A group of young men have burst on to the music scene: characterized by face tattoos galore, rainbow-colored hair, flashy clothing (“high-end streetwear meets high fashion”), and a statistically significant occurrence of the word “Lil” in their stage names. What is the unifying force behind this rag-tag group of young musicians: SoundCloud.
** Disclaimer: this blog will discuss rap, rap sub-culture, and the platform that is changing the game. I do not in anyway claim to be an expert nor understand the nuances of this genre. If anything I claim is wrong or oversimplified, please leave a comment! This is the most I could learn from observation and a google search. **
Welcome to Jackie’s second installment of “Everybody’s a Creator,” and this week we are tackling SoundCloud.
If you haven’t read my first blog you can check it out here: https://isys6621.com/2019/02/04/suddenly-everybodys-is-a-creator/
SoundCloud is described as an “online audio distribution platform and music sharing website.” The basic idea is that artists can upload and share their music, and users can discover and listen to the artists. Artists can upload their music for free, and users can stream the music for free. SoundCloud is a Berlin based company, that was established in 2007. Its founders are Alexander Ljung, a Swedish sound designer, and Eric Wahlforssm a Swedish electronic musician. They launched the site in 2008. Their original purpose for the website was to “allow musicians to collaborate by facilitating the sharing and discussion of recordings.” However, due to the incredibly low barriers to entry, the site naturally developed into a “publishing tool,” where musicians with aspirations of getting discovered, distributed their music.
This has created a get-famous-quick phenomenon, where unsigned artists have amassed millions of streams and social media notoriety. They don’t need a record label to get famous. They simple rise to stardom, grow their fan base, and then sign. Without the “traditional gatekeepers,” these artists are rising to the tops of Spotify’s most listened to, selling out of merchandise, and going on nationwide tours. And the way they are doing it is through SoundCloud’s incredibly accessible platform, and of course social media virality. These artists have been known to quite literally turn themselves into memes. They “start shit and gain attention on social media.”
However, what is far more interesting then a platform aimed at musicians getting discovered, is the musicians that are utilizing it and the sub-culture and genre that they have created. “SoundCloud Rappers” as they have been dubbed, are a completely new breed of artists and the next generation of rappers.
Now if you are completely lost, and have no idea what I am talking about, here is a laundry list of artists to google that owe their start to the platform (and who optimize the genre)
- Lil Pump
- Lil Peep
- Lil Xan
- Lil Yachty
- Lil Uzi Vert
- Post Malone
Now as I was saying before, based on their appearance alone (see: the face tats, wildly-colored hair, and use of “Lil”), these aren’t your Daddy’s rappers, or even your older-cousin’s rappers, but something entirely new. It is not just their style and start that set them apart, but the music itself that is revolutionary. These artists, coined “mumble rappers,” have taken a major step away from the genre’s traditional lyrical rap. The genre has been described in many ways, some good and of course plenty of it bad. Its roots are in “southern US trap music.” My google search turned up that many think it’s this generation’s new era grunge. And the music certainly has some grunge and emo inspiration. The concerts are known for being rowdy, characterized by moshing, and even fights breaking out. It’s sweaty and raw. My favorite description comes from Roger Gengo, who explains, “It sounds so unpolished, so youthful.” Which is not surprising when you consider some of the genre’s most famous artist were only 16 or 17 at the start of their career, most notably Lil Pump.
Previous Rap generation legends, such as J Cole and Eminem, have spoken out against these mumble rappers. (See Cole’s song below, 1985, which is a scathing review of the genre).
Nevertheless, fans and followers commend the rappers for their unique approach and ability to take on difficult topics. XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, who fall on the more “emo” side, have been praise for their discussions of depression and suicidal thoughts in their work. In the past these topics have been avoided, and considered “too weak” to discuss.
However, like any genre of music, where there are artist breaking new ground, there are also many who are just bad, and of course plenty of controversy. In many respects, it is rebellious music, and without the grips and controls of a major label, many of the artist have found themselves in difficult and heart-breaking situations. The genre has a heavy connotation to drug usage, in particular: Xanax, MDMA, marijuana, and codeine-based cough syrup (known as “lean” or “purple drank”). And whether the drugs are being referenced in song lyrics or used recreationally, their presence is undeniable. Artist Lil Peep, unfortunately died due to a Xanax-fentanyl related overdoes in November 2017. Many of the artists have also found themselves in trouble with the law in recent years.
Has had run-ins with the law concerning charges of gun possession, robbery and assault, and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman (his girlfriend). This was prior to his death in 2018, when he was shot and killed in Florida during at robbery outside a motorcycle dealership.
Has been accused of assault, is currently on probation for a sexual abuse case involving a 13-year-old girl, and is facing up to life in prison in relation to charges of federal racketeering and firearm charges.
There are of course exceptions. Many of the artists have managed to stay out of the lime-light for crime and drug-related incidents, and have found much mainstream success. The major outlier would be Post Malone. Malone, in my opinion, he can be described as the golden boy, rather than the poster child for SoundCloud rappers. He is a now incredibly successful mainstream artist with millions of streams and numerous nominations/awards. He got his break when his 2015 song White Iverson received over a million downloads in its first month on SoundCloud. He has the face tattoos, but in most people’s opinion would not qualify as a true “SoundCloud rapper.”
I cannot tell you why this new generation of rap became the defining feature of SoundCloud. Many of these artists are clearly very talented. They should be celebrated for their self-discovery, fearlessness when tackling difficult subject matter, and use of social media to make them standout from the crowd. However, I hope that in the future the downfall of these artists will not be the gruesome and disheartening stories we’ve been seeing in the news lately. Needless to say, platforms such as SoundCloud and Spotify are changing the previously label-dominated industry we once knew.