From SoundCloud to Superstar
By Brandon Llamas
The world of underground hip-hop music is constantly evolving through the music-hosting platform Soundcloud, allowing artists and producers with unique styles and subgenres to rise from independence to the mainstream music industry, and into the music libraries of many Novato High students.
This new wave of aptly-named “Soundcloud rappers” has inspired an entire generation of bedroom and garage vocalists to pursue careers in this industry. However, this has also led to a market grossly oversaturated with artists following very similar formulas for success.
When asked what it took for an artist to stand out to a more casually-involved audience, Novato High junior Matheus Borges said, “They need to be doing something different. I support people who get a lot of hate, as well as a lot of love, like Lil Peep, because it shows that they do something weird, and that’s really what you have to be. It’s also awesome to see people really passionate about their work; it makes me more likely to support them.”
However, Novato High sophomore Avery Camp felt very differently.
“An artist stands out to me most when their lyrics are personalized and I can really know them. They have to have more personality to stand out to me, and to talk about real experiences I can relate to,” said Camp.
Many artists start by releasing their music for free through these sites, often on the smallest imaginable budgets, only to later find success through monetization provided by distribution companies. However, in the musical underground, there is a large stigma against signing to any type of label; the assumption being that higher powers might take too much liberty in controlling the artist or the way they reach their fans.
Another Novato High junior, Dante Cokinos, described whether he prefers larger artists, versus smaller, independent artists.
“I usually prefer more underground artists, because there is a lot of experimentation that goes on when they aren’t restricted to one range, or one type of music, that people come to expect from them,” said Cokinos.
Cokinos found a fitting description in an interview with longtime music industry legend Gucci Mane.
“Bigger artists also can sometimes have bigger heads, and, as Gucci Mane put it, ‘You can’t get lost in the sauce,’” added Cokinos.
Some of the most widely-known artists to emerge from these platforms are Ski Mask The Slump God and Lil Pump, both hailing from South Florida, and both pursuing very mainstream success. Ski Mask, after releasing many cult classic tracks with longtime friend XXXTentacion, is now working with larger and more traditional artists like Timbaland and A$AP Ferg. Pump, who recently released his debut self-titled mixtape, is approaching household-name status at only 17-years old, as well.
One of the reasons it’s so easy to break into this industry is that location doesn’t matter nearly as much today as it did 10 or 15 years ago, when a professional studio was a necessity to any aspiring rapper. Today, a free copy of Garageband, earbuds with a built-in microphone, and an Internet connection is all it takes to create the next biggest single.
In fact, Tank God, the producer for “Rockstar” by Post Malone, which spent four weeks at the number one position on the Billboard Top 100 chart, made the beat on his laptop during finals week at University of Hartford.
The underground rap scene is also the origin for many jokes around the Internet, with artists such as Ugly God and SavageRealm running Instagram meme-posting accounts and using them to help promote their music through comedy by amassing huge followings and slowly making their less-serious content more relevant to the music they make.
Soundcloud rap is generally taken at a face value by many casual fans of the genre, but, beneath its colorful surface, raw talent and ambition run rampant, and the artists emerging have yet to disappoint their audiences.