Lucas Foster has a live band accompany his writing sessions.
In the late 1960’s, the country’s stuffiest conservative cultural practices melted away in a psychedelic puddle of guitar riffs and vocal harmonies. I read somewhere that there were somewhere around 100,000 working bands at that time. Groups of teens and 20-somethings skipped class and abrogated the traditionally restricting responsibilities of late adolescence to fill their basements with smoke-shrouded dreams of replacing the Stones, Beatles, or Monkees. Today, I’d bet there are even more hip-hop artists trying to do the same thing.
In 2018, the drugs are harder, the bass heavier, the cast more diverse, and anyone can self-record. It’s overwhelming to have so much content to pour through sometimes, which is why I’m writing a new monthly column — a report card for a specific, impossible to delineate lane of the “internet underground.” That crop of teens and 20 somethings making cutting-edge post-trap, all with the belief that they are one No Jumper placement away from being the next Travis or Pump. The criteria is simple: I will pick out the honor roll and praise those making original, innovative and well-produced music, while also evaluating artists based on their potential to break free of the saturated Soundcloud market. It will run every month of 2018 and grade five to seven individual projects that represent the best of the scene.
Drippin So Pretty – I Need A Coupe 2: B
The Soundcloud underground has a few distinct subcultures. One microculture grew around Drippin So Pretty, GGNeeks, and a few producers from my hometown of Encinitas—a sunny beachside town north of San Diego—making opiate epidemic soundtracks.
Encinitas isn’t the dark and decaying Rust Belt city filled with a deplorable and disenfranchised white working class lumpenproleteriat typically associated with thd moral panic about drugs. It’s a semi-bougie Paradise Lost of a burgeoning upper middle class in a rapidly developing suburb. The desert shrub yellow greenbelts of my childhood fort building and adolescent weed smoking are being rapidly encroached upon. The only airsoft range I know is safe is an ’80s-era dump next to what we found to be a popular shoreline human trafficking route.
The downtown area certainly isn’t safe from developers. My parents can barely afford their trailer rent while 3-bedroom homes down the street sell for $3 million. The gentrification process has been silent, there’s nothing that sexy or dramatic about a middle class vacation city transforming into an upper class vacation home city; no glaringly obvious racial tension and certainly no whining from people who made a killing on real estate to move 15 minutes east.
Drip Lord is a friend and he makes very relatable tracks about doing a lot of drugs in this space of gentrification and suburban boredom. His street dreams and struggles are obviously a stark contrast with the street rap of his contemporaries, but he manages to walk the line fairly well, especially on this tape. His choice of beats are excellent and forward-thinking, thanks to the always must-listen YngMojio and pentagrvm. His emotional honesty is raw to the core.
The feature-free project functions as a vehicle for his writerly talents. By the end of the first track you’re assaulted with imagery of princess cut diamonds, heroin addiction, betrayal among friends, and a hunger for ascension above all. The themes and sounds are similar through the compact sixteen minute psalm to ambition, and is ultimately a rewarding, succinct, package. It’s most definitely not an album that was planned to blow up into the mainstream, and that’s a shame. Drip has more pop potential than anyone he’s worked with besides Lil Peep. Keep an eye for his continued rise.
Kirb La Goop – Trapped in Da 100: C+
With the online release of the long anticipated Trapped in Da 100 tape, the heavyweight contender of white boy street rap, Kirb La Goop, continues to welcome all challengers. It’s hard to name a Soundcloud rapper who has put in more work for the underground since the collective crawled out from their basements and started exchanging emails. It’s his fifth year of pairing his oddball Chihuahua bark flow with mid-tempo, mid-2010’s Soundcloud rap, and expecting deviation from that classic Kirby sound here would be expecting Nintendo to release a Kirby First Person Shooter.
Trapped in Da 100 throws you into Kirb’s Sarasota, Florida basement full of psychonautical experiments with heroin and PCP, where you’re forced to watch Kirb, Ruben Slikk, Chxpo, Yung Mojo, Lil Peep, and ZChronik hit licks and serve your aunty. An impressive array of talent on vocals is matched with pentagrvm, Fish Narc, Spaceghostpurrp, Posh Prada, Nedarb Nagrom, and others laying the flooring for that midtempo sweet spot where Kirb thrives.
We’ve heard this sort of thing before from Kirb. Still, while earlier projects were celebrations and nihilistic embraces of these self-destructive habits, this tape comes to a certain level of introspection. The tape’s title becomes meaningful on tracks like “Perc’s” and “Am I Really Yo True Brotha” where Kirb’s yelping cries for friends long dead and questions about his new ones seem both resonant and believable. The authentic use of this tape as an emotional well is rare in his lane but ultimately adds to its appeal rather than distract from its focus.
What I came to grips with after listening to this tape was that maybe the niche combination of high pitch yelping and post-trap beats is too niche for anyone who isn’t spending hours a day exploring this part of the internet. Kirb La Goop is wonderful, an authentic original, but maybe too weird for A&R’s and average listeners.
Nolan Be Rollin – Beanworld: A+
I’ve rarely seen mid-level Soundcloud rappers do numbers on a full tape upload at this pace. The [xxxxx] in [xxx] ([views and likes] in [days]) is indicative that the steep climb up the clout ladder should continue. This is despite almost no one knowing if the multiple rappers of “GOTGLOCKS” are a new group or if this is just a Nolan Be Rollin tape.
