Summary and History

 

Summary and History

In the midst of global warming, an Alt-Right conservative uprising, a school shooting epidemic, and off the heels of the 2008 market crash came a nihilistic rap subgenre most commonly referred to as “Soundcloud Rap.” Similar to punk idols such as the Sex Pistols who shouted their refrain “No future” in the 80’s, many Soundcloud rappers have taken a cynical approach to life in response to what they see as a failing world. Soundcloud, the namesake for this subgenre, is a free music streaming platform that has created mainstream artists including Post Malone, Lil Pump, and 6ixn9ne (pronounced “six-nine”). Within the last couple of years, a number of artists from South Florida have used the platform to gain a strong underground (and for some mainstream) following. Some of the most influential figures to do so are Lil Pump, XXXtentacion, Ski Mask the Slump God, Denzel Curry, and Raider Klan (most notably their frontman SpaceghostPurrp). Soundcloud rap is high energy and has a often has rough, raw, distorted production. This sound comes as a result on the low investment level required to make music on Soundcloud. In an Interview with Hot 97 Radio in New York, Ski Mask The Slump God describes how he and his friend/fellow rapper XXXtentacion first put music on Soundcloud. According to Ski Mask, they used “the cheapest mic you could get” and they produced the beat with “audacity (a free to download music editing app) and a laptop”. Ski mask goes on to explain “That’s how we got distorted music. We actually started using the distortion to the best of our advantage”. Hence, the sound was originally a result of poor equipment, but the intentional use of distortion has come to define Soundcloud rap.

Ski Mask The Slump God Jumps around on Stage while performing

Soundcloud, and the dispersion of rap music through the internet in general, sets a very low entry level for creating music, and being authentic. Listener’s options are not limited by the gatekeepers of the music industry, namely major labels. For instance, Lil Pump has made a lucrative rap career for himself despite his controversial use of the n-word (Lil Pump is Colombian-American). Similarly, artists like Lil peep and the $uicideboy$ have surpassed perceptions of authenticity despite each artist being white and emotionally vulnerable. As a result, artists, but also listeners, are empowered to listen to the music they want to hear, and make the music they want to make. This is instead of major labels deciding what kinds of music is allowed to see daylight, so artists no longer need a label to be recognized. This lack of gatekeeping and the instant spread of information over Soundcloud and other social media have allowed for Soundcloud rappers to pop up in communities outside of Florida, such as Lil Xan from from Redlands, CA, and 12 year old Philly rapper Matt Ox. While not a global phenomenon like Punk, Soundcloud rap has reached much of the United States.

Misogyny and Drug use

 

Misogyny in the Music

However, what also comes with a lack of gatekeeping is unfiltered misogyny across much of the genre. Songs like “Take a step Back” by XXXtentacion and Ski Mask the Slump God, and “P.S. Fuck You Cunt” by Fat Nick and Lil Peep, unfortunately resemble much of the genre. Both songs hit the listener with a harsh, lo-fi sound, and feature aggressive misogyny. It may come as no surprise that the woman artists are few and far between in the Souncloud scene. Upcomers such as Rico Nasty and Molly Brazy have had their names associated with Soundcloud rap, but are largely not considered part of the subculture. In an interview with LA Weekly, Rico Nasty separates herself from the punk influence of the scene, and seems to suggest that some in the scene are posers:  “I feel like punk is an imposter — I don’t like that word. I got my own style of how I do things. I’m very unique” (Ju). The lack of women in Soundcloud rap is an alarming result of Soundcloud’s social context of the internet. The internet has historically been a hostile place for women, up to the point where scholars  have created the term “e-bile” to describe “the sexualized threats of violence, and the recreational nastiness that have come to constitute a dominant tenor of internet discourse (Jane 532). With men dominating the internet, Soundcloud included, women are noticeably absent from the Soundcloud rap scene.  

