If a rapper without “lil” in their name drops a mixtape on SoundCloud and no one presses play, does it make a sound? That’s what it feels like keeping up with the massive onslaught of buzzing rappers, new mixtapes, and subgenres on top of microgenres in 2017.
Even with the continued relevance of the streaming service in hip-hop, SoundCloud has weathered a tough year. In early July, the streaming platform laid off 173 employees amid rumors the company only had enough capital to make it to the end of 2017. Chance the Rapper claimed he was going to save the day. Independent musicians panicked about what this meant for the future of distributing their music. Ultimately, SoundCloud announced it is here to stay, whatever that means.
Uzi isn’t wrong. SoundCloud is home to an entire nation of rappers with colored dreads, melodies inspired by 2000s emo and pop punk, and the latest mutations on Atlanta’s trap. A lot of the music is groundbreaking, much of it is not. What it means to be a SoundCloud rapper in 2017, is shifting and the ecosystem is rapidly changing. The term “SoundCloud Rap” has become a dismissive descriptor in the same way “Mumble Rap” has.
Despite this, the SoundCloud ecosystem is shifting. The platform is still massively influential, but Spotify with Rap Caviar and Apple with The A-List: Hip-Hop are leading the curated playlist era. Rappers that built their fan bases on SoundCloud, have largely started to phase out of the system that birthed them. Lil Uzi Vert is well on his way to having the number one album in the country. Problematic rappers like XXXTentacion are transitioning from millions of plays on SoundCloud to selling a rumored 65-70k in their first week. Princess Nokia is getting features in Vogue, performing to adoring fans at Afropunk, and re-releasing 2016’s 1992, after scrubbing it from SoundCloud. If anything SoundCloud’s biggest problem is keeping the stars they help birth from becoming more fuel to the engines of their competitors.
Below are some of the fastest rising artists currently dominating SoundCloud, many of whom are already on the cusp of jumping over the orange and white cloud.
Trippie Redd sounds like pain. The 18-year-old, Canton, Ohio is, creatively, an extension of the melodic trap sensibility that Atlanta artists like Future and Young Thug have been perfecting for years. Trippie hails from the same city as Marilyn Manson, and his dark soundscapes seem plucked from similar hell pits. However, what separates Redd is his inimitable voice. The rapper’s reverb soaked vocals, warble, distort, and cascade over tracks. Seemingly endlessly versatile, he sometimes seems to do it all within the same moment.
His biggest song to date is the devastating, psychedelic, “Love Scars.” “You used to say you in love/I used to say that shit back/Taking that shit from the heart/Now look where the fuck where we at,” Trippie raps over the Elliot Trent-produced fever dream. Trippie tends to stretch out the boundaries of his syllables like a never-ending echo, an effect that is exciting and haunting at the same time.
The closest comparison lobbed at Trippie is undoubtedly Lil Uzi Vert. To be fair, Trippie’s vocals can dip into some of the same territory as Vert's staked out for himself. Regardless, it's unfair to lump the two together considering how raw and unrestrained Redd is willing to get with his performances.
Kodie Shane is easily the most talented member of Lil Yachty’s Sailing Team. Her ear for melodies and talent to execute them separates her from most rappers in her weight class. Kodie is like a sentient piece of bubblegum on songs like “Hold Up”— which features Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty. Where her male counterparts' processed vocals can often grate on one’s ears, Shane has a knack for making her performances cut through to your heart. In an interview with Complex News, Kodie discusses her penchant to compete with male artists. “I definitely hope that I’m inspiring a lot of different female artists to run with the boys,” says Shane. “I say that’s what I’m doing. I run with the boys.”
“Sad” is likely the best example of her displaying that mindset. If you were listening without knowing any of the rappers on the track, Shane stands out as the bigger star, despite the fact that she shares the bill with her Sailing Team leader Lil Yachty. A lyric like “I just want to be sad” is genius in its simplicity, and across the song she keeps up the penchant for directedness.
Don’t sleep on Shane’s latest EP, Back From the Future. Throw on “Indecisive,” and you’ll be singing, “I feel like Cam’ron back in 06,” for the rest of 2017.
In 2007, My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way released The Umbrella Academy. The comic book was illustrated by Gabriel Bá, and re-wrote everything my 14-year-old brain thought about comics. It was inventive, experimental, and not easily classified.
Listening to Lil Peep reminds me of reading The Umbrella Academy. That isn’t to say his music is good, but it's often enthralling. Peep is an emo artist with trap influences. Lyrics on his biggest songs “Gym Class,” read as if they belong in a big budget reboot of a John Hughes movie. “Now I’m faded on my own in my bedroom/Now I’m lookin' at my phone should I text you?/I don't wanna sext you, I don't wanna bless you/Baby I'm a priest in the underworld, Guess who,” raps Peep over a plodding and atmospheric Brobak-produced song.
In early August, Peep released his debut album, Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1. Songs like “Better Off (Dying)” and “Save That Shit” confirmed what many had long suspected: Peep’s use of melody was pushing him farther into the rock genre and farther from the rapping that got him here. Such is the life of a white rapper in 2017.
If the world is fair and just place (it isn't), the success of Cardi B and her song “Bodak Yellow” will spark a trend. The number 3 song in the country didn’t have to go pop to pop. Rico Nasty doesn’t make music like Cardi, but she does have the same sense of joyful idiosyncrasy, and force of personality could set her apart from the pack.
