The Who's Who Of SoundCloud Rap

We break down who you need to know that's making a name for themselves on the troubled streaming site.

“SoundCloud rap” is dead, or at least its most popular era no longer exists. In 2018, the term “SoundCloud rap” denotes a subgenre and aesthetic more than it does a continued movement. Like porn, you know it when you see it.

The deaths of XXXTentacion and Lil Peep—two of the most prominent and influential artists in the scene—were massive blows to a generation of artists rewriting the traditional career arc of a rapper. The streaming service is still home to an entire nation of rappers inspired by the aforementioned artists. They rock colored dreads and face tattoos, sing melodies inspired by 2000s emo and pop punk, and help create further mutations of Atlanta’s trap. A lot of the music is groundbreaking; much of it is not.

Still, the artistic ecosystem of SoundCloud has rapidly shifted. Spotify’s Rap Caviar and Apple’s The A-List: Hip-Hop arguably stole much of the cultural cache once reserved for the orange and white cloud. Rappers who built their fan bases with the Berlin company have started to phase out of the system that birthed them. Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Pump, and Juice WRLD are now legitimate, mainstream stars, driving conversation and consumption.

They’ve also inspired hip-hop’s current gold rush in the music industry.

“A lot of people thought rap was a passing fad. But it wasn’t, and now people realize they have to invest more into urban music to stay competitive,” Joie Manda, the EVP of Interscope Records, told Rolling Stone. “Major labels who don’t have executives in the company who grew up understanding the culture–I think they do just throw themselves at whatever shiny object or whatever they think is the entry point.”

SoundCloud rappers are those “shiny objects.”

Below are some of the artists that have made their name on SoundCloud, and are now going beyond it.

Jay Critch

View this video on YouTube

New York rappers are constantly battling two opposing forces. As hip-hop’s Mecca, the city holds their homegrown rappers to the traditionalist ideals of the genre’s golden age. Ironically, the most commercially successful New York rappers of the last few years—Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, A Boogie Wit Hoodie, 6ix9ine—have either left the Big Apple to get hot, or adopted the sonics of Atlanta’s trap music to cut through the static. 

Thankfully, Jay Critch sounds just as good rapping over a Harry Fraud beat as he does through AutoTune next to Rich The Kid. “Thousand Ways” and “Fashion” couldn’t be more different; one has the traditional swag and rhyme pattern of the city, while the other is soaked in so much vocal processing it’s surprising one can make the words out. But Critch, who has the charisma and internet savvy to take over the entire east coast and beyond, makes both sounds work. Let’s just hope New York bolsters him, instead of trapping him like it’s trapped so many others.

Kodie Shane

View this video on YouTube

On early songs like 2016’s “Sad,” Kodie Shane proved that she had an ear for light and wistful melodies that has continued to develop. “Love & Drugz II” pushes her bubblegum tendencies to haunting extremes, while the hyperactive drive of “Sing to Her” and the sweet aggressiveness of “Flex On Me” demonstrate Shane’s ability to craft efficient records that revel in their simplicity. The Atlanta artist is in the process become one of the best—if most overlooked—voices on the border of pop and rap.

Lil Mosey

View this video on YouTube

Some artists have voices born to be contorted by vocal effects. Lil Mosey is one of them. A song like “Pull Up” is as repetitive as it is mesmerizing. Mosey doesn’t say anything of note over the course of three minutes, but that’s not what the Seattle artist does well.

The real joy of a song like “Noticed” is how his voice melds into the beat. The track is about your average rapper stuff—drinking lean, not being broke, and how it feels to have haters—but it’s the overall mood that’s worth succumbing yourself to. In an August interview with Complex, the recent Interscope signee described his rapping style.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a mumble rapper, because I don’t know what that is,” Mosey explained. “But when I talk, I mumble. So it’s in my music because that’s how I talk. I’m not going for that sound. I tried to make myself be able to talk better than that and I couldn’t. That’s how I make music. It’s fire like that, though, so I don’t gotta change nothing.

Lil Pump

View this video on YouTube

Lil Pump is the living embodiment of SoundCloud Rap, while simultaneously eclipsing the entire subgenre. His multi-colored braids, face tats, trollish behavior, and repetitive rapping style, is the cliché image of modern hip-hop seared into the collective conscious.

The Florida rapper’s mere existence emboldened the hip-hop purists to characterize him as the genre’s anti-Christ. J. Cole put Pump on the Rolling Loud screen after years of the Florida rapper taunting him, and then offered the young act a therapy session. Eminem threw a half-assed, microwavable diss on Kamikaze. Nevertheless, Pump prevailed, even gifting Kanye West with a top 10 Billboard hit after months of his base dissipating.

Commercially, Pump is one of the most successful young rappers in the industry. His self-titled debut album is certified gold, he’s notched five songs on the Billboard Hot 100 in the last year, and “Gucci Gang” is certified triple platinum, according to the RIAA.

It isn’t clear why Pump was the SoundCloud cream that rose to the top. He isn’t the subgenre’s best technician, most inventive singer, or even its daring artist. Regardless, the world (and Warner Bros.) anointed him, and since his presence has been constant since.

