The Internet’s influence on rap has never been more apparent than in 2017. Hip-hop’s new wave of rock stars, with their colored dreads, blatant disinterest in the culture’s historical conventions, and insistence on experimentation with rap’s boundaries as a genre, evolved mostly in the SoundCloud-centric “Underground.” The disruption of hip-hop’s mainstream should continue with many formerly anonymous bedroom producers following rappers like Lil Uzi Vert and XXXtentacion into print magazine pages and multinational record label studios.
Tread Music, defined by uptempo percussion, swirling, percolating bass high in the mix, and ice cold futuristic synths working to encase SoundCloud trap in an atmosphere of nihilistic menace, is the newest subgenre of trap bubbling up from the SoundCloud underground. A music scene based on the internet intrinsically resists strict delineations of its borders, but Tread was clearly started by a group of Philly producers known as Working on Dying. In the past 3 years, friends and collaborators LOOSIE MANE, FORZA, F1LTHY, OOGIE MANE, and BRANDONFINESSIN quickly carved an inventive and unmistakable new lane on the SoundCloud underground rap highway. Now most familiar to an average hip hop fan for OOGIEMANE’s collaborations with the 11-year-old, fidget-spinning Matt Ox, they should soon find recognition as the most innovative group of producers working in hip-hop.
Working on FL in the same studios and frequently collaborating under one roof, Working On Dying had a unique opportunity to both develop a new sound and constantly push each other to improve upon it. Local collaborator BOOTYCHAAAIN called their new sound tread (as in treadmill) because of its quick, electronic-influenced synth loops and much higher BPM than any previous iterations of trap rap. The slower, spacey sound prevalent with their peers on the SoundCloud cloud rap scene—from Bones to Peep to Kirb to Smokey to A$AP mob to old Rvidxr Klxn affiliates—was still dominant in 2014, but things were noticeably different among WOD producers, particularly with the release of long collaboration mixes and Working on Dying Radio.
Like Lex Luger’s early run, Working on Dying and company can be near industrial, maybe even orchestral. The bounce and energy of Tread’s interaction of throwing 808s, tricky kick drums, and mechanic snares usually hovers between 160-190 BPM. Combined with a clearly defined palate of clean and futuristic sounding synths and keys F1LTHY and Loosie Mane have attributed to influence from the Berlin School of electronic/ambient music, it is a clear deviation from most conventional trap.
At times, tread’s most basic musical elements are comparable to aging electronic genre Chicago Footwork, with a similiar 160-170 BPM tempo and kick drum patterns. There are definitely no jumping horns or Shawty Lo-style choruses, and almost all recognizable samples are synthesizers or keyboards. It’s dark, ominous, menacing, and, at times, overwhelming.
As WOD was crystallizing the production’s signature sounds, they began a close working relationship with the rappers and tastemakers at Goth Money Records, where Black Kray, MFK Marcy Mane, and Kane Groceries had been developing a distinctively black form of goth hip hop. Pen & Pixel album covers and old school trap lyrics meets black denim, black converse, and metal tees. They have had a serious aesthetic and sonic influence on the underground.
Tread isn’t Lil Uzi Vert croaking falsetto in a choker about jewelry, this is Chxpo, all sinuses and mushmouth, in a dark corner of a boarded-up Cleveland vacant or Kane Groceries and Warhol.ss masked up trying to get rich. Instead of turnin’ up at Magic City, they took molly and are snowed in at home.
The Tread sound and aesthetic is reflective of the ennui of the grey Philly landscapes where it was born and of the increasingly atomized nature of music scenes and humans in the digital age. While the similarly uptempo New Orleans Bounce takes you into a 5th Ward strip club—a weekend night of gaudy chains and overpriced bottles—Tread takes the listener to Loosie Mane’s North Philly block, drinking Jim Beam out the bottle at 10 in the morning on a block of deteriorating row houses.
The sound, while dark, is refreshing and danceable; it has the potential to get asses shaking in every club from LA to London if Diplo or Drake get their hands on it. Some say all WOD producers music is tread, or all recent GMR releases are tread, or any dark and moody cloud trap released since 2015 is tread, but it’s a spectrum; hip-hop fans never seem to pain themselves with genre hyper-specification. A simple rule of thumb is that any darker trap song within a BPM over 140 released in the past year or so could be called tread.
