The story of SoundCloud rap in 15 seminal songs

The mid to late '10s represented an era of explosive creativity on the app, as bedroom-bound teens made music that shattered its way into the mainstream

SoundCloud is a magical place where, at the click of a finger, you can explore any genre you desire, and even some that haven’t been coined yet. During the mid to late ‘10s, increasing in popularity, the app’s rap scene branched off into different sounds and subgenres, causing a mini musical revolution, changing rap forever due to its users’ creativity. As with most scenes, the suits soon moved in, diluting the West West feel it once enjoyed, but there’s still plenty of exciting talent on the app. This is the story of SoundCloud rap in 15 seminal songs

Fetty Wap, ‘Trap Queen’ (2014)

Arguably one of the first hits from the soon-to-be revolutionary music platform, 2014’s ‘Trap Queen’ was so infectious that it became a staple track from 2015. It’s gained airplay all over radio and resulted in a deal with 300 Entertainment for the star. This changed the way of A&R forever: label tastemakers no longer had to look for raw talent in acoustic covers – as, for example, RBMG (Usher and Scooter Braun’s label) did when they found Justin Bieber and nurtured him into the star he is now. Ascending from a booming internet hit to a mainstream anthem, ‘Trap Queen’ helped change the industry forever.

Lil Yachty, ‘1 Night’ (2015)

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When you speak about SoundCloud, you have to speak about Lil Yachty. The overnight success of his debut ‘1 Night’ showed a wide cultural shift from the gangster rap – signified by Chicago drill – into a lighter, comical version of rap that Yachty coined “bubblegum trap”. Yachty was originally mocked for his alleged disregard for ‘true’ hip hop. Pushing against the grain with his striking sound, though, Yachty taught the kids of the internet that your bravery won’t go unrewarded, and this irreverence lives on still in the SoundCloud world.

MadeinTYO, ‘Uber Everywhere’ (2015)

This viral track was infamously hooked around a random beat from YouTube; ‘Uber Everywhere’ started a phenomenon. Before this, not many rappers would admit to using free beats online. Afterwards, though, so-called ‘type beats’ – where a producer mimics instrumental tracks in the style of another artist – became a hugely lucrative market. Seeing how far low-budget singles from SoundCloud were now going in the music industry, many producers received huge career boosts when they shared their beats with successful rappers – just look at what happened to 808melo when the late Pop Smoke used a few of his beats for his 2019 debut tracks ‘MPR’ and ‘Welcome to The Party’. It arguably wouldn’t have happened without ‘Uber Everywhere’.

Ethereal and Playboi Carti, ‘Beef’ (2015)

For many rap fans, this song was our first introduction to one of this generation’s biggest zeitgeist stars, Playboi Carti. But many forget that this was actually the Atlantan rapper-producer Ethereal’s track, whose  low and mellow raps took a backseat to the raw star power of Carti’s signature babyish delivery. ‘Beef’ was always that niche track for the trendy rap fans (until new viral rap sensation Flo Milli catapulted her career with her high-energy 2018 ‘Flomix’ of the track).

XXXTentacion, ‘Look At Me!’ (2015)

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He changed the musical landscape on SoundCloud forever; you can’t exclude XXXTentacion from this discussion. However, the Floridian rapper’s legacy is riddled with multiple domestic violence charges and allegations of homophobia, dimming the success of the music he made. Yet when his young fans heard ‘Look at Me!’, they heard a crowd-splitter to headbang to when they felt rebellious.

Originally released in 2015, it was always well-received, but around the start of 2017 picked up traction after X claimed that Drake based his track ‘KMT’ on it. More importantly, ‘Look At Me!’ showed rappers that  they could choose between SoundCloud’s typical braggadocio and today’s more favoured emo rap. Summing up teen angst so perfectly, the track made emotions cool again.

Lil Uzi Vert, ‘Money Longer’ (2016)

Remember that app Musical.ly, the precursor to the yet cringey yet addictive TikTok? If so, you’ll remember viral stars like Loren Gray twisting her phone around to Lil Uzi Vert’s breakthrough hit. His loyal fleet of SoundCloud fans were glad to see this high-energy, cinematic single from his mixtape ‘LUV Vs The World’ – arguably one of his best projects to date – blow up before their eyes. ‘Money Longer’ helped propel SoundCloud’s computerised synth sounds to widespread acclaim.

Ugly God, ‘Water’ (2016)

Before this somewhat serious addition to his discography was created, the SoundCloud world knew the Texan as a comical mumble rapper who used overtly sexual lyrics to create meme-able songs that were viral catnip. Previous tracks such as ‘FTBT’ had proved that Ugly God was good at gimmicky raps with sex appeal, but his most popular to date remains ‘Water’, a tongue-in-cheek tune about the average affluent lifestyle of a rapper. The dreamy ring of distorted organs captures the era’s love for simple yet shimmery beats, reminding you of the careless nature of the first SoundCloud age.