Drug Use

Another defining attribute of Soundcloud rap, and perhaps the most concerning to the average passerby, is the drug use. Rap has long been connected to drugs, most prominently Marijuana, but the two drugs primarily discussed in Soundcloud rap are Xanax (a prescription level anxiety medication) and Lean, a concoction of cough syrup containing codeine and promethazine, combined with a soft drink of choice and a Jolly Rancher for flavor,then served in a double styrofoam cup (also known as “purple drank” due to its purple color). Purple drank was first popularized by Lil Wayne and other rappers from Louisiana and East Texas (Hart et al. 173), but has now been adopted by the Soundcloud scene under a the new name “Lean”. What Xanax and Lean have in common are a strong sedative effect, which artists describe in lyrics such as “Hold up, po’ me up, yes /Double the cup just to cut the stress in half” from the $uicideboy$`  song Meet Mr. NICEGUY. Raw lyrics about numbness and drug use are not uncommon in their music. In fact, $crim (one half of the duo that makes up the $uicideboy$) described himself as “a real life Junkie” in their first ever interview (No Jumper Youtube). Meanwhile, Ruby da Cherry (the other half of the duo), explains his lyrics “ Stay the fuck back, ho/Slay the whole pack, ho/ Paint the globe black, ho” from their song “Magazine”, by saying “ Fuck the world. You ever watch or hear the things they say in the news? Just the past few days… man I really hate the situation that we live in” (Genius Youtube). Ruby and $crim use drugs as an escape, but acknowledge their addictions. Recently, rappers like Lil Xan and Lil Pump have made public statements about quitting Xanax, with Lil Pump’s decision coming shortly after the death of a fellow Soundcloud rapper Lil Peep, who overdosed on Xanax. So, while the lyrical content of this music may encourage drug use, at least some of the artists on the scene have acknowledged the harm these drugs do.

Xanax pills are strewn across a table. The pills are bar shaped, which is why Xanax pills are often referred to as “Bars”.

The drug use can also be explained by nihilism in Soundcloud rap. Nihilism in rap is not new. A 2006 study of 403 rap songs identified three “sub themes of nihilism in rap music: (1) bleak surroundings with little hope, (2) pervasive violence in the ghetto, and (3) preoccupation with death and dying” (Kubrin 444). All three of these themes are present in Soundcloud rap, with the first and last being defining aspects of the subculture. In his song “Lean Wit Me” (Lean referring to the drug also known as Purple Drank), Soundcloud rapper Juice WRLD woefully sings “Drugs got me sweatin’, but the room gettin’ colder/Lookin’ at the devil and the angel on my shoulder/Will I die tonight? I don’t know, is it over?/Lookin’ for my next high, I’m lookin’ for closure” then goes on to ask “If I overdose, bae, are you gon’ drop with me?/I don’t even wanna think about that right now (Genius). Juice WRLD seems to understand the harm his drug habits are doing, but is ambivalent about the potentially fatal consequences. With the question “Will I die tonight?” Juice WRLD seems to leave the answer up to the drugs to determine, not himself.  Juice WRLD isn’t alone, given that Lil Peep provided a similar reason for his drug use in his song “Beamer Boy”, before passing. The lyric goes “ I got some dough now/But they don’t wanna hear that, they want that real shit/They want that drug talk/ that ‘I can’t feel’ shit (Genius). Here, the “they” that Lil Peep is calling out could refer to a few entities, primarily his audience and his label. What’s clear though, is that Lil peep felt pressure to keep up his drug habits that eventually lead to his death. One critique, given by Stephen Bijan of The Nation, claims that Lil peep’s “ intoxicated state had become part of his art” (Bijan 44), a sentiment at least one of Lil Peep’s peers agrees with, and criticizes. Florida Soundcloud rapper Denzel Curry’s “Clout Cobain” music video (the lead single for his latest project “TA13OO”), serves as a direct response to Lil peep’s death. In the music video, Curry acts acts as performer in a circus, with a mostly white crowd of 

Lil Peep Poses, Showing off his pink hair and tattoos that cover his arms and hands, and extend up to his neck and face.

