How The Soundcloud Era Changed Everything
I love rap. It’s hip hops 50th year and as a producer with a hip hop platform I literally owe my livelihood to hip hop, it’s something I love so much and am forever grateful for. I love everything about it, I love making beats, I love writing lyrics, I love listening to other peoples music, talking about it, arguing about it, watching battles, dissecting bars, I’m a writer and I’ve always cared about bars. People like Andre 3000, Lauryn Hill, Kanye West & Tupac are high in my top 5 list because despite not having the longest solo careers or in the case of Ye working with other writers, they were some of the best writers I ever heard.
Part of my love for rap is the era I was lucky enough to grow up in. Kendrick Lamar, J Cole and Drake were the 3 biggest rappers for my generation throughout my teenage years. These 3 earn all of their money from music, they didn’t become president of Def Jam or design the best shoe to earn their millions, they rapped lyrics, intricate, complicated lyrics with substance & depth, of varying magnitudes. From Kendrick’s philosophical and intricate film like jazz heavy concept albums that depict black life in America, Drakes 90s R&B inspired time stamp records, and J Coles smoky blend of beautiful music & poetic imagery, all of these artists cared about their pen game. The big stain on Drakes career is that he used ghostwriters because this was a generation that idolized the greatest practitioners of this craft, the storytellers and wordsmiths of the 90s, and they wanted to take that essence and create their own version for their generation. This group made me go back and listen to Rakim, Nas, Big Pun, Big L, Notorious BIG, Ghostface, Black Thought, Mos Def, Q Tip and all the greatest rap lyricists through history because of the level of reverence they had for it. When J Cole said “I used to print out Nas raps and tape em up on my wall, my niggas thought they was word but it was pictures I saw” that’s exactly how they made me feel about rap, something that I still feel when I hear someone really say something.
Kendrick, Cole & Drake weren’t the only ones, but the fact that the highest selling young rappers of the decade were all elite lyricists signified that despite being the era of trap music and mumble rap, our generation, for the most part, actually cared about words. Kendrick Lamar’s control verse was a challenge to a generation that was focused on outperforming each other, musically, but specifically lyrically.
After 2016 though everything changed. Throughout the 2010s trap music was a dominant sound, and it had shifted into what many called mumble rap. Trap music was never culturally respected as “real hip hop” so trap artists didn’t care to satisfy the backpack crowd. Future, one of the originators of mumble rap, came out of the legendary dungeon family with outkast, gnarls barkley, goodie mobb and other elite lyricists, Future has always been capable of creating elite lyrics but he took a different approach to differentiate himself from everyone he was around but everyone else in rap. Future started mumbling on tracks and focusing more on flows and vibes, ultimately influencing an entire generation through his decade-long run of hits. People like Drake would collaborate with him because of how infectious & dominant his sound was.
In 2016 the xxl list came with a group of coloured dread face tatted rappers that focused more on melody, harmony and flow instead of witty bars. From Donald Trump becoming president and various political and social turmoil, all of the information the world was giving this generation of youth was really serious, so a generation of kids turned to the internet to look for something fresh, new, and most importantly, fun. This generation, known as the SoundCloud era, took inspiration from artists like Lil B, The Migos, Future, Soulja Boy, Drake, Kanye, Chief Keef, Gucci Mane, & Young Thug, but also from Alanis Morisette, Sade, and Jimi Hendrix, the internet and meme culture, they liked anime and hung out with & shouted out our favourite YouTubers & streamers. People like imDontai, Nilesy Niles and the lean squad, RDCWorld and Lenard were instrumental in breaking SoundCloud records and it seemed like everyone was involved in this new wave of internet culture.
Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, in addition to people like Playboy Carti, Juice Wrld, Lil Peep and XXXTentacion who weren’t on that particular list, but all helped mark a shift in the direction of the culture. The SoundCloud era was a fashion movement, a style movement, a shift in the sound of music. Producers like Pierre Bourne, TM88, Mexikodro, Zaytoven, Metro Boomin, they were all instrumental in curating the sound of this generation, and how they would end up flowing on the tracks. People like Ian Connor, despite not rapping, were instrumental in this eras style. After getting famous on Tumblr for how he dressed and meeting people like Virgil Abloh and Kanye West, Ian Connor was instrumental in bringing Carti and Yachty to the forefront, and creating entire aesthetic movements, as well as influencing Kanye Wests life of pablo era yeezy show, a show Lil Yachty modeled at.
They had accessible look’s while looking different, Carti would wear converse, denim jackets and have videos on the bus, they got famous through social media so they seemed approachable, and they focused on having fun, as seen in the iconic 2016 freestyle that everyone’s always talking about and rewatching, they had an accessible sound. Even though all of these artists could really rap when they wanted to, they didn’t need to. In the words of Playboy Carti “bought a crib for my mama off that mumbling shit” These were a group of black kids that were having fun and enjoying life and getting paid a lot for it, they were experimenting with sounds and reference points that weren’t the norm in hip hop, Uzi liked Marilyn Manson, that level of experimentation continues till today.
Lil Yachty just dropped a psych rock album, after making songs on Drakes Her Loss and hits for the City Girls, as well as hits like Poland and Holster, Lil Uzi Vert and Playboy Cartis discography, albums like Die Lit, Whole Lotta Redd, Uzis mixtapes, & Eternal Atake are so ridiculously influential in the underground scene, and mainstream scene today, Virgil Abloh even called Carti this generations Miles Davis, and it’s almost impossible to look away from. All of Cartis biggest songs are leaks because his fans can’t wait to have what he has.
Drake made an album with Yachty, 21 Savage and Playboy Carti, artists like Destroy Lonely, Ken Carson, Yeat, Summrs, genres like plugg and pluggnb and all of their variations, it all goes back to this tiny movement. Today, the young people are harmonizing on pluggnb songs and dancing to drill music and jersey club. Their are artists like Lucki, Babyface Ray, Mavi, Mike, Navy Blue, Redveil, Earl Sweatshirt, and others around the world that are keeping lyrical poetic rap alive in the underground but I haven’t been able to go anywhere without hearing Lil Uzis just wanna rock for over a year and he barely says any words.
I don’t think lyrics or lyricists will ever really go away, Lil Yachty has done freestyles and albums like Michigan Boy Boat to prove that he has bars, Lil Uzi stopped singing for a couple of years and gave us verses like Free Uzi and Who Run It with G Herbo to prove that he can rap, but his biggest song is still XOTourLife a song where he’s singing about his feelings. Everyone’s talking about what happens when Drake retires and who the next biggest rappers are gonna be, and I can’t imagine that the next mainstream big guy can just be a great rapper ever again. Tupac never had to sing, but Lil Baby is the closest thing to a rapper rapper in the mainstream and he’s one of the most melodic artists. I think Kendrick, J Cole and Drake are stylistically the last of an era, even though they were all extremely melodic, guys like Jack Harlow emulated Drake to a degree where his influence is cemented so much it’s literally a nostalgia act.
But even Drake, Cole and Kendrick adapted to various styles and eras, Drake made an album with Future, Cole took Thug on tour and incorporated more flows and melodies, Kendrick’s Damn embraced trap music, they still always made sure to appease their core which is the backpack bars audience. Hip Hop is like the Rona, it’s constantly mutating and evolving with each new addition. Each flow, cadence, style choice, album innovation, it adds to the overall culture and influences the next generation. Lauryn Hill makes miseducation, Andre 3000 makes love below, Kanye makes 808s and Heartbreak, Drake and The Weeknd make Take Care, Lil Uzi makes XO Tour Life, Summrs makes Pluggnb, it’s all adding to each other and taking the art form to its maximum potential. It’s gonna keep changing and evolving as new generations get a hold of it and define what it means to them, how they like doing it, and what they prefer to live their lives to, and I’m excited to see where it goes and where we’re gonna take it.