Every other week some radio personality makes a music headline by hating on new artists. Be it old man Ebro on Hot 97 or Charlamagne on Power 105, a recurring theme is their disapproval of how hip hop has changed. Much of this discontent is directed at ‘mumble rappers’ or ‘soundcloud rappers’, a broad generalization categorizing many new artists, however, I believe SoundCloud as a platform and these so-called ‘soundcloud rappers’ are the best thing to happen to hip hop in over the past decade. The platform has given birth to a renaissance of new hip hop that parallels the old in more ways than meets the eye.
Funk Flex goes absolutely bonkers over mumble rappers after the freestyle.
Generally, the most widespread criticism of soundcloud rappers is how different they sound from the older artists some have grown up with. Some choose to highlight differences between artists such as Rich the Kid and Biggie Smalls and claim how could one like the new when the old is so much better. What many people miss is how soundcloud rappers represent what those old rappers used to be. This shown through how gritty and unpolished the music sounds. If you listen to old Wu-Tang, RZA tells about recording in living rooms with out of date equipment. This is what made Hip Hop different than other genres: it was a product of the culture it was made for, as opposed to a product made by a record label for mass consumption. Wu-tang didn’t sit around and wait for someone or label to help them, they made the music they wanted to and let the people decide if they wanted to listen to or not. Soundcloud rappers are doing the same thing today with newer technology. They are producing/mixing/mastering everything themselves, creating music that sounds good to them with the tools they have at their disposal. So, when people complain that XXXtentacion’s break out song “Look at me” is “bad” because the levels of the mix are off or the sound quality is poor, they are doing so without a historical perspective that is helps one to appreciate it. These attributes express the character and personality of XXX without requiring one to listen to an interview. This doesn’t mean that one is forced to enjoy the lyrics or style but there should be an understanding as to how the final product echoes the roots of Hip Hop.
The main reason early hip hop sounded so gritty that it was recorded in home studios instead of professional ones, partly due to major labels believing that hip hop wasn’t profitable at the time. This quickly changed and as hip hop exploded into mainstream America everyone wanted get their hand in the cookie jar. Artists signed to labels for large sums of money which ultimately gave away a lot of the creative control to the labels. In a matter of a few years labels that wouldn’t sign rappers now had control over them. This was when Nas famously proclaimed that Hip Hop is Dead. Hip hop became a formula for labels who forced artists to adhere to a certain standard that would guarantee the label the maximum profit. These labels wielded enormous power over artists and began to attempt to monopolize the music. Without a label pushing an artist it was nearly impossible for an artist to blow up. While labels still clearly have a ton of power over artists today, the birth of platforms like SoundCloud allow artists to build hype before a label is able to strangle them with pressure. If an artist has hundreds of thousands of instagram followers or a millions of views on a streaming platform they have huge bargaining tools that allow them more freedom. They are presented with more avenues to build a brand where there would be typically only one way through a label.
This exemplifies a genre that’s evolving and experimenting. SoundCloud has allowed rappers to push the boundaries of what is even considered rap, granting the ability to an artist to create music they believe in, rather than what the label believes in. It was this same experimenting that made Kanye be able to rap about Jesus or Drake to be able to sing and rap. Without experimentation we are left with artists like Tyga and thousands of terrible mixtapes. For every hit there may be even more misses but music is not an exact science, it’s an art. These imperfections are what makes the genre even more perfect. Soundcloud allows the fans to have a voice and an artist to receive immediate feedback. The freeness of releases allow artists to test the waters without major repercussions. Music shouldn’t be played safe, artists should be challenging themselves to create the best and most innovative music possible.
You can’t force somebody to like something new, but SoundCloud rappers deserve at the very least validation in the eyes of the old heads. Sonically, new music may sound entirely different but the mentality and originality in it is very similar. These platforms give the fans a voice and a direct line to an artist’s success and support. Artists are able to be artists instead of slaves to a label. It challenges artists to be innovative and original which continues to evolve the hip hop fan base into the largest it has ever been. There’s a simple solution if you don’t like what you hear, don’t listen to it. SoundCloud should be embraced and not rejected.