If a rapper without “lil” in their name drops a mixtape on SoundCloud and no one presses play, does it make a sound? That’s what it feels like keeping up with the massive onslaught of buzzing rappers, new mixtapes, and subgenres on top of microgenres in 2017.
Even with the continued relevance of the streaming service in hip-hop, SoundCloud has weathered a tough year. In early July, the streaming platform laid off 173 employees amid rumors the company only had enough capital to make it to the end of 2017. Chance the Rapper claimed he was going to save the day. Independent musicians panicked about what this meant for the future of distributing their music. Ultimately, SoundCloud announced it is here to stay, whatever that means.
On the intro to Lil Uzi Vert’s new album, Luv Is Rage 2, the Philadelphia rapper sent subliminals to a plethora of unnamed targets. The fact the diss could be referencing almost any SoundCloud rapper speaks to the nature of the platform and how fast influence disseminates. “Yes, I'm the one that really started all this/And you know I changed a lot of you niggas/In a matter of months, I raised a lot of you niggas,” raps Uzi on “Two®.”
Uzi isn’t wrong. SoundCloud is home to an entire nation of rappers with colored dreads, melodies inspired by 2000s emo and pop punk, and the latest mutations on Atlanta’s trap. A lot of the music is groundbreaking, much of it is not. What it means to be a SoundCloud rapper in 2017, is shifting and the ecosystem is rapidly changing. The term “SoundCloud Rap” has become a dismissive descriptor in the same way “Mumble Rap” has.
Despite this, the SoundCloud ecosystem is shifting. The platform is still massively influential, but Spotify with Rap Caviar and Apple with The A-List: Hip-Hop are leading the curated playlist era. Rappers that built their fan bases on SoundCloud, have largely started to phase out of the system that birthed them. Lil Uzi Vert is well on his way to having the number one album in the country. Problematic rappers like XXXTentacion are transitioning from millions of plays on SoundCloud to selling a rumored 65-70k in their first week. Princess Nokia is getting features in Vogue, performing to adoring fans at Afropunk, and re-releasing 2016’s 1992, after scrubbing it from SoundCloud. If anything SoundCloud’s biggest problem is keeping the stars they help birth from becoming more fuel to the engines of their competitors.
Below are some of the fastest rising artists currently dominating SoundCloud, many of whom are already on the cusp of jumping over the orange and white cloud.