And if you don't know, now you know
Angry elder statesman of hip-hop Eminem doesn’t like them, dissing them left, right a centre on his new album, but Soundcloud rappers are disrupting the rap game in thrilling fashion. Influenced by mid-noughties emo and using low-budget software to rack up millions of listeners online, these tattooed young tykes are turning in confessional rap that often offers palpable sincerity in lieu of polished delivery and production.
Sometimes, as in the case of, say, Lil Pump, there aren’t even confessions – just shallow, immature boasts of wealth and drug use – but youthful rebellions are meant to ruffle feathers among the old guard, something this lot have certainly achieved, be it through denouncing heroes such as Tupac or refusing to perfect their sometime haphazard sounds. Here, then, is your cheat-sheet guide to the face-tat rappers of 2018.
Age and real name: 22, Diego Leanos
Who are they? Although his debut album, ‘Total Xanarchy’, was savaged by critics, Lil Xan remains one of the best-known mumble rappers (so-called for the understated delivery that many Soundcloud rappers share), as notable for his shallow rhymes as for enormous streaming numbers. As many have noted, Xan claims to have renounced Xanax, the prescription drug he was once addicted to and is now named after, but continues to revel in its dark glamour. Furthermore, he seems incapable of self-analysis, instead skimming the surface of his troubles.
Any good? Depends if you’re under 25. Older hip-hop fans were outraged when, in an interview, Xan dismissed Tupac as “boring”. But if you grew up on Drake and Kanye, you may be more forgiving.
Quintessential lyrics: “Xans don’t make you / Xans gon’ take you / Xans gon’ fake you / Xans gon’ betray you” – ‘Betrayal’.
Age and real name: 18, Gazzy Garcia
Who are they? Kanye and Cheef Keef-endorsed mumble-rapper whose signature style is enthusiasm – and lots of it. In many ways, Pump is a distillation of where’s rap’s at in 2018: he’s a self-starter who gamed Soundcloud to his advantage, the production is bassy and distinctly DIY, and he raps almost exclusively about Xanax and material things. Where he differs is that Pump never sounds apathetic; his music is hyperactive and super-enthusiastic. Xan once rapped, “Never busy, man, I’m always chillin'”, an aphorism you would never apply to Lil Pump.
Any good? Yeah! Pump’s enthusiasm is so infectious that it sounds almost essential even when he raps, “Gucci gang / Gucci gang / Gucci gang / Gucci gang”, a chant that even the biggest Pump fan would struggle to imbue with profundity.
Quintessential lyrics: “Pull out the Porsche out the car garage (brrt!) And I ain’t never had a job (nah!)” – ‘Ekeetit’
Age and real name: 25, Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph
Who are they? 21 Savage trades on horror movie tropes and imagery – on the cover of his 2015 mixtape ‘Slaughter King’, he wears a mask similar to the one worn by serial killer Jason Vorhees in the Friday the 13th franchise – and his rhymes are similarly confrontational. Drugs and gun violence crop up often, while the sound is often muted, bassy, moody. If Lil Pump is face-tat rap’s party guy, 21 Savage is an altogether more complex figure, though he admittedly let his hair down with an insistent verse on Post Malone track ‘rockstar’.
Any good? More technically gifted than Xan but less distinctive than Pump, Savage’s work is accomplished enough, though – as is often the case with this scene – lacks insight; he prefers to reel off boasts about his newfound material wealth and than to explore his own inner-workings. However, last year’s ‘Issa Album’ showed progress, as the track ‘Nothing New’ packed some piercing social commentary: “Police gunned his brother down, this shit too hard to handle /Loading up his chopper, he gon’ show ‘em black lives matter”.
Quintessential lyrics: “I made it off the block / B*tch, I beat the statistics” – ‘Savage Mode’
Age and real name: 21, Omar Pineiro
Who are they? Once widely dismissed as Lil Pump’s hype man – he often appeared onstage at the rapper’s shows and the pair were once filmed inciting a stage-side brawl – Smokepurrp has since garnered plenty of attention for his own merits, though this year’s mixtape ‘Bless Yo Trap’ did not exactly receive glowing reviews. Perhaps that’s because he and producer Murda Beats reportedly recorded most of it in one night (it’s only 23 minutes long, to be fair), focusing on stream-of-conscious observations than tight lyrical wordplay, making it the epitome of ‘Soundcloud rap’.
Any good? Like, not really? It’s one thing to sling together a mixtape in one night, but another to craft and perfect a piece of work over time. Smokepurrp prefers to take the quick route, having released five haphazard records across 2017 and 2018. The cover to 2017 mixtape ‘Deadstar’ sees him reclined in a debris-strewn coffin like punk rocker GG Allin, who was laid to rest in similar way back in 1993, indicating perfection’s not his goal.
Quintessential lyrics: “She wanna sniff on this blow (woah) / My bank account full of O’s” – ‘123’
Age and real name: 22, Jaz Butler
Who are they? His mother is a member of the massively successful ’90s R&B group SWV, while his father is a Grammy-winning rapper with Digable Planets, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Tracy is a talent. He recorded the smash-hit ‘Awful Things’ with the late Lil Peep, and their joint mixtapes ‘castles’ and ‘CÅSTLES II’ took a more melodic approach than most to Soundcloud rap. His ‘Sinner’ EP is upcoming, though its announcement was overshadowed by a heart attack he suffered earlier this year after mixing cocaine with THC-infused lean he mistook for Sprite (fans found him in the street and took him to the hospital). Devastated by Peep’s death, Tracy has declared himself sober.
Any good? ‘Sinner’ is certainly promising, and his melodic delivery marks Tracey as one of the more notable members of the current crop of young rappers. He’s versatile, too: the jokey ‘Like a Farmer’, released in May, is sort of trap-country. It’s not exactly good, but certainly distinctive.
Quintessential lyrics:“Let my love heel you / I just wanna feel you / I wanna know the real know” – ‘Heart’
Age and real name: 10, Michael Lamar White IV
Who are they? Soundcloud rappers are noted for their accelerated ascent to fame, but Trippie’s rise has been especially turbo-charged. That’s thanks to last year’s ‘Love Scars’, which has racked up more than 56 million views on YouTube. He’s also been endorsed by Diplo, with whom he recorded this year’s single ‘Wish’ (though Trippie complained that the producer “tampered” with the song, to its detriment, and the version on the rapper’s album ‘Life’s A Trip’ is listed as the ‘Trippie Mix’. He collaborated with 6ix9ine on the tracks ‘Poles1469’ and ‘Owee’, though has since denounced the rapper, who has pleaded guilty to using a child in a sexual performance and will be tried in October.
Any good? Although ‘Life’s A Trip’ was patchy and a little disappointing, Trippie stands a better chance than most Soundcloud rappers when it come to becoming a proper mainstream star, given that he recently appeared in a Hulu commercial – shown during the Emmy Awards, no less – and is noted for his prodigious work-rate. As he put it in an Instragram caption this week: “16 songs in 2 weeks 9 in 1 week I’m I wanna know who’s more consistent”.
Quintessential lyrics: “Might just blow my brain, I’d be Kurt Cobain” – ‘Wish’ with Diplo