When talking underground rap one generally thinks of low-fi beats and instrumentals recorded in home
studios accompanied by rappers spitting bars about real life problems, far from the heavily polished tracks and waves of “glamour rap” that are produced by the large established studios of the world.
With the rise of the power of social media the old school underground rap scene has changed, but it hasn’t disappeared, on the contrary it has taken a new shape and form and is now more prominent than ever!
Following the same trend of YouTube vloggers and pranksters that have become the celebrities of today
with their home video quality of content especially to the young public, these artists are blowing up on the music streaming platform Soundcloud. Artists all around the globe have been effectively using the interconnectivity of social media to get their music heard at a time where digital media is taking over in popularity over traditional forms of media and where significantly more people are online than in front of their TV screens.
One rapper who has really used social media to his advantage to find his niche audience is XXXTentacion from Broward County, Florida who you might remember from our most recent podcast with “3 Angry Men” [check link below]
Not only has XXXTentacion garnered a staggering 959,000 on Soundcloud, 1.8 million Instagram followers and almost 500,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter, but his most played track “Look at Me!” has entered the Billboard Top 40 list.
What is most interesting about these numbers is that these tracks are unpolished, raw and intentionally made to sound low-fi to preserve that underground rapper image and tapping into a gigantic fanbase. The cover art for these tracks are also very low-fi and look like they have been taken with a smartphone camera. Youngsters have been flocking to XXXTentacion’s concerts as he has already performed at numerous sold out events across the United States already.
XXXTentacion’ has a very broad range of music, but what is particularly interesting is his rapping style which gives the tracks a “Punk Rap” feel. There is a lot of shout-rapping and you can often hear distortion effects on his voice which gives the music a punk vibe.
Obviously this style of music also gets its fair share of critique but this wave can be likened to Punk Rock in the early 1970s where many described it as “just noise”, but it was the sound of revolution and rebellion, a voice for underrepresented kids. Punk rock made it very far and soon became the mainstream. Punk Rap
What XXXTentacion seems to have is relatability to the kids of today, whenever he is free from his busy schedule he takes the opportunity to talk to his fans through social media. He often goes live on Instagram and Snapchat taking the fans with him in his journey to the top as he keeps reminding them how much he loves them, how important they are to him and how he owes his success to them. That in and of itself is the most genuine of genuine marketing tools of this day and age. Celebrities have become more accessible than ever and have the tools to directly communicate with all their fans and show them a peek behind the scenes.
Another artist with a similar style of low-fi music who gained his fame through Soundcloud is Florida-based rapper Lil Pump who is only 16 (!) years old. Lil Pump and his producer Smokepurpp recorded Pump’s first track on a small home recording setup, and according to Smokepurpp, Lil Pump wasn’t even rapping into a recording microphone but instead was using a headphone microphone. As the song gained popularity they embraced this distorted quality and made it their own. Now all the recordings are created in the same way intentionally!
Check out Lil Pump’s track “Elementary” below:
As a variety of artists and producers are working their way up and tapping into their (sometimes niche) fanbases via Soundcloud and using social media effectively to self-promote, it seems that similarities can be drawn between the likes of XXXTentacion and the underground rappers of the 1980s and 1990s with a twist of the Punk Rock culture of the 1970s, only time will tell.