It’s 2012. A rap group named Raider Klan has started to make some serious noise in the underground hip-hop scene, amassing thousands upon thousands of streams on an online streaming platform called SoundCloud. Oddball names like SpaceGhostPurpp, Denzel Curry, Chris Travis, and Xavier Wulf are becoming overnight superstars online. This is unprecedented for its time.
Fast-forward to 2017. A random kid in jail from Broward County, Florida is going viral on the same platform for his abrasive rap single “LOOK AT ME!” The song garners millions of streams and catches the attention of mainstream hip-hop audiences -- even seeing itself getting linked in a controversy with Drake. In the same year, other notable acts on the platform are also blowing up, namely, a 15-year old kid also from Florida who managed to go four times platinum with his infectious breakthrough single “Gucci Gang.”
By this time, SoundCloud had become an essential gateway for upcoming artists to gain exposure. The world has started to see more and more young artists pop up out of nowhere and be catapulted into relevancy -- with this platform at the forefront.
But how and why did this musical explosion take place?
Simply put, SoundCloud is more than a streaming platform; it is a beehive of diverse artists, producers, and music creators alike, working together to create some of the most unique-sounding tunes in the entire industry.
Unlike many other streaming platforms, SoundCloud allows users to share each other’s music and communicate directly with other users. This feature has made the app function more like a social media platform than a streaming one. SoundCloud also houses some of the most rabid fan bases in music, ready to consume it and share it all.
More impactful than the platform itself though, was the music that it held. A new form of hip-hop was created on SoundCloud; one that was raw and brutally intimate with the listener. This new style of rap didn’t care for precise mixing and mastering or intricate wordplay and lyricism. As a matter of fact, this fresh take on the genre, later to be dubbed, “SoundCloud Rap,” didn’t really care about anything at all. And that’s what was so captivating about it.
Let’s be honest. A lot of the “SoundCloud Rap'' produced in 2016-2018 was ignorant. Acts like Smokepurpp and Lil Pump were making millions literally rapping about selling your grandmother narcotics. Some acts, such as Ugly God, took it even further -- building entire careers off saying the most absurd, meme-worthy shit possible. Now, was “SoundCloud Rap” the most polished, refined product in the world? No. But it sure as hell was entertaining. And it helped lay the groundwork for what mainstream hip-hop is today.
The platform was the birthplace of some of the biggest rap stars in recent history like XXXTENTACION, Juice Wrld, Lil Peep, and countless others. However, as more artists have begun to emerge from different circles of the Internet, and as this druggy, trappy, lo-fi style of the genre fades, many have begun to declare “the SoundCloud era” as a distant memory.
Not only has the platform been overrun by bot services, spammy users, and the highly-criticized RepostNetwork, music influencers mass-selling SoundcCoud reposts has flooded many users’ feeds with poorly-made and widely unwanted music.
In addition, many independent music distributors like Distrokid and Tunecore don’t allow users to monetize their SoundCloud, leaving them completely uncompensated for their streams. As music creators begin to shy away from the platform, it seems that the iconic sound of the once-celebrated era has also come to a halt.
It’s been a while since an obscure name in the hip-hop industry has risen to mainstream success through SoundCloud. Just a few years ago, it seemed like every other week we were hearing of a new rapper buzzing online.
The brand has made some efforts to rejuvenate its audience, recently starting live streams allowing users to get their music played. Whether these changes will be enough remains to be seen.
Now, will hip-hop ever go back to the glory days of “the SoundCloud era”? Probably not. But the message that that era communicated remains strong: anybody can make it. Anybody. Whether you’re 15 or 25. Whether you have your entire hood behind you or nobody. The modern age of the Internet has allowed for this success to be possible, regardless of what platform it happens on.
It’s a beautiful thing. As fans, we can’t wait to see who or what becomes the next weird, awesome, viral sensation. In the modern world of music, SoundCloud is the catalyst for this phenomenon.
Who knows what’ll have us glued to our phones next week? Hopefully, it’s something epic.