This website is user-supported. Any donation is immensely appreciated: https://www.patreon.com/passionweiss
Abe Beame sold his soul for a good price.
Nearly ten years ago (!) my first features for this website were a series of profile mixtapes called Rappers of the Decade. The point of the series was to use the Great Man Theory to tell a story of a period in music through biography. By tracing the last ten years of the twelve most significant artists working in a given genre, you could get a sense of a much larger picture happening in music during that time. I chose artists like Young Jeezy, G-Unit, Scarface, The Diplomats, Jay-Z, T.I. and Ghostface Killah. Big names and the product of a then-robust and all-powerful big label system.
Next month, and for the next year, the series will resume in the same fashion, albeit focusing on the conclusion of a new decade. But the point of this installment is to acknowledge how difficult that very concept has become. While the sound and substance of music has changed, the real revolution in music has been how it’s produced, how it’s marketed and how we find and consume it.
You could argue that at the beginning of this century the barbarians broke down the gate and wrested control from the gatekeepers with P2P sites like Napster, nationalizing the means of production, killing the notion of mainstream and the idea of consensus, but since 2010 that gate has been trampled, broken into small pieces and burned to ash. It was desecrated with Soundcloud.
Soundcloud was created in 2007, a music sharing platform that eventually rendered MySpace obsolete forever. In 2010, it had a million users. Today the number is at 175 million. When we talk about Soundcloud Rappers for the purpose of this piece, the point isn’t just the actual app. All of these artists have Soundclouds because now every artist has a Soundcloud but the larger idea of Soundcloud is a petri dish, the meritocratization of music and what type of merit the platform has rewarded.
In college my Senior year I took an insufferable Hip Hop class and the professor was a very mid aughts era backpacker whose rallying cry was how culture was being eroded by racist hegemonic corporate powers like BET and MTV shoving a steady diet of Snap Music down our throats and the world could be saved if they would just give equal time to Talib Kweli. I would respond with an argument that boils down to Slim Thug named his first album Already Platinum because before he signed a major deal, he sold a million copies out of the trunk of his car. If you don’t like culture look in the mirror, because Pop Music is Capitalism. The market. The will of the people.
Of course there were forces at play, the tastes and influence of powerful men and women, the large and inescapable marketing mechanism that once propped the labels and their products up. We once formed taste that conformed to these demands they would make for us to buy Michael Jackson records, or we formed taste in opposition to these demands, but either way we were forced to react to them. The internet has effectively taken a spiked bat to this all encompassing notion and digitized Slim Thug’s trunk.
As for the mirror of this culture, the image it reflects, if we want to understand this generation, look and what do you see? It’s amorphous, shapeless and formless, changes depending on what angle you’re viewing from. The once very essential sense of place and personhood is largely absent. Does Lil Xan dream of electric sheep? Tekashi 6ix9ine is from Bushwick and he’s Mexican and Puerto Rican but he’s also from nowhere and also from everywhere and he’s also no one and also everyone.
As a child of the 80s, raised on the artist profile and the narrative arc, this notion is at once obvious and impossible, it points out the comfort and absurdity behind an idea as antiquated and reassuring as say, Def Jam South.
The music in this mixtape, like mixtapes to come, is a representative snapshot. Unlike most of the subjects we’ll be discussing in the coming year I can’t claim any expertise on the specific representative song group or its artists and how can I? The content is infinite and never stops churning out. So for me, the songs and artists presented here give you a sense for certain moments in the evolution of this genre, this generation’s concept of rap, which is at once completely alien and totally consistent with the history of music in that it’s mostly about drugs and ex girlfriends but sounds fucking insane.
To my ears there are two distinct styles under the genre’s umbrella, both based around drugs. The most visible and emblematic form is opiate-based, drowsy elegiac music to usher you into an overdose. It’s braying and sad, just as indebted to Aaron Lewis as it is to Future. The other is a stimulant, adrenalized wall punching shit that makes the back of your eyeballs itch and your throat drip. It’s angry and cool, tightly wound and efficiently executed. As I said, I can’t profess any mastery over the material you’re about to explore. I kind of just read a few things, listened to a bunch of random shit and made a tape of the songs I like. And really, is there any more authentic way to interact with the app?
The uninitiated will listen to this and be pissed off or confused. You won’t hear many “songs” in the way we traditionally understand them. More like two and a half minute ideas. Fragments and cadences and little melodies without hooks or just hooks that are dashed off, underwritten, unedited, poorly produced and unmixed. But they’re also consistently brilliant, strange, beautiful and interesting. Some will say this is the death of Hip Hop. The world ends not with a bang but an autotuned wail. I say this is what Hip Hop is and what it always has been. The system got too big so we had to rise up and take it back. Soundcloud is a subway car. These strange children took cans of spray paint and tagged their names in large letters till we noticed.
On March 18th of this year, the late XXXtentacion went #1 on the Billboard chart with an album effectively titled an emoji. And thus the cycle came full circle and an entire generation with no interest in legitimization were legitimized. Someday, if New York doesn’t sink into the ocean I imagine I’ll have grandchildren and perhaps they’ll ask what the last decade of music was like to live through. What was it like for music to move in slow and predictable ways that conformed to narrative then see it forever changed, to become completely unrecognizable to everything that had come before it?
And I will tell them that when I was young great artists weren’t opiate addled Floridian teenage shut ins with tinted dreads, face tats and Skittle grills who grew up watching Youtube videos of other people playing video games, and then suddenly they were. I’ll tell them we once made music on farms, then we made music in cities, and now we make music on the internet.
ROD: SoundCloud- A Naked Singularity
- Lil Uzi Vert- Ebro Freestyle (2016)
- Clams Casino- Motivation (Instrumentals 2011)
- Lil B- Age of Information (Black Ken 2010)
- Kodak Black- Patty Cake (Original Beat) (Painting Pictures 2017)
- Yung Lean- Yoshi City (Unknown Memory 2014)
- Tay-K- Murda She Wrote (#SantanaWorld 2017)
- Famous Dex- Pick It Up (Ft. A$AP Rocky) (Dex Meets Dexter 2018)
- Lil Pump- Gucci Gang (Lil Pump 2017)
- Lil Peep- Gym Class (SoundCloud Files Vol. 2 2016)
- KJ Balla- Cookin Up (2017)
- NBA Youngboy- You the One (Ain’t Too Long 2017)
- Trippie Redd- Poles1469 (ft. 6ix9ine) (A Love Letter To You 2017)
- Lil Skies- Nowadays (ft. Landon Cube) (Life of a Dark Rose 2018)
- Smokepurpp- Do Not Distrub (Ft. Offset & Lil Yachty) (Bless Yo Trap 2018)
- Lil Xan- Betrayed (Betrayed 2017)
- YBN Nahmir- No Hook (ft. YBN Almighty Jay) (2017)
- Yung Pinch- When I was Yung (714EVER 2016)
- 03 Greedo- 100 100 100 (God Level 2018)
- Yung Bans- Lonely (Yung Bans Vol. 2)
- Juice WRLD- Lucid Dreams (Goodbye & Good Riddance 2018)
- Lil B- No Black Person is Ugly (Ultimate Bitch 2014)
- Clams Casino- Numb (Instrumentals 2011)
- XXXentacion- SAD! (? 2018)