The tape is blowing up because it is a half gram of a bygone era of cloud rap in one lightning quick key bump. The tape’s 12 minutes can seem like an hour. It’s nightmarish, really. For most rap fans, the idea of holding cold iron or plotting a robbery is so foreign as to be a cartoonish series of catchphrases and taunts, but Beanworld brings you right fucking there—to the back of that car, molly water in one hand, the disturbing reality of 30 nearby bullets. It sounds like hitting a quarter brick lick on too many research chemicals and mollies. As the seven mini-songs cut into each other, argue, and drag out into slackjawed, slowed down psychobabble, Nolan Be Rollin and friends usher you into a strange world of drugged out drill rap.
The light and ethereal synths surround the violence and paranoia with leering ominousness, pulling you ever deeper into the arctic cold streets of Virginia. The real trick here is that the production is more like the dreamy cloud nine of ’09 Lil B than the rage of Rondonumbanine. It’s a classic instance of cloaking dead serious subject matter in light sounding production, and maybe will be looked back on as a classic EP.
Sybyr (fka Syringe) – Sybyr: A-
Sybyr (formerly Syringe) is chiefly an enigma. When I first became a fan, the young genius went missing for weeks without explanation. There was even a multi-state search for him before he turned up, and still offered no explanation. Yet in retrospect, it made complete sense; I’d wanna escape to a basement if half of the underground copied my style and clouted up with it while normal rap fans just knew me as a guy who made a song called “Aye” where all I said was “aye” (Akademiks’ dusty ass can get sent to the sub-dimensional levels of hell with Joe Budden, that track bangs).
While I fully expected this tape to be the ultra-left field music that Sybyr came to be known for—complete with distorted bass and other deliberate rule-breaking behavior—it surprised me by being so conventional. SYBYR is essentially a much better version of a Travis Scott record, except Sybyr’s pain is tangible and the sense of regret or emotional upheaval isn’t artificial. The tape’s open and moody beats leave plenty of breathing room for Sybyr’s observational humor and late adolescent frustration.
The EP lacks a central theme, save for Sybyr deciding he wants to be a star rather than a mysterious legend. With his Juicy J imitation on “Hoover Hotbox” and La Flame imitation on “All This Gawk,” that shouldn’t be an issue. Maybe in a few years he’ll be an omniscient rapper-producer—a version of Travis that’s less hateable.
Kevin Kazi – 17: B-
If most people started a satire rap group with their internet friends, they’d end up with a headache and more questionable decisions than Soundcloud plays. What Kevin Kazi did with gayboiclique is the most entertaining and laugh out loud hilarious satire rap groups of the past five years, then clouted up and busted his six foot eight inch frame through the tiny window of opportunity he’d built. Now he finds himself one of the hottest up and coming rappers on the internet and in the south.
The NBA-sized manchild is still just barely 17, and he celebrated his December 23rd birthday by dropping this wonderfully different pop rap tape. When a fresh project is good, the first listens usually seem quicker than the sequence of songs’ actual length. This one’s first listens seem like a bunch of nanosecond-length explorations of all the things that make rap fun, and it only grows in appeal when you turn it on repeat. Believe the hype, you’ll hear more of him in the future.
Quinn – Fear is Present: B+
A clever re-imagination of mix and master has been a trend in the more experimental corners of internet hip-hop for a few years. While most Soundcloud producers were once trying to make diamond-clean melodic trap, by this time last year many let their bass clip and put submerged vocals underwater.
The now iconoclastic xxxtentacion emerged from the Soundcloud jungle by wielding a Yetti Mic and iPod earbuds as twin machetes slicing through conventional ideas on how to mix and master. This clever re-imagination of the rules was already a generalized trend in the more experimental corners of internet hip-hop, but his rise to superstardom with some South Florida friends altered the rules and sound in the scene he emerged from.
Though not an X clone by any means, Fear is Present reveals the evolution of this scene. The Baltimore native and Anti-world affiliate Quinn has beats that somehow make warbly synths sound like crackling firewood and crumbling brick chimneys. The distorted mixing complements whatever mood he’s in and whatever flow he’s selected.
The record’s song construction is indicative of someone who likes to hear himself talk, not as ego-trip, but a rambling and helpless schizophrenic conversation between split parts of a soul. As the tape passes through a midpoint, the ear worms grow slowly and they feed on the emerging roots of Quinn’s artistic intention. Rather than the result of lazy execution or poorly ordering his tracks, the opening kicks off the 18-track descent into madness. As you hear more and more subtleties besides hooks, beats, and verses in the mix, you hear soft cries under nearly every track.
The tape’s strongest moment is a two track back and forth between “Voices In My Head Telling Me To Do It,” a funky track that’s seemingly nonsensical until it’s followed by “Why Don’t You Kill Me Interlude.” The Beck sample, “I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me?,” is a question that Quinn asks himself; it makes a seemingly nonsensical Beck single glorifying slackerdom into a piercing and resonant suicidal ideation floating from the back of his head to the front of his conscious thought.
It’s a project that could be called a grower. It’s a project that could also be called lazy. But it should simply be understood as the most honest investigations of mental illness in 2017 Soundcloud rap.