Lil Skies

View this video on YouTube

Lil Skies possesses many of the same qualities that first made Wiz Khalifa undeniable—a penchant for over pronouncing his words, an endearing if imperfect singing voice, and a contagious exuberance. It makes sense that they’re both from Pennsylvania.

His story is also relatable in a landscape where many rappers struggle to piece together anything that resembles an intriguing hero’s journey.

“Yeah, I was still selling drugs,” Skies told Billboard in February. “For a while. I was being more low-key about this shit, but I had to take care of my shit. I had bills and shit. I knew what it was. I have face tats, so I know I’m not gonna be able to get a job. I swear if I was working a job at that time, I would not be here in this seat today.”

“Welcome To The Rodeo” is one of the best and most inspirational rap intros of 2017. (Sidenote: What is it with Pennsylvania rappers and good album intros?) His recent collaboration with Wiz Khalifa on “Fr Fr” was the highlight of Rolling Papers 2. Skies is one crossover record away from following in Wiz, Uzi, and Meek’s footsteps, and he deserves it.

Lil Tjay

View this video on YouTube

Hyperactive, melodic, and undeniable, Lil Tjay knows how to craft a song. The Bronx artist doesn’t rap so much as make grand and soaring melodic statements. The results are viral, to the tune of four to five million SoundCloud plays on every track. “Brothers” is one of Tjay’s most heartfelt and tragic songs. In it, he spins a tale of paranoia, felony charges, and death.

“I be talking about stuff that I really went through,” Tjay told Genius. “I’m from the South Bronx. Me and my guys, we’ve been through a lot. We took the wrong way in life and stuff like that. I’m just trying to show people that there’s other ways to do things. People see me and they see a young kid come out of the Bronx. Maybe there’s other ways to do things. People don’t got to gang bang. That don’t make no money. I tell them what it is.”

Hopefully, Tjay keeps talking. It’s only a matter of time before the entire world is listening.

Lil Xan

View this video on YouTube

Lil Xan is a great celebrity. Hot Cheetos reportedly ripped a hole in the lining of his skin. His relationship with Noah Cyrus allegedly ended over a photoshopped image of Charlie Puth’s head on a porn star’s body. In an emotional video, he discusses his fight with mental illness while keying his car. He called Tupac’s music “boring” and almost gave every rap artist over the age of 30 an aneurysm.

As a rapper, he’s...fine. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlpool of Xan’s dramatic gossip cycle and forget that he was pitched as a musician. “Betrayed” is the California’s native’s most successful song, about the harmful effects of Xanax. It’s ot groundbreaking, but it doesn’t need to be. For a lot of Xan’s fans, his journey of fighting to overcoming drug addiction and mental illness is what draws them in. It’s hard to be mad about that.

Molly Brazy

View this video on YouTube

When it comes to SoundCloud rap, Molly Brazy is by far better than most of her competition. Her voice carries a sense of urgency, and her crisp words hit any beat with brute force.

If her rapid and abrasive flow didn’t already give it away, Molly hails from Detroit. The viral “Trust None” should be her career’s guiding star. The song is catchy without losing any edge and the juxtaposition of the nursery rhyme-like hook—“Never trust a bitch/ Never trust a bitch / Never trust a bitch gossiping and talking shit”—with the acidic content of Molly’s bars is genius.

Rico Nasty

View this video on YouTube

The Neptunes’ production on N.O.R.E.’s “Superthug” has a hypnotic bounce and violent electricity that still hasn’t been duplicated, which is why the thought of Rico Nasty sampling the song on 2018’s “Countin Up” seems sacrilegious—that is, until the DMV rapper spews the opening line, “I'm the bitch with the long hair and her top off.” It’s peak Rico, and a perfect encapsulation of what makes the young musician brilliant. 

Rico Nasty is a master of duality, existing in a constant state of joyful idiosyncrasy and hard-edged ferocity. Her latest era has mostly abandoned the overwhelming sweetness of 2017’s Tales of Tacobella, in favor of the more aggressive Nasty. The only thing left is for the masses to realize Rico’s bizarre world is for all.

Ski Mask The Slump God

View this video on YouTube

Ski Mask the Slump God demonstrated a reservoir of talent on 2017’s “Catch Me Outside.” Freewheeling, fast-paced, and riotous, Ski ripped Timbaland’s instrumental for the 1999 Missy Elliott song, “She’s a Bitch.” Collaborations with Timbo and praise from Missy followed. The Florida rapper held his own against Offset during his scorching post-“Bad and Boujee” run. From there, it seemed like Slump God’s reign was preordained—until it wasn’t.

Beware The Book of Eli was intended to be Ski’s breakout moment. Instead, the Broward County rapper leaked the tape out of frustration with his management. The tape’s unorthodox release, combined with health issues and the loss of XXXTentacion, made 2018 a trying one for Ski. Nevertheless, songs like “Coolest Monkey In The Jungle” and “SkiMeetsWorld” prove the young rapper still has untapped potential.