Outside of GMR and WOD, there are plenty of collaborators and artists they have influenced who should also be explored, namely WIFIGAWD, Chxpo, Drippin So Pretty, Five Finger Posse, BOOTYCHAAAIN, Dizzy Santana, and others who I’ve included in a 9 hour tread playlist.
Tread should be recognized as an important development not only because it is enjoyable or niche, but because it has the potential to change the sound of rap outside of just SoundCloud. The entire underground seems to recognize this as the future, and with the clear star potential of many of their fans and collaborators in the LA scene like Drippin So Pretty and Lil Peep, odds are we should be hearing more tread music outside of the internet moving forward. Here are five songs that demonstrate tread pushing the rap in a different direction. —Lucas Foster
WIFIGAWD x WARHOL.SS — “LIL SAKS FITH” (Prod. OOGIEMANE X FORZA)
The last two WIFIGAWD albums, Wifi Season and Trenches to Riches are the most “tread” solo releases I’ve heard outside GMR, and this song off Wifi Season is a great demonstration of why. This beat is like a page from a dystopian fiction novel, and both Wifi and Warhol play their characters very well. The first time I heard Smokey run that Warhol verse back, “RUNNIN FEEL LIKE JESSE OWENS GOT DA PACK OUT IN DA OPEN,” I got chills.
They managed to create one of the most energetic hip-hop songs this side of Flocka, and definitely the most forward-thinking take on rap since Lex pushed us into this decade seven years ago. WIFI is by far my favorite rapper coming up in the scene, and I would definitely encourage you to check out his collab tape with crjng, FUBU 05, if you want a more ethereal and lighter sounding take on SoundCloud rap.
Black Kray — “MASK UP GO DUMB LICK MUSIC” (Prod. F1LTHY)
“Mask Up” is defined by Loosie Mane in the WOD No Jumper interview as “the ultimate tread anthem,” and with its shaking bass and evil mood, it’s easy to see why. The rolling, rhythmic synths crawl with Kray’s half time flow to create dark and menacing sound reminiscent of early Triple Six Mafia. Kray’s lyrics about hitting licks with a mask on are a genre staple, and as one SoundCloud commenter put it, not many are able to make you feel like you’re crying while hitting a lick like he does.
FIVE FINGER POSSE — “BLACK PUNK ROCK (Feat. WIFIGAWD)” (Prod. OOGIE MANE x FORZA)
Frequent WOD collaborators Five Finger Posse and WIFIGAWD come together here to explicitly define what tread music is and represents. Most tracks are more subtle in their representation of the aesthetic, yet here what we have is an unapologetic celebration. Oogie and Forza deliver a typically moody and quick tread with gothic-sounding bells and laser gun synths which on its own bring the listener into the late night Philadelphia streets. The lyrics, however, are even more explicit. The chorus, “It’s that black punk rock yeah that hood goth shit / Blacked out on the block and I’m trappin like a bitch,” defines a much different, and well, more black, type of goth rap than Lil Peep’s use of mineral samples or $UICIDEBOY$’ Memphis imitation.
CHXPO — “MOBB” (Prod. F1LTHY & FORZA)
Cleveland’s Chxpo is an intensely manic freestyle addict. He drops nearly an album a day and has claimed to have never written a verse, dropping extremely catchy sung and rapped hooks in a sinister, nasally snarl about a lot of straight gangster shit, while also breaking down and singing for hours about dead friends and his molly addiction and depression. To me, his work ethic and distinctive style make him tread music’s Gucci Mane.
This track, with its ominous yet bouncy bass, space-age synths, and 175 BPM is really energetic and creates a great space for Chxpo to talk about “lil grimy niggas who will snatch yo granny’s purse” and “still sellin’ yay on West 98th.” It’s drill style music video is straight up gangster shit, and goth drill seems to be as about as cutting edge as hip hop gets.
Drippin So Pretty — “Knuck if You Buck” (Prod. FORZA)
This song is a good representation of the numerous artists outside of GMR who are making great tread music with WOD producers. Drip’s a young dude from California living in LA who has always been six months ahead of the curve. He could be international pop star level, he possesses that level of talent and personality. If you ever need to get ready for a late night brawl, this song is raw, five teeth missing type music. Its leering and ominous Forza beat perfectly captures the mood and aggression of a club fight while Drip snarls about walking into your section of the club and laying you out.