As you prepare to go to college, old folks who’ve done their four years at school will tell you the same thing. “You’re going to find out about people, places, and things you didn’t even know existed.” They’re right. And within even my first few days of freshman year, I quickly noticed that the music blasting out of the speakers at the crowded, sweaty orientation week parties was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Gone were “In da Club,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” and “The Motto,” the mainstream hip-hop bangers that had soundtracked my high school experience, and in their place was music that sounded like the people from Kidz Bop had decided to rap about college. The kids bumping this music thought of themselves as hip-hop fans. But their favorite artists weren’t Jay Z, Biggie, OutKast, or anyone I’d ever heard of from my life-long love of hip-hop growing up in New York City. Their favorites were dudes with names like Mike Stud or Hoodie Allen and songs like "Just Sayin’." I had stumbled upon an entirely new music culture, and I hated it.
What I discovered was frat rap. More than just being a type of music, it’s an entire culture that thrives within the college community of kids who like to get super fucked up and hear music about other kids who like to get super fucked up. The lyrics are about parties, women, and the pros and cons of those two things in excess. The rhyme style is usually fairly basic, with a sing-songy cadence. The artists and their devoted fans, while not exclusively, are more often than not young, suburban white dudes with some level of college education. Are all these aspects requirements? No, but they are the major traits of the genre.
While those qualities help explain frat rap, there are two other major facts that can shine more light on the genre itself. The first is that, although it is technically rap, it exists in an entirely different universe. Rarely, if ever, would any of the artists receive coverage from the major rap blogs, radio, or magazines. And while you may have never heard of Hoodie Allen, the rapper can sell out the same venues J. Cole does. On top of that, the lexicon is different, the beats aren’t the same, and importantly, the white collegians who love these artists and flock to their shows think of themselves as hip-hop fans, but rarely step outside of this self-confined world. Almost every artist on this list rejects the title and culture of frat rap, despite the fact that many of their shared fans identify with it and help pay their bills.
While the vast majority of frat rap has not and will never appeal to the hip-hop fans who frequent this website, it is an undeniable phenomenon that deserves attention because of its sheer size. For that reason, Complex has decided to break down the genre by listing the 10 artists who help define it.
To make it even clearer, we’ve split the artists into five categories. First up are the Survivors, the artists who managed to beat their initial classification as frat rappers to gain respected status in the hip-hop world. Next are the Veterans, rappers who’ve excelled in this genre their whole career. Then come the Stereotypes, the broey-bros who are disproportionately responsible for frat rap’s bad reputation. We also have the Guilty Pleasures, the artists who exist in the frat rap universe who we may never admit to liking but are actually kinda likable. And finally, the Misnomers, artists who unfairly are thought of as frat rappers but don’t deserve the title.
We hope this trip into graphic tank tops and vapid party raps is both enjoyable and informative.
Written by Max Goldberg (@goopygold)
The Survivors - Asher Roth
From: Morrisville, Penn.
Label: Federal Prism, Pale Fire
Did they actually go to college? Yes, West Chester University
Facebook fans: 560,000
Twitter followers: 382,000
For better or worse, in the five years since “I Love College” Asher Roth has gained the reputation as the founding father of frat rap. That 2008 photo of him wearing the “College” sweater is basically the frat rap version of the painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware. While his frat rap posterboy status was fair at first as he in a sense birthed the subgenre, there were always signs that he would grow past his “I wanna go to college for the rest of my life” phase.
The rest of his Don Cannon and DJ Drama sponsored debut mixtape, The Greenhouse Effect 2, was stocked with better rhymes and great beat choices, and Asleep in the Bread Aisle showed more sophistication and maturity than it ever got credit for. From there, the hair started to grow and the music matured into his Pabst and Jazz and Rawth EP with Nottz phase.
While this burst in creativity was a welcome sight, it only happened due to the freedom he gained after his debut sold poorly and he left a major label. Who knows, if Asleep in the Bread Aisle blew up, maybe he would’ve never gotten the opportunity to make songs like “Charlie Chaplin.” Asher’s music is now weirder and more experimental than it has ever been, and it’s no coincidence that he looks nothing like the kid who made that song with the “Chug! Chug! Chug!” chants.