Most know the DMV rapper from her song “Hey Arnold,” which Lil Yachty would inevitably jump on after its release. But her music is so much more than that. Crisp and concise, Tales of Tacobella is one of the best projects of 2017. “Block List” is Rico’s catchiest and most undeniable song to date. “Do What It Do” is my personal favorite. However, her latest song “Poppin’” is a blistering diss supposedly aimed at another female rapper, Bali Baby. “I'm a poppin' ass bitch let me remind ya/Don't hide, I can always come and find ya/Ain't no bitch in me bitch, come proper,” spits Rico over a stuttering, majestic beat. With the right push, the song and the story behind it have the potential to go viral.
Lil Pump must be great at mad libs. The secret to the South Florida rapper’s undeniable formula is simple: Pick a name out of a hat, compare said name to how rich and successful you are, and rap it over a booming beat. Here is the chorus to Lil Pump’s “D Rose,” “100 on my wrist, 80 on my wrist/D Rose, D Rose, D Rose, D Rose.” For comparison here is the hook to the song “Boss,” “Yeah, I came in with the sauce, ooh/Yeah, I came in with a saw, ooh/Bitch, I flex, Rick Ross, yeah/Bitch, I flex, Rick Ross, yeah.” On “Lil Pump” he flips the script, monotonously saying his name over and over again like a mystic chant.
It is hard to tell how serious the pink and blonde-dreaded rapper is on any given song. This is potentially why people love and hate Pump in equal measure. The Florida teen isn’t re-inventing the rap wheel, but to expect him to is missing the point. He’s mastered the art of repetition and name association, and is undeniably charismatic on the mic. For now, that is enough for most.
If there was a rapper I wouldn’t cross based solely off their delivery it would be Asian Doll. “Real Bitch Anthem” is almost four minutes of Doll aggressively throwing barbs, shade, and lyrical projectiles in every direction. Want to feel like a broke boy by association? Let some of Doll’s iciest daggers slit your soul. “You ain't a real nigga stunting in your homies shoes/You got a penthouse, with bout six dudes/All your crack cards scamming to you out the loot,” spits Doll like she wants to ensure you’ll never want to get on her bad side.
Asian Doll’s biggest song to date is “Poppin,” featuring PnB Rock and produced by frequent Lil Uzi Vert collaborator Maaly Raw. The most amazing part of the song is Doll’s one and only verse. Even when her voice is overtly processed her lyrical hostility still bleeds through.
It's hard to tell if Tay-K is a SoundCloud rapper in the traditional sense, or if the viral nature of his existence has been a boon across anything and everything associated with his name. The 17-year-old Texas rapper is infamous for his song “The Race,” and the backstory that propelled it to one of the most intriguing, but ultimately sad songs of the year.
According to the New York Times Tay-K has, “been charged, along with six others, in connection with a home invasion that left a 21-year-old man dead in July 2016, when Tay-K was 16; Tay-K had been released from custody pending the hearing and was wearing an ankle monitor.” Tay-K would end up cutting off his ankle bracelet and going on the run after being faced with the threat of being tried as an adult on capital murder charges. His hit song, “The Race,” dropped the same day he was apprehended in Elizabeth, NJ. His legendary status was solidified.
“The Race” is currently number 12 on the SoundCloud Top 50, number 52 on the Billboard Hot 100, and home to over 30 million views on YouTube. Remixes have flooded SoundCloud.
The whirlwind surrounding Tay-K obscures the fact that he has a knack for the type of aggressive songs that launched Chief Keef into the national consciousness. Songs like “Mega Man” and “Murder She Wrote” have the same intangible quality that makes “The Race,” so enthralling. If Tay-K can avoid jail time, he will have a promising rap career ahead of him.
Ski Mask The Slump God
Ski Mask the Slump God has the number 2 song on the SoundCloud Top 50. That in and of itself isn’t surprising. The majority of the Ski Mask’s songs have millions of plays. However, Ski deciding to rip the Timbaland-produced instrumental for the 1999 Missy Elliot song, “She’s a Bitch,” and turn it into a hit of his own is a stroke of bizarre genius.
To say Ski demolished the beat would be a massive understatement.“Naruto nine-tailed fox coat fur/I feel like a Gucci ad-lib, burr!/Colder than Coca-Cola mascot, polar bear,” is one of the coldest openings to a verse in recent memory. The reception to the track was so positive, Missy herself sent out a tweet. “Oh he rode the heck out of this Fiyah,” wrote Missy with a deluge of fire emojis.
Write off Ski as just another “SoundCloud Rapper” at your own peril. His rapid fire flow on songs like, “Take a Step Back,” is reminiscent of a Busta Rhymes a few dimensions removed from our earthly plane. We can only hope that tracks like the “Get Your Freak On”-sampling, A$AP Ferg assisted-“ILoveYourAuntie” on deck will get Timbaland to bless Ski Mask by producing an entire project.
Spend enough time listening to female rappers on SoundCloud and a common trend emerges. While their male counterparts are obsessed with emulating the freewheeling experimentation of modern Atlanta, women on the streaming platform are generally more concerned with proving their skills lyrically. Molly Brazy is a Detroit rapper with a rapid, violent flow that never strays far from abrasive.
Her song “Outro,” is as combative as it is infectious. There is no singing, no vocal manipulation, or intergalactic beats. Instead, Brazy rides over the Bay Area-influenced instrumental, spitting lines like, “Riding in the foreign say he like the way I snap it/Bitches panic when they see me load the semi automatic.”
It’s hard to pinpoint what type of rapper Smokepurpp wants to be. If there was a game of “build-a-SoundCloud-rapper,” the 19-year-old Florida would already possess the propensity for catchy adlibs of Playboi Cardi and the auto-tune gargling of Lil Yachty. “To the Moon” isn’t his biggest song, but it easily one of his most creatively expansive. Nightmarish and psychedelic, it is what I imagine Kid Cudi’s 2008 song “Man on the Moon” would sound like if it was made in 2017.