Juice WRLD and Lil Peep on top of a red background. These two artists both got their start on SoundCloud. Illustration by Alyson Sutherland

SoundCloud was an extremely influential force in modern rap, creating a new landscape for many artists to thrive in. Artists such as Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, XXXTENTACION, Juice WRLD, and Lil Peep got their start using SoundCloud. SoundCloud influenced how rap is made today, how artists are discovered, and the pop culture landscape in general. But in recent years its popularity has gone downhill, almost to where it was in 2011, which is a big difference compared to its massive peak in 2016-2017. So what happened? Why has the genre that changed modern rap music forever faded out of relevancy and essentially died? Well, we have to start with history first.

Raider Klan was a hip-hop collective formed in 2008 in Carol City, Florida. Led by rapper SpaceGhostPurrp, this collective featured names such as A$AP Rocky, Denzel Curry and many more. This collective had a significant cultural influence on rap and set a standard for upcoming sounds. They had a big influence over other collectives as well, such as A$AP Mob, who adapted Raider Klan’s darker tone and style. And though Raider Klan had the potential to become a large rap collective they had a falling out and ultimately fell apart because of the rapper SpaceGhostPurrp.

Lil B is one of the most underappreciated rappers for the amount of influence he had over SoundCloud rap. Lil B was essentially the original formula for SoundCloud rap as no one else was doing it at his time. He started a pattern of rapping about drugs and clothing and guns, which became the default in SoundCloud rap later on. He often described what he was doing as not being lyrical, not being serious, and said he wanted to have fun making music. Although a lot of people thought he was a joke, he took himself seriously and he started to develop a cult-like fan base. As his music evolved he started to go more and more in-depth and he started to implement more dreamy and celestial beats which influenced SoundCloud rap later on. 

True SoundCloud rap soon came around with artists like Denzel Curry, who throughout his career embraced all forms of rap coming out of the scene at the time, including music by XXXTENTACION and Ski Mask The Slump God’s members-only collective. Other notable artists to come out of this era of SoundCloud are Chris Travis, Xavier Wulf, Goth Money, Lil Peep, Yung Lean, GothBoiClique, and $uicideboy$. These were the original tried and true SoundCloud rappers that were developing a cult-like following and fanbase. Although a lot of these artists are huge now, at the time they were only promoting their songs on platforms like Youtube and SoundCloud and weren’t very big. These artists were creating a scene that was new and unique, pushing anti-pop-culture values and sentiments, true SoundCloud rap.

2016 and 2017 were when SoundCloud rap really started getting popular, with artists like Playboi Carti, XXXTENTACION, Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty and many others.  These artists are often painted as the face of SoundCloud rap because they have released the most popular songs including Post Malone’s “White Iverson,” Playboi Carti’s Self titled album, “Luv Is Rage” and “Luv Is Rage 2” By Lil Uzi Vert, and “Ultimate” by Denzel Curry. Another huge underground podcast, “No Jumper,” came out of this era. Adam22 from “No Jumper” helped grow the underground rap scene by interviewing anyone he could. This 2016 era of SoundCloud would still hold true to the original SoundCloud rap by building a unique style that was immersive in the underground rap scene and created a cult-like following.

So what killed this immersive underground scene after its non stop growth and influence?  One contributing factor was a new label, “Mumble rap,” that was assigned to the genre. Mumble Rap  was a term originally used harmlessly by Wiz Khalifa as a description of the genre but oldheads, a term used for someone who listens to older rap, started to take this term and use it negatively to paint the genre in a bad light, with older rappers dissing this new sound wave. Many of the up-and-coming artists had either peaked or were already mainstream and signed to labels and often not considered “SoundCloud rappers” anymore due to their status or relevancy. Another factor to SoundCloud rap’s downfall came through something called clout rap. According to RXDER, a rapper and producer, clout rappers are “Rappers who don’t really care about rap and are just rapping to get clout and become famous.” Often these people would copy Lil Pump or Smokepurpp’s formula, any of them careless rappers. This label of Mumble rap increasingly put  more of a negative connotation onto the genre.

This wasn’t the end of SoundCloud rap, as other artists were still on SoundCloud releasing good music despite being at the tail end of this already dying underground trend. Notable people from this time would be artists like Juice WRLD, $NOT, and YNW Melly. This is also at the time where Lyrical Lemonade aka Cole Bennet was rising and creating music videos for rising rap stars, most notably Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams.” This created more of a platform for these rappers and artists on Youtube, and allowed for them to dominate the music scene there. 

Towards the end of SoundCloud rap’s trend and life, important artists were lost like XXXTENTACION and Lil Peep, which hurt the subgenre as a whole.

So what killed SoundCloud rap? Negative image, trend hoppers, and its relevance dying. I don’t think it as a genre could come back due to its influence already having its effect on rap and the fact that TikTok has replaced it with artists like Yeat coming off it. SoundCloud rap will be remembered as one of, if not the best era of rap in general by many people. 

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