The Survivors - Mac Miller
Label: REMember Music
Did they actually go to college? No
Facebook fans: 5,576,436
Twitter followers: 4,600,000
Looking at both of their careers, it feels like Asher made a blueprint that Mac Miller not only followed but mastered. The plan goes, get famous off of a catchy party rap about “crazy ass kids” (Mac’s first hit “Knock Knock”), gain a young white fan base and tour off of it, drop a debut album that gets widely panned, realize that you’re too talented to spend the rest of your career rapping about “Senior Skip Day,” start writing better and choosing better beats, get buddy-buddy with respected rappers, and eventually make awesome and experimental music that sounds nothing like what you started doing.
While Mac’s departure from his original sound is just as significant as Asher’s, he’s had more success doing it—his sophomore album, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, managed to move 100K in its first week. But with a new sound come new fans and an amazingly hilarious dynamic between the mollyed up white girls who came to see him play “Knock Knock” and the crusty hip-hop dudes who want Watching Movies With the Sound Off deep cuts.
The Veterans - Hoodie Allen
From: Old Bethpage, N.Y.
Did they actually go to college? Yes, University of Pennsylvania (Alpha Epsilon Phi)
Facebook fans: 311,835
Twitter followers: 482,000
The video for Hoodie Allen’s most recent single, “Act My Age,” has him bouncing from one keg party to another while the chorus declares, “I wanna stay young/Don't wanna fit in, I wanna have fun/So if that's OK, I don't think I'm ever gonna act my age.” This has more or less been Hoodie’s music’s M.O. since he was an actual bro in the University of Pennsylvania’s Alpha Epsilon Phi four years ago, and his commitment to it is why he’s a frat rap mainstay. A former Google employee, it’s clear that he’s a smart guy who’s sharp enough to realize that his songs about partying have garnered him a devoted and tight-knit fan base. So why would you act your age when teenagers will throw money at you not to?
The Veterans - Sammy Adams
From: Cambridge, Mass.
Label: RCA, 1st Round
Did they actually go to college? Yes, Trinity College
Facebook fans: 467,300
Twitter followers: 228,000
Hey, when you first heard “I Love College,” did you think, “I like this, but I’d love it if it had more Auto-Tune and lines like ‘Soon to blow trees and down to pound Coors/Down to pound whores”? First off, why did you think that? But secondly, you’re probably a Sammy Adams fan! Adams first popped up off of “I Hate College,” his MacBook-recorded remix of Asher Roth’s hit. Primarily off of the reception to the song, Adam’s scored a record deal and an album, Boston’s Boy, that debuted atop the iTunes Digital Hip-Hop Albums chart. If that isn’t enough to convince you that there’s an audience, existing almost completely separate from the rest of hip-hop, that rabidly wants this type of music then nothing will.
The Guilty Pleasures - Aer
Age: 21 (David von Mering), 21 (Carter Schultz)
From: Wayland, Mass.
Did they actually go to college?: N/A
Facebook fans: 100,267
Twitter followers: 61,200
There’s always something to be said for music that doesn’t demand much from you or take much out of you. Aer’s music, which mashes rap, guitar rock, and Americanized reggae into a lite-pop amalgamation, does just that. The group consists of Carter Schultz, who handles the brunt of the rapping, and the hook-singing David von Mering. Together, they form the least edgy version of Sublime that could exist updated for a 2014 audience that wants prettier guys.
While some might see that as a damning description, it’s really not. Their music and entire aesthetic work because they create a non-threatening product that can be easily understood and enjoyed. You find yourself liking it without knowing exactly what it is you’re liking, but not trusting yourself because it feels like something it’s not OK to like.
The Guilty Pleasures - Lil Dicky
From: Cheltenham, Penn.
Did they actually go to college? Yes, University of Richmond
Facebook fans: 52,776
Twitter followers: 38,300
Rap fans demand honesty of their artists, and a major problem with many frat rappers is a feeling that their music is more of a disingenuous performance than anything else. Lil Dicky’s honesty is exactly why his music is sneakily endearing. The content is lowbrow, but he’s exceedingly self-aware in a way that makes everything he does work in his benefit.
His songs are basically extended jokes about staying in and masturbating, ’90s nostalgia, and feeling less attractive than your girlfriend’s ex, all things that kids will readily relate to. Add to that potent cocktail of charming shlubiness and his spectacular nickname (Mr. Leftward Sloping Penis) and it’s hard to dislike the guy.
The Stereotypes - Mike Stud
From: Pawtucket, R.I.