Tay-K, ‘The Race’ (2017)

He’s now facing more than 55 years in prison for murder and three counts of aggravated robbery, and Tay-K’s wasted talent is devastating to those who bumped his Billboard charting viral rap hit ‘The Race’ back in 2017. Only 16 at the time of release, he made one of the most notorious gangster rap songs ever, his reckless and dismissive demeanour out of this world – he even posed next to his own wanted poster for the music video. Utilising the simple ‘ABAB’ rhyming scheme and repetition, ‘The Race’ put SoundCloud in a frenzy.

After Tay-K’s arrest on June 30th the same year, rap stars recorded covers to promote the #FreeTay-K campaign. Many of today’s biggest pop rappers (Lil Yachty, Rico Nasty, YBN Nahmir to name a few) were involved in the project. Want to tap into the golden age of SoundCloud rap? Look no further than the app’s first true wild child.

Trippie Redd,  ‘Love Scars’ (2017)

The Ohio native’s signature croon first hit our airwaves back in 2017. Evoking the befuddled love lives of young people on his most recognisable mixtape series ‘A Love Letter To You’, ‘Love Scars’ was our first glimpse of the journey that Trippie later took us on. As he offers multiple scenarios to explain his feelings about love and his experiences with it, Trippie Redd embraced his vulnerable side, showing SoundCloud that it’s Ok to cry — as well as showing how useful it is to be versatile. Like XXXTentacion before him, Trippie Redd’s ‘Love Scars’ softened up some of the music on the app.

Cuban Doll, ‘Bankrupt’ (2017)

This Dallas doll was one of the first queens to blow up from the app. Compared to her counterparts in 2017, she was one of the first to rap in a low, understated tone. It was clear that her peers – especially her Detroit bestie Molly Brazy – had a huge influence on her style, taking on their rapid, nearly off-beat flows and adding her top dog braggadocio. Now you can see stars from her home state, such as Arlington’s S3nsi Molly and Lil Brook, popularise this kind of delivery.

Rico Nasty, ‘Poppin’ (2017)

Polarising the aforementioned too-cool-for-school attitude of Cuban Doll, Maryland’s self-style “pop-punk princess” took a different approach to her music making. Rico’s raspy ‘Poppin’ conveyed an energy like no other. Her choice of poppy, almost kawaii-style (the Japanese culture of cuteness) instrumental clashed with her screamo-like vocals. In short, it’s punk as fuck.

Ski Mask The Slump God, ‘Catch Me Outside’ (2017)

The song that kickstarted Ski’s career, ‘Catch Me Outside’ represents everything that was everything great about SoundCloud’s golden era. With a tongue-twisting first verse, a boastful chorus and an iconic Missy Elliot and Timberlake sample, the Florida vet proved that in this new generation of rap, mumbling can be lyrical too. Eschewing the storytelling side of rap, Ski Mask instead opts for pop culture references, metaphors and incomprehensible speed. He was a frequent collaborator of XXXTentacion’s, and the pair’s signature “ayy”s were cloned all over SoundCloud.

Lil Pump, ‘Boss’ (2017)

Another Floridian on the list! Yet Lil Pump declined to explore from his peers’ emotional approach lyrics. He rarely even rhymes his lyrics – rap’s least demanding requirement – but his tracks are so simple what you’ll find yourself picking up the words in no time (even if you don’t want to). The self-assured chorus of ‘Boss’, with its lines, “bitch, I feel like a boss”, will make you swell with self-affirmation. Clearly choosing vibes over thoughtful words, Pump is an anomaly in the lyrical world of rap. And since that’s seemingly easy, he’s paved the way for many kids alike to do so too (even if it’s painful for some listeners out there).

Juice WRLD, ‘Lucid Dreams’ (2018)

The late, great Juice graced the world with this gem towards the end of SoundCloud’s golden age, arguably the first true breakout song from the app (Fetty Wap’s ‘Trap Queen’ is also a contender). This Byronic track of heartache and despair was propelled by a cosign from the popular music brand Lyrical Lemonade. But many forget that Juice WRLD had only made this track in his bedroom with Nick Mira, hit producer and founder of the production collective Internet Money.

A glimmer of hope for the D.I.Y music makers, the song helped diminish the stigma that ‘SoundCloud rap’ is nonsensical and far removed from traditional hip-hop, proving that the app could be the first to host fluid and artistic rap songs.

Lil Tecca, ‘Ransom’ (2019)

With head honchos of SoundCloud rap acquiring multi-million net worths, the app became the place where A&Rs snapped stars up before they could achieve much independent success, signing their viral songs to labels as soon as possible. As a sense of spontaneity began to dry up, it seemed an era of SoundCloud rap might be over.

Yet New York’s Lil Tecca’s refrain of “I got black, I got white – what you want?” was so club-friendly that it became a hit young fans as well as the DJs. With a beat full of summery chimes from Internet Money, ‘Ransom’ was so funky that you’d let a few bland lyrics slide. This track reminded the youth that success is still attainable through the app, paving the way for the next generation of moody teens to follow.

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