whom he claims “they don’t even know what’s real.” In doing so, Curry points to illusions of grandeur in rap songs, and the romanticism of drug use in Soundcloud rap. A ringmaster, likely symbolic of label managers and similar gatekeepers in the music industry, is then depicted pulling money out of Curry’s back pocket while Xanax pills and cups of lean are fed to onlookers, alluding to the exploitation of Lil Peep’s (and similar artists’) drug habits by audiences and labels demanding more drug heavy content. What’s important to understand about Curry’s critique of his peers is just how central emotional vulnerability is to creators selling their product. A number of Soundcloud rappers have made a name for themselves on Soundcloud by discussing mental illness; such as Lil peep, Trippie Redd, the $uicideboy$, XXXtentacion, and even some mainstream names like Lil Uzi Vert and Post Malone. By understanding the importance of vulnerability in much of Soundcloud rap, the exploitation Curry points out becomes more clear.It is not in the interest of labels and audiences to advise these rappers to seek help for their drug use and health issues, because the desired musical product relies on artists doing drugs to numb the pain. In fact, it is within the interests of those parties to perpetuate and encourage the behavior that comes up in the music. Thus, artists like Lil Peep are encouraged to keep up self destructive behaviors for the profit and pleasure of others.


Resistance and Effervescence

 

Resistance and Effervescence

Curry’s critique speaks to the anti-authority nature of Soundcloud rap, specifically to authority within the rap industry. While Soundcloud rappers do give their own nihilistic twist to the common refrain “Fuck the Police” with lines from the $uicideboy$  like “When it is time that I die make sure I’m buried in FTP (Fuck the Police) Corduroy” (Genius), many also make it a point of emphasis to resist the mainstream rap industry. Instead of relying on labels to garner attention, Soundcloud rappers have formed rap groups and independent labels such as GothBoiClique, Raider Klan, and G*59 records. In the case of G*59 records, to whom the $uicideboy$ are signed, there is an intense focus on locality. In an interview with Genius, $crim explains how they came up with the name “we have a highway (in New Orleans where the $uicideboy$ are from) …called highway 59. Everybody on the East and South side was always cliqued up …having problems with people from the North and West side”. $crim then goes on to explain that the “G” stands for “Grey”, saying “we wanted grey to be the color, so it’s neutral” (Genius Youtube). Not only is the name of their record label inspired by New Orleans, but references to their home town are littered throughout their music: ranging from song titles named after streets in New Orleans such as “Carrollton”, and “Magazine”, to in-your-face album titles like I want to die in New Orleans. This focus on locality is a form of resistance because it empowers artists to craft their message to a specific audience, instead of creating a broad and universally appealing message for a national audience,which a big label is more likely to ask of artists.

What Soundcloud Rap does for people is create a “collective effervescence” for people who find meaning in the messages of hopelessness and nihilism in  the music, with the social context of a modern world were tragedies seem endless. Emile Durkheim, a pioneering scholar in Sociology, makes the claim “There are periods in history when, under the influence of some great collective shock, social interactions have become much more frequent and active. Men look for each other and assemble together more than ever. That general effervescence results which is characteristic of revolutionary or creative epochs.” (Durkheim 211). With Durkheim’s theory as context, Soundcloud rap- the rowdy live shows, the anti-authority messages, the drug use- becomes a space where nihilistic young people can bond and rage over the social shocks of today’s world.

Interviews and Media

 

Soundcloud Rap NYT

This New York Times article gives some historical and geographical context for the Soundcloud rap scene, and gives insight to the motivations of rappers like Lil Pump and SmokePurpp, two Soundcloud Rappers that have gone Mainstream.

The who’s who of Soundcloud rap

This article lists a number of artists on the Soundcloud Scene, and gives brief origin stories for each. There are some names on this list that arew not usually associated with Soundcloud rap, but this goes to show how new and roughly defined the subculture is.

Denzel Curry Interview with Mass Appeal

In this interview Curry touches on a wide range of themes within the Soundcloud rap scene, first by giving some context for his Clout Cobain music video, then moving on to discuss morbidity and empowerment in the music.