Label: Atlantic Records
Did they actually go to college? Yes, Duke University (Baseball)
Facebook fans: 70,809
Twitter followers: 173,000
Mike Stud opens up the most recent episode of his tour vlog, “Tourings Boring,” by addressing a serious issue: he wants everyone to know that the bottle of vodka he chugs every night on stage is totally real. The rest of the video plays like Girls Gone Wild, with good ol’ Stud—a former star pitcher at Duke—doing what he does best: making out, getting girls to flash the camera, and performing for crowds of almost entirely white college students who know every word to his songs about doing the previously mentioned activities.
Overall, the entire video is pretty reprehensible, but since it’s the image that he chooses to put out to admirers and detractors alike, we don’t feel bad about judging him off of it. If you think that description of Mike Stud the guy doesn’t sound too great, the music isn’t much better. It’s a lot of rapping about “chugging Patron” and “signing tits.” Stud has done many an interview about wanting to shed the college rapper label, but it doesn’t seem like he’s actually doing anything to try to accomplish that goal. And until he does, for better or for worse, when people think frat rap, they will think Mike Stud.
The Stereotypes - Huey Mack
From: Morgantown, W. Va.
Did they actually go to college? Yes, West Viginia University (Phi Kappa Psi)
Facebook fans: 34,966
Twitter followers: 69,000
On his recent single “Real Me,” West Virginia rapper Huey Mack shows that his content has matured. The song touches on being raised without a father and his mother’s illness, and even though it still lapses into tired cliches like “my girl a 10,” it demonstrates a growth in scope from his earlier, more stereotypically frat rappy rhymes. Where Huey Mack is, and has always been, classically frat rap is in his sound. His beats are more often than not light, synth-heavy, and pop-friendly, and the rhyming style is as straightforward and basic as many of his other collegiate brethren.
That sound, featured on his relatively successful breakthrough mixtape, A Boy Named Huey, is what first gained him access to the hordes of fans who support frat rap, and he’s stayed consistent with it through his most recent project, 2013’s Pretending Perfection. While the content may have evolved, it still sounds the same as the party-heavy rhymes he’s trying to move past.
The Misnomers - G-Eazy
Did they actually go to college? Yes, Loyola University of New Orleans
Facebook fans: 248,091
Twitter followers: 287,000
Judging G-Eazy based on his most recent output, the startlingly popular These Things Happen, you wouldn’t label him a frat rapper. What you might say is that the music is Macklemore-lite and that, just like both Macklemore and the other rappers on this list, it appeals to an audience removed from and whiter than hip-hop’s core fan base. His aesthetic is dark, mature, and aloof, and the music is sonically different from what we’ve come to expect from snapback-wearing bros.
But, he’s a young white dude with a predominantly college-aged white fan base whose raps about girls, drugs, and alcohol just take place in a different setting. Artists like that tend to get lumped into a certain category. On top of that, much of his early work, like the '50s-sampling, sing-songy “Runaround Sue,” boasts all the signs that we typically associate with frat rap. Ostensibly, it might be easy to write him off as a frat rapper, but in reality that’s a mistake, and one that he’s certainly not happy about. Listening to his These Things Happen, it’s clear he’s altered his music and image with his sights on major mainstream success, but changing the assumptions more traditional rap fans make about him will take time.
The Misnomers - Mike Posner
From: Southfield, Mich.
Label: J, RCA
Did they actually go to college? Yes, Duke University (Sigma Nu)
Facebook fans: 2,240,672
Twitter followers: 668,000
Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, we know Mike Posner is not a rapper. However, he absolutely occupies a space within the frat rap universe—the same way Ty Dolla $ign isn’t a rapper but is totally in the rap universe. First of all, Posner went to Duke University where he was actually in a fraternity. On top of that, his fan base overlaps more with the artists on this list than any others off of it. If you’re putting either of those things on your resume and you’re even tangentially involved in hip-hop, you can be considered a frat rapper.
However, it would be ultimately unfair to confine Posner to the world of frat rap for a host of reasons. First of all, he’s crossed over to actual pop success in a way that none of these artists have. “Cooler Than Me” was a legitimate smash and brought his name to the attention of people other than frat bros. Second, his relationship with fellow Detroit native Big Sean was an incredibly valuable co-sign that the other artists on this list lacked. His appearances on Sean’s early mixtape introduced him to people who had no idea that the subculture of frat rap even existed.
Finally, his significant behind-the-scenes contributions to the rest of the music world give him a pass. Besides writing pop smashes like Bieber’s “Boyfriend,” he’s produced for 2 Chainz and worked with Pharrell. While he may be a bro-ey white dude from a prestigious university, labeling him frat rap would be limiting.