Musicians have long faced down questions of authenticity, from the Sex Pistols insisting, “we mean it, man” to the Manic Street Preachers’ Richie Edwards assuring NME, in 1991, that he was “4 real”. In the modern age, though, when millions of people’s teenage years are so thoroughly documented online, the issue of ‘authenticity’ in music becomes knottier still. Can you be a tormented outsider hip-hop artist, for example, when you were previously a shiny, happy YouTube celebrity?
If you’re self-styled edgelord and rap-metal renegade Scarlxrd, it would seem you can. The musician has uploaded his brand of abrasive, atonal, electro-clash gutterpunk – screamed vocals, claustrophobic trap beats and ear-shredding bursts of distorted guitar – since 2016. The man behind the surgical mask and militaristic, anime-inspired thread – 24-year-old Marius Listhrop – hails from Wolverhampton and previously flooded YouTube with a very different kind of #content.
In April 2013, the online world was introduced to perky YouTuber Mazzi Maz, the name under which Listhrop published vlogs recorded in his bedroom at home. There was one where the talks to a Pikachu doll, another where he introduces a teddy bear, only to punch him in the face (rock’n’roll!). He collaborated with YouTube A-lister Caspar Lee on a video in which the duo hits the streets of London and approaches the most obnoxious people ever born to ask what their favourite websites are. It features lots of blokes sniggering that they like porn.
Mazzi was also pals with disgraced YouTuber Sam Pepper, who was expunged from the annals of YouTube superstardom when he published a video of him sexually harassing women in the street. In 2014 they toured the UK under the banner ‘We Don’t Give A Fuck’, though Mazzi later distanced himself from this cancelled friend, telling the BBC: “We are meant to push boundaries, but you need to know what’s right and what’s wrong. A sexual predator isn’t a good look.”
This was the year that Mazzi formed Myth City, an amateurish nu-metal group that racked up a few hundred thousand subscribers, confounding Mazzi Maz fans, who posted comments such as “Idk why but it looks weird seeing Mazz in a band hahaha” and “Maz is such a good screamer omfg”. It’s true that Listhrop does possess a classic rock’n’roll howl, an anguished cry that scours your eardrums and conveys timeless adolescent rage and self-loathing. No wonder fans were confused: this was the guy who once said in a smiley vlog, “I’m a happy person, okay? I’m a happy person.” Yet Mazzi’s boldest reinvention was yet to be unveiled.
In August 2016, Scarlxrd published the video to ‘Girlfriend’, a humid, tropical hip-hop track a million miles from Myth City. Yet even Scarlxrd would soon transform into something else entirely; in June 2017, he uploaded the deliciously confrontational ‘KING, SCAR’, a sickly, sordid nightmare lullaby that, punctuated with guttural howls, laid those traps beats over keys that could have been stripped from a creepy Victorian wind-up toys. The screamed lyrics threatened: “Pray for death if you run up.” Caspar Lee is pals with Zoella; Mazzi had moved to the dark side.
Listhrop has now deleted all of his Mazzi Maz output, seemingly in an attempt to expunge his past, while every Scarlxrd video has accrued millions of YouTube views. Yet he has not denied the existence of his former persona. In a 2017 interview with Noisey, conducted in a house in Dungeness – a strip of Kent coast characterised by its eerie seclusion and nearby power station, which he was using as a temporary studio – he explained: “Scarlxrd is the most brutally honest version of myself… I used to make YouTube videos, and that was soul-destroying.”
Listhrop grew up with metal, but picked up the likes of Missy Elliot and Nelly from his cousins. Also: Eminem. Maybe Scarlxrd is to Listhrop as Slim Shady is to Marshall Mathers: outrage-bait and a channel for pent-up hostility and anger. At the end of last year, in a video shot for the rap YouTube channel Genius, Scarlxrd said through his trademark surgical mask: “People meet me in real life and they say, ‘Shit, you’re such a passive guy. And it’s like, ‘Yeah, because I released the shit I got inside me. Fuck knows what I’d be like [otherwise].”
He continued: “I’m really spilling brain my brains out on the fucking pad right now… It’s such a good release.” Later in the video, with a faux-philosophical tone that would make Jaden Smith proud, he muses on his belief that “when you see someone die, they don’t live. They hit the ground, and that’s it.” Hard to believe that this is the smiley Maurius Listhop who told Mazzi Maz subscribers that he was a “happy person”, but that doesn’t mean the existence of his previous incarnation should overshadow his current guise.
Music (and especially metal music, which has traditionally offered escapism through theatre) is and always has been about alter-egos, personas, framed reality and the creation of new worlds that say something about our own. There’s also the fact that Scarlxrd’s music is genuinely thrilling – a chaotic jumble of genres that makes you want to put a brick through a window and burn down your old school.
In the Mazzi Maz uploads, Listhrop occasionally called himself “the guy with the white chin”, a reference to his distinctive birthmark, now covered up with the trademark surgical mask. In a way, that was another persona, which he has now killed off, covered up. It’s fascinating to trawl through Mazzi Maz material and compare it to the doom-laden Scarlxrd, though the disparity shouldn’t be surprising – it’s what happens when your growth and progression is captured online.