America looks to be using hip-hop to rope in ASMR to put it on a similar trajectory – the signs are all there. But the YouTubers that are helping to glue these genres together do it out of fun and respect for the community that’s embraced them. “I’ve been able to share some of my most personal stories since I started making these videos,” Cedrick says. “Everyone in the ASMR community has showed nothing but love.” He reveals that he made the “Rap God” video because he “wanted to attempt the fast part.” Karuna, surprisingly, revealed that she doesn’t listen to rap because it lacks the ability to give her an emotional response. “I think it’s easy to turn on a camera and recite paragraphs in a monotone voice, with background music integrated too,” she says.
Although they have differing conceptual understandings of hip-hop, both of their videos contain trace elements of the culture that make the music and artists featured within it instantly recognizable. The growing number of hip-hop public figures being used to expand awareness of ASMR shows there’s a connection there driving the need for exposure; the two platforms are more closely integrated than we realize, and set to grow only closer. Niche YouTube communities’ murmuring rap videos and culturally influenced parodies make sense when tied to the fact that rap celebrities are now taking a stab at figuring the platform out. ASMR is here to stay, and hip-hop will continue to reign supreme.
The grey area where both exist is a vulnerable world with opportunities, and maybe that’s why they continue to mesh together so easily. Whispering isn’t just for keeping it quiet in low-noise spots anymore – it’s a publicized art form with groundbreaking creative and commercial possibilities. And so far, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
For more like this, read our take on why Earl Sweatshirt’s new album may be the most important of his career.