Odds are you have at least one friend (or more) who has tried to put you onto their Soundcloud or Bandcamp page. “Give me a chance,” they probably said, hoping their musical talents would reach the ears of a generous few on the internet which would give way to a small following that would eventually grow into a substantial many. With the ubiquity of social media, sharing one’s artistic endeavors is easier than in times past ― skip the shows, skip the pitches, just put in the work and upload it to have your work be accessible to anyone with internet access. More often than not, internet musicians never break from underground prominence, if not absolute obscurity within the grander scope of the music industry. While recent years have seen Bandcamp artists such as Frankie Cosmos and Amanda Palmer garner significant followings and underground fame (for lack of a better word), Soundcloud artists such as Chance the Rapper, Lil Uzi Vert and Kehlani, just to name a few, have seen the fruits of their internet labor on the macro level. But one has to wonder why the platform is host to as many successful artists as it is.
Internet musicians are nothing new, as artists have been discovered on the internet since the ability to upload was available. However, the phenomena of Soundcloud rappers is uniquely interesting in a number of ways. Started in 2007 by Swedish sound engineer Alexander Ljung as a means of sharing music with fellow musicians, the platform is host to millions of unique users that emblematize the state of music in the modern age. Creating music on the internet is more streamlined than ever due to free services like FL Studio (formerly known as FruityLoops) and GarageBand that give way for burgeoning artists who want to give beat-making a shot. Layer some vocal recordings over yourself spitting some bars, top it off with a catchy hook and a song is born. Maybe not a good song — a good majority of material put out by Soundcloud artists tend to inhabit the poor to mediocre quality zones — but a song nonetheless. The ease with which one can put out free music makes it so that anyone with enough commitment and creativity can label themselves as artists, no formal music background required and build themselves up to gain a reputable following.
When examining trends in hip-hop, it’s important to revisit the genre of music’s history and its impact on the world at large. Hip-hop culture has been influencing pop culture, really, since its emergence into the mainstream. “Rapper’s Delight,” while not being welcomed by the pioneers of the genre and community that birthed it, gave Americans a taste of this genre of music which would further give way to tracks like Blondie’s “Rapture,” and, more importantly, commercial giants like Public Enemy and N.W.A. Naturally, the old guards of the genre held the newcomers in low regard, citing their controversial lyrics and personae as harmful to the image of rappers as a whole. In 2017, this trend continues as young artists like Lil Yachty and Lil Peep (among countless other newcomers) continue to receive an unwarranted load of hate for their persistent divergence from genre norms — Yachty disregarding hip-hop legend Notorious B.I.G. in an interview and Peep hybridizing rap bars with hints of emo lyrical influence for a predominantly white teenage fanbase. Young rappers take the most flack for verging away from old school hip-hop production techniques and lyrical themes in a manner that echoes previous generations’ artists like Lil Wayne, a now hall-of-famer who during his come up into the rap game was vehemently disregarded for his obscure, heavily digitized rapping style. So even before Yachty, before Uzi, even before Chance made a name for himself as the LSD-tripping, Chicago south-sider with an off kilter flow and adoration for the ad lib (Ah!), previous generations of hip-hoppers made it difficult for then-newcomers to be accepted into the canon of hip-hop.
What strikes me as the most fascinating about Soundcloud rappers is the cult followings that seem to follow each and every one of the big names. Jahseh Ofroy, the 19-year-old Florida rapper commonly known as XXXTENTACION (who is still currently battling severe accusations concerning abusing his former partner) has established himself as one of the greater cult followings among Soundcloud rappers, attracting a whopping 670,000 followers on said platform and 850,000 Instagram followers (the latter all being gained within a week). Himself being an evident emulator, or at least a fan, of artists like Uzi, Ofroy’s fanbase speaks to the power of the platform as a symbol of youth culture jaded with celebrity culture and instead seeking each other for inspiration and collaboration.