The Rise of SoundCloud Music: Platform’s artists form unique culture with controversial effects


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From left to right, Travis Scott, Post Malone, Lil Pump, Juice WRLD and XXXTentacion represent artists whose popularity has catapulted SoundCloud music from underground to mainstream.

Kaegan Cowan, Web Editor

Juice WRLD, Post Malone and Travis Scott are just a few artists who have gained considerable popularity in recent years that share an important distinction: all began their careers on SoundCloud. Strongly influencing modern songs, SoundCloud artists have changed the current and future landscape of music, for better and for worse.

Starting in August 2007, the audio distribution platform SoundCloud was designed to be a place for musicians to collaborate by sharing and discussing recordings. However, the website quickly became a place for artists to publish music for other users. The defining characteristic of SoundCloud that has made it so popular for aspiring musicians is that it is largely free to post and listen to music, something that sophomore Thomas Melcher, who posts beats to SoundCloud, said he appreciates.

“I like SoundCloud because it’s free, and it’s a great platform for people who don’t have prior connections to get themselves out there,” Melcher said. “It’s also free to listen to, and you can find a lot of new stuff that you don’t usually see in the mainstream like Spotify or iTunes.”

Hip-hop is the main music genre released on SoundCloud, largely because it is considered easier to produce than other types of music. The melodies tend to be simpler, and the songs in general, shorter. Sophomore Ava Ayala said certain characteristics of SoundCloud music stand out to her.

“I like how [SoundCloud artists’] music is kind of trippy in a way,” Ayala said. “There are weird beats in it.”

Much of SoundCloud music has near-meaningless lyrics, and numerous artists have been labeled as “mumble rappers” for their sometimes-unintelligible style of rapping. Despite many songs not necessarily delving into serious topics as other types of music may, the artists involved with SoundCloud really take the culture of the genre to heart. The term “clout culture” is often used to describe the fashion and actions of SoundCloud rappers—multiple artists have face tattoos and wear colored dreadlocks along with sporting Gucci clothing and jewelry. Senior Adam Hernandez, an avid SoundCloud listener, discussed how he would define “clout culture.”

“[Clout culture is] trying to get the most trendy, expensive thing possible while still looking trashy,” Hernandez said.

The culture of SoundCloud has had some negative effects as well. Many artists have incited disputes between each other for attention, but some have taken it too far; Brooklyn, New York rapper 6ix9ine’s dispute with Chicago rapper Chief Keef led to shots being fired at the latter when he was staying at a hotel in New York City June 2, 2018.

Also, SoundCloud rap artists’ tendency to carry expensive jewelry and money with them at all times played a significant role in the June 18, 2018 robbery and murder of south Florida rapper XXXTentacion. 6ix9ine was arrested in November 2018 on a variety of charges including conspiracy to commit armed robbery and murder (unrelated to the XXXTentacion case) and is currently awaiting sentencing. Ayala said she thought the culture of SoundCloud rappers did have a strong influence on the aforementioned events and that the artists deserved all potential legal consequences.

“Based off the stuff they’re doing, the long prison sentences are deserved,” Ayala said. “They know what they’re doing is wrong, like when YNW Melly (another south Florida rapper who was arrested Feb. 13) murdered his two best friends. You can’t just do that and get away with it.”

The future of American music is difficult to predict, but Hernandez said there were two artists in his mind who are setting themselves on the right path for the future.

“I think Travis Scott’s headed in the right direction,” Hernandez said. “Him and [Lil] Yachty have trippy, auto-tuned music. That’s what I think the future looks like.”

SoundCloud rap’s future in particular is unclear. It could cement itself as a distinct genre or its popularity could fade as quickly as it blew up. Melcher said he thought it would be more likely to die out than to expand into a regularly accepted platform.

“I think SoundCloud rap is just a fad right now, and eventually we will move on to something else,” Melcher said. “I think we’ll start seeing some more intense music with lots of bass and it will pump you up, but I don’t know if it will manifest as SoundCloud rap.”