Right now, "Gucci Gang" is the No. 4 song in the country. Tekashi69's "Gummo" is No. 13 and his latest song "Kooda" is No. 61. Further down the list, XXXTENTACION, Famous Dex, and Trippie Redd all have spots in the mainstream chart that aims to track the most popular music in the country.
Regardless of your opinion of this new wave of young rappers who used to be considered internet-only phenomenons, there's an undeniable shift taking place. Artists who were once deemed "SoundCloud rappers" are a part of mainstream culture, and they're pushing the popular sounds, looks, and sentiments of hip-hop into new territory, for better or worse.
With overblown bass, screamed vocals, face tattoos, jarringly short tracks, and abrasive lyrics, it seemed like this new wave had reached its logical extreme. If you've ever heard "Take A Step Back" or seen Tekashi69 perform, it would be hard to imagine how to take things a step further. How can you possibly get louder, wilder, and more shocking?
Well, just watch "SHINNERS 13."
Zillakami is a New York based artist who used to work with Tekashi69 before they had a falling out, and although he's active on Twitter and Instagram, there isn't much information on him. When we reached out for more, he responded via text, "I like being incognito so whatever you can find right now is really all you're gonna get. After the next video I'll be more social. I just want a nice catalog before getting any kind of exposure."
So far, Zillakami's output is limited but already clearly communicates a vision that is loud, violent, and shocking. The lyrics are filled with death, masochism, and drugs. The visuals are equally as extreme—"Shinners 13" shows a child with an automatic weapon, hard drugs, a murder, and flaming skateboards. It's all presented with a rawness reminiscent of Harmony Korine's movie Kids in that it's hard to tell what's real and what's for show.
A minute into the frantic song, Zillakami announces his arrival with urgency, yelling, "I'm tired of y'all n****s actin' crazy and shit!" before the video cuts to the young rapper in the middle of the street shooting a gun in the air. From then on, it only gets crazier. Musically, Zillakami is upping the ante and embracing a visceral, hardcore approach that feels new—toxic and fascinating at the same time. It's the most merciless rap music since Necro, but in today's climate, it seems that Zillakami and his cohorts have a real chance at being more than a niche underground interest.
It's going to offend most people who see it, and some of those people are going to be disappointed that we're even covering it. But this is happening, and it's going to affect culture in one way or another. That's something worth being aware of so you can either embrace it or denounce it. If you don't know something is happening, you can't change it. When Tupac was asked about his lyrics that highlighted the harsh realities of drugs and violence, he compared it to news coverage of Vietnam and explained that people didn't start protesting until they saw young soldiers dying on television. At some point, ignoring isn't a productive option no matter what side you're on.
The "SHINNERS 13" video has over 300,000 views already, with no major media coverage, and it begs the question: is this an indication of one facet to rap's future? Hip-hop is more diverse than ever—there's room for Kendrick Lamar, Lil Pump, and Drake to co-exist—but where is this new wave of alternative rap going, and how long is it going to be considered alternative?