The SoundCloud Rulebook: Breaking Down The Streaming Site’s Newest Stars

Alphonse Pierre sets up a criterion for successful SoundCloud artists and picks out five standouts.
By    April 19, 2018

Alphonse Pierre is not happy with Frankie Smokes.

The SoundCloud charts are some bullshit. Is this just another name for an Interscope Records compilation playlist? Let’s make rules, and if a song doesn’t meet at least one aspect of this criteria they’re not allowed on our SoundCloud chart.

Nostalgia that feels too soon

In the real world, ‘90s nostalgia is in. But SoundCloud operates on its own terms and its artists have instead become infatuated with an era that had less Black sitcoms but more Black reality shows (it worked out well). New Jersey rap collective 2oo4 have made it their mission to capture the essence of the ‘2000s and their dedication to it is admirable. On “John Cena,” from their recent group project named after the 2004 video game Smackdown Vs. Raw, producer Subjxct 5 transforms himself into MPC era araabMUZIK—a 2007 Fabolous would foam at the mouth if he had gotten the chance to hear Subjxct 5’s claps paired with a melody that sounds like it belongs in Spongebob’sSB-129” episode.

The rapping on the track by Richard2oo4, Ouee 2 Times, and Papo Johnson fits smoothly into the era. They use flows that you’re guaranteed not to find on Cole Bennett’s Youtube page. The closest comparisons are the slow and almost conversational style of rapper’s like Cam’ron, French Montana, and Red Cafe. I just mentioned Red Cafe in 2018. You see how beautiful SoundCloud can be?

Plug beats and autotune

Take a second to think about your favorite pairings: Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn, Kristaps Porzingis & Trae Young (let me dream), Jorja Smith & Kali Uchis (on Instagram), and right there with them are plug beats and autotune.

Some people would probably accept the punishment of having to watch a 6 hour DJ Akademiks Twitch stream rather than having to hear another beat with a “Plug” tag. But, they’re wrong because Stoopidxool is one of the platforms best, and don’t let his style being lifted by pretty much everyone blind you.

On “Who’s Better,” Summrs! & Weiland battle over a Stoopidxool beat that energizes both. Summrs!, who has maintained a relatively low profile releasing autotuned love ballads onto SoundCloud weekly, impressively manages to keep up with the meme ready Weiland.

Borrow an established rapper’s flow

SoundCloud was built on flow jacking. Whether it was Playboi Carti stealing Chief Keef’s flow or Lil Uzi Vert stealing Chief Keef’s flow or Lil Yachty stealing Chief Keef’s flow…you get the point. Okay, SoundCloud was actually built on jacking Chief Keef. But, rapper Franco has found a refreshing source of inspiration as he tries his hand at one of the flows made famous by Gucci Mane. Oddly, as revered as Gucci has been by the new generation of rappers, that admiration is not easily found in the music.

On “Wallet,” Franco sticks to the Gucci blueprint and it works out well. And just like 6ix9ine has found success with some Juvenile thievery, it lets the rappers on SoundCloud know that it’s okay to steal from somebody besides the Chicago legend. We probably won’t notice anyway.

Spongebob tag

The most important thing to come from YBN Nahmir’s surprise 2017 hit “Rubbin Off The Paint” was producer Izak’s “Let me offer this as a rebuttal” tag. It was a random Spongebob quote that Izak stumbled into, thought it sounded hard, and decided to throw in a few beats. It eventually caught on and producers came to the realization that there is a Spongebob quote for everything, so why not hop on the train and get yourself a new tag as well? But there’s one that stood out, and it’s New York producer Evil Giane’s Mermaid Man sampling “Evil” tag. It’s everything you want in a producer tag: It tells the listener your name, it’s catchy, and miraculously makes shitty songs not shitty.

A teenager

If you’re not under 18-years old on SoundCloud you might as well have been a member of the Furious Five. 16-year old Duwap Kaine is the king of teens and the unusual part about it is that his rise has been slow and organic. Normally, when we come across these teen phenoms they find themselves strapped to a rocket, sent into the mainstream eye whether they’re ready or not. Duwap is different. He’s been gaining buzz on SoundCloud since he was about 14-years old and has become a mainstay with hardly any coverage or outside support. Tracks like the Swvsh produced “Southside” are hardly mixed and simply feature just Duwap delivering autotuned bars over the crackling bass.

For all of the rappers claiming to be anti-industry, a 16-year old breaking through without the machine is the real pushback. There aren’t many instances of a teenager finding his way through music without some powerful figure hovering over their shoulder orchestrating it all. But on SoundCloud it happens. Maybe not as much as it did a couple of years ago, but it happens. It’s just another aspect of the real SoundCloud.

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