Notable examples: Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Pump, Lil Peep, Lil Xan, Yung Lean, Young Thug
Rising stars: Trippie Redd, Lil Skies, BlocBoy JB, YBN Nahmir
Whether it be rappers like Lil Uzi Vert or Lil Pump, or your friend who’s decided to become a rapper to go ‘clout chasing’ (aka trying to gain popularity), then you might have wondered what the hell SoundCloud rap actually is. These bright-haired, face-tatted, fashion-forward guys are gracing red carpets, magazine covers and tabloids the world over, so it’s about time you learned - lest you be left behind next time you’re at a music festival and everyone’s getting down to Ski Mask The Slump God.
There’s a lot of debate around who started SoundCloud rap. However, it’s commonly agreed that it was first popularised by Yung Lean, a Swedish rapper who made his way into the mainstream through his ‘vaporwave’ music videos and spacey, out-there beats. SoundCloud rap and vaporwave aesthetics go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that this look became a staple of the genre. Yung Lean’s music video for Hurt, off his mixtape Unknown Death 2002, illustrates perfectly what he was known for at the start. Since then, Yung Lean’s changed his sound and shed a lot of the characteristics of what he became popular for, veering more towards traditional rap (especially on last year’s Stranger) but hey, we’ll always have his awkward dance moves.
Hitting the mainstream
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that SoundCloud rap broke through into the mainstream. Artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Young Thug, Lil Pump, Lil Yachty, and basically anyone else with ‘Lil’ in their name, brought the genre to the forefront of popular music. Replacing rapping about other drugs with rapping about Xanax and lean, the world would soon fall in love with the genre. After all, who could escape Lil Pump’s Gucci Gang? However, it’s XO Tour Llif3 that really grabbed mine, and the world’s, attention. Considered to be possibly the best song of the century so far (okay, that might just be me), the song can be considered a bridge between SoundCloud rap and other genres, including emo and rock. If rappers are the new rockstars, SoundCloud rappers are the new punks.
So what’s appealing about it?
Few genres can match the intensity that some rappers bring to SoundCloud rap, despite perceptions that it’s a very laidback genre. A laidback nature is true of some rappers within, of course, but the crossover between SoundCloud rap and genres like emo, punk and rock mean that there’s often a lot of raw energy involved, alongside emotive lyricism. In a Rolling Stone interview, Ski Mask The Slump God said, “The raw energy of that – the distortion – is our speciality and we used that to our advantage.” Those that can harness this raw energy Ski Mask speaks of are often the most enjoyable artists in the genre to listen to. The energy is what makes SoundCloud rap appealing to so many people.
Where to next?
With more and more people making music from their bedrooms, it’s a lot easier for upstarts to become popular off the streaming platform. SoundCloud has changed countless lives, and no doubt will change more. However, the platform itself hasn’t managed to harness the success of SoundCloud rap, with its biggest proponents outgrowing it once they find success.
As music continues to become easier to make, and more people have access to proper recording equipment in the form of a bedroom studio, it’ll be interesting to see how the genre of SoundCloud rap, and rap as a whole evolves. More and more artists are blurring the line between rap and other genres, which can only mean good things for the diversity of sounds. Or, we’re going to end up with more rap metal. We can only wait and see.
And if you wanna keep updated with the latest in new hip hop, follow our Urban Heat playlist, updated weekly.