Ski Mask The Slump God Hot 97 Interview

Ski Mask the slump God, a critical figure in the Soundcloud scene, describes how he and his friend/colleague XXXtentacion (X for short)  met in a Juvenile detention center, and created music as an outlet/way to stay off the streets. Ski Mask also mentions how he and X started creating music with a cheap microphone and a free-to-download music editing app called Audacity ( which was also used by a number of other soundcloud rappers), which demonstrates the DIY aspect of this music.

$uicideboy$ No Jumper Interview

The $uicideboy$ discuss a variety of topics including drug use and their musical influences. 

$uicideboy$ “Paris” Interview with Genius

The boys give some insights on the imagery they use, and explain the some of the Nihilism in their work.

Rico Nasty LA Weekly Interview

Rico Nasty separates herself from the Soundcloud scene

Music and Live Shows/Clips

Clout Cobain Music Video

 

This video points out, and calls out, a couple central themes in the Soundcloud rap scene. Namely drug use among artists and fans, the mostly white audience, and the exploitation of artists by labels and fans.

Take a Step Back Audio

This is an example of the type of music Ski Mask and X have made together. The song is not easily consumable by the average listener due to the intentional lo-fi, fuzzy production, as well as the aggressive screaming in the song that is usually not found in rap, and was inspired by Punk

“Beamer Boy” Lyrics

In this song, Lil Peep expresses his frustrations with success. He describes how he is encouraged to keep up his drug habits to please his audience and label.

“Lean Wit me” Lyrics

In this song Juice WRLD discusses drugs use and refers to death with ambivalence. Both are themes across the genre.

Meet Mr. NICEGUY Lyrics

In this song, the $uicideboy$ discuss their drugs use and motivations for it. Their motivations may be representative of other rappers.

122 days lyrics

In this song, the $uicideboy$ get creative with the “Fuck The Police” refrain often heard in rap. Fun fact: the duo has created a line of clothing apparel that boasts the acronym “FTP”, for “Fuck the Police, across the front of each piece of clothing.

$uicideboy$ Perform “Magazine” live at Woo Hah

 

Notice how the audience is very white. This is likely due to the lyrical content on the music, as well as the aggressive atmosphere of the concert, being an outlet for anger caused by aggrieved entitlement. Also, the video demonstrates $crim (Half of the $uicideboy$ rapper duo), instructing the audience to open up a mosh pit.

XXXTentacion Live Show Compilation

Another example of a soundcloud rapper giving instructions to the audience. These instructions seem to be a way to empower the artist, as well as a method of creating a “Collective effervescence” with a high energy mosh pit.

Denzel Curry Live At Woo Hah

This video is another example of an artist instructing the audience, as well as an example of Denzel Curry getting performing as close as he could physically get to the audience, a practice done by a number of Soundcloud rappers when they perform at larger venues.

 

Scholarship


Bijan, Stephen. 2018. “ Optimist Love Songs” The Nation 306

This article gives social context for Lil Peep’s music and his death.

Durkheim, Emile.“CHAPTER VII ORIGINS OF THESE BELIEFS” The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Edited by Joseph Ward Swain, 2012. Project Gutenburg.

This is one of Durkheim’s foundational pieces, where he describes a concept called “collective effervescence”, that he uses to explain a why people practice religion. Music, like Religion, can also create a collective effervescence, or a sense that there is a group of people all experiencing something undefinably euphoric with a common purpose.

Hart, Melanie et al. 2014 “ ‘Me and My Drank:’ Exploring the Relationship Between Musical

Preferences and Purple Drank Experimentation. American Journal of Criminal Justice  39: 172-186

This article gives historical and geographical context for the rise of Lean (Purple Drank) in rap music.

Jane, Emma. “You’re an Ugly Whorish Slut” Feminist Media Studies, 2014 Vol. 14, No. 4, 531–546

This article describes how the internet is a space dominated by men. By extension, Soundcloud (as a in internet streaming platform), has also become dominated by men. This is reflected in the music, which has a tendency to be quite misogynistic.

Kubrin, Charis 2006  “‘I see Death around the Corner’ Nihilism in Rap Music”. Sociological

Perspectives 48: 433-459

This article demonstrates themes of Nihilism in rap, and gives social context for that nihilism.