Gatekeeping has been a recent topic of discussion in rap. Specifically, who are the gatekeepers and what power do they actually hold? Some say the streaming services have developed a stranglehold on determining what’s going to be the next big thing in hip-hop, but that doesn’t feel wholly correct. Rather, the playlist placements and algorithms on Spotify, Apple Music, and the like feel reactionary to movements that have already begun on the internet. As such, you can make a clear-cut case that the gatekeepers wielding real power (albeit without the billion dollar value, or valuations, behind each streaming platform) are the online personalities breaking new artists.
In the past week, No Jumper’s Adam22—one of those video-first online personalities—took to Instagram to brag about how costing 17 year-old rapper Kevin Kazi a record deal after the teenager directed some mean-spirited Tweets toward his girlfriend. Adam22 later backtracked it, but the exchange says a lot about how much power a platform like No Jumper has in feeding names to the labels and streaming services, as well as making life easier for those corporations. DJ Akademiks is another online personality with an enormous stage and has been credited with assisting with the exponential rise of a number of controversial rappers. Adam22 and DJ Akademiks are just the tip of the iceberg; when you dive further into YouTube and Instagram what you find is a whole world of creatives with growing platforms, each one stiving to impact the music world. The most recent example of this is YouTube user Cufboys, who notably helped establish Lil Skies as a YouTube view powerhouse. As 2018 moves on, these specific gatekeepers’ roles will only increase. Whether that’s going to have a positive or negative impact on rap remains to be seen, but it’s happening nonetheless.