View this video on YouTube

One of the essential quirks of SoundCloud rap is trolling. However, in 2018, the trolled finally fought back, often at the expense of Smokepurpp’s ego and physical well-being.

J. Cole’s “1985 (Intro to “The Fall Off”)” was a protracted, scathing, and fair dressing down of Purpp and Lil Pump after years of passive-aggressive social media jabs. A couple of months later, footage was released of Russ’s crew allegedly beating Smokepurpp at the Splash Festival in Germany.

Career-wise, the Florida rapper is in need of a reset. Stylistically, it feels like he’s in a holding pattern. His collaboration project with Murda Beatz, Bless Yo Trap, is immaculate from a production standpoint, but it didn’t add anything to the rapper’s tapestry that wasn’t already there on 2017’s Deadstar. The punchy adlibs, energetic vocal delivery, and jerky flow all remain, but listeners aren’t closer to understanding anything new or worthwhile about the Alamo Records rapper.


View this video on YouTube

Taymor McIntyre, a.k.a. Tay-K,  is currently facing two separate capital murder charges. In 2016, a robbery left Ethan Walker, a 21-year-old Mansfield, Texas man dead. A year later, another robbery in San Antonio killed Mark Anthony Saldivar. McIntyre infamously cut off his ankle bracelet and went on the run after being faced with the threat of capital murder charges. The 18-year-old rapper dropped “The Race” the same day he was apprehended in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and it quickly went viral.  

Unsurprisingly, Tay-K’s legal woes have stalled music career. In August, the rapper was “indicted by a grand jury for allegedly having a cell phone in jail,” reports the Star-Telegram. Multiple accomplices in the Mansfield murder have either plead guilty or agreed to testify against co-defendants.

The whirlwind surrounding Tay-K obscures the fact that he has a knack for the type of aggressive songs that launched Chief Keef into the national consciousness. “Mega Man” and “Murder She Wrote” have the same intangible quality that makes “The Race” so enthralling. Unfortunately, there is the genuine possibility that McIntyre will never fulfill his musical potential.

Trippie Redd

View this video on YouTube

Trippie Redd’s 2016 hit, “Love Scars,” cast a wide and suffocating shadow. The devastating and psychedelic song was a perfect distillation of the growing influence of pop punk, emo, metal, and grunge on the youngest generation of rap hopefuls. Redd’s breakout mixtape, A Love Letter To You, quickly thrust the Canton, Ohio rapper into the spotlight, warts and all.

Unfortunately (though predictably), he floundered. Beef with 6ix9ine ignited. A long-rumored feature on Drake’s “God’s Plan” fell through. A Love Letter To You 2 received lukewarm and tepid responses. Worst of all, Redd was arrested twice for separate alleged assaults.

Thankfully, the 19-year-old Midwesterner not only survived the pressure, but thrived. Trippie Redd’s debut studio album, Life Is A Trip, is a coronation and course correction. The project saw the crimson-haired rapper stretch his talents far and wide. It features Lil Wayne-inspired streams of conscious (“Missing My Idols”), melodic jams (“Forever Ever” featuring Young Thug and Reese LAFLARE), and raucous bangers (“Dark Knight Dummo” featuring Travis Scott). The album debuted at no. 4 on the Billboard 200, selling 72,000 in its first week, proving that Redd’s star is slowly rising.


View this video on YouTube

“I think I’m obsessed with imperfection. I don’t like things perfect,” Wifisfuneral told The Fader in July. He was talking about face tattoos, but it’s also a great description of what makes his rapping style so intriguing. On “Juveniles,” the West Palm Beach rapper matches the bombastic “Back That Azz Up” sample with dexterity and speed—the song sounds like it could derail at any moment, but it never does.

Wifi is a chameleon. He easily switches between a typical staccato delivery and dense bars packed to the breaking point with syllables.

YNW Melly

View this video on YouTube

YNW Melly sings with a raw and fierce type of pain. “Murder On My Mind” is blowing up on multiple streaming platforms, thanks to Melly’s frank, brutal, and visceral story of shooting an anonymous victim. The Gifford, Florida rapper wrote the song in a jail cell, along with many of the songs that first garnered him attention on SoundCloud.

Melly’s interpolation of Chris Brown’s “Say Goodbye” on “Slang That Iron” is the best example of the young rapper’s diverse skill set. Now all he needs to do is prove he can repeat.

Yung Bans

View this video on YouTube

Yung Bans is the future of Atlanta, and nowhere is that more evident than on Future’s “Bag.” Over the aquatic and pulsating Byrannwrk and XL beat, Bans sounds like the logical evolution of Hendrix’s sound. Bans’ voice has a hypnotic quality that echoes a young Future, if you sanded away all of the gruff and grit.

The young rapper’s self-titled Volume series has gotten progressively more bizarre, and he’s gotten closer and closer to creating something undeniable. The popular “Ridin” featuring YBN Nahmir and Landon Cube isn’t Bans’ best song—that honor goes to “Mood Swings.” However, “Ridin” does demonstrate that Bans has multiple gears, and can create big, bright songs as easily as his more moody fare.

Latest in Music