By Michael Bell
Amongst other trends to arise in 2017, perhaps none so were more distinct than the emerging sub-genre of Soundcloud rappers. A true product of the internet age, characterised by distinct personas and unorthodox distorted beats; artists such as Lil Pump or XXXTENTACION seemed to appear out of thin air (or South Florida). However, this abrupt rise of a youth driven culture is simply mirroring history, and tells a story of how young people respond to disempowerment.
Rap is entering its punk phase
Just as a new wave of punk music emerged from rock in the 1980s, so too has “sound cloud rap” grown from the current day culture of hip hop. Simply put, rap is entering its punk phase.
Superficially, these genres have little surface level similarities. Punk actively promotes non-conformity with mindful political satire. Conversely, many sound cloud rappers revel and embrace ignorance, with songs such as “Gucci Gang” embracing the concepts of consumerism whole heartedly. Despite this, underlying similarities of these two genres lay present. Whilst both possess a distinct “DIY” aesthetic which opts for a rougher and “raw” recording, the political and social landscapes that served to create both genres are startlingly similar.
Youth will regain a sense of control from conservatism through the only means in which they can – music
The year was 1981, and the world at large was in the midst of a shift towards conservatism. Margaret Thatcher was in the infancy of her eventual 11 year term in the UK, as the traditionalist Ronald Reagan was newly elected as the President of the United States. Many of the President’s “Reaganomics” policies, such as the focus on trickle-down economics, provoked much of the nation’s youth to feel disregarded and forgotten. Subsequently, these feelings fostered angst, leading them to try and regain a sense of control through the only means in which they could – music. Liberating and inherently unrestrained, punk was created as a platform in which oppressed youth world-wide could “stick it to the man”, and in doing so, regain a degree of self-worth and identify that was otherwise lost in a slew on conservative policy.
History repeats itself
Jump forward to 2017, and the situation resembles in an eerie parallel. Where Thatcher once stood in the UK, now stands Theresa May. What Reagan once was – a newly elected conservative with a celebrity past – Trump now is. Subsequently, it should come as no surprise to anyone that a similar feeling of disenfranchisement amongst the youth of these countries is on the rise. This stems from the hesitance of both the Trump and May administrations to administer policy in areas particularly relevant to many youth, such as climate change or university fees. South Florida, where many prominent faces of Soundcloud Rap hail from, is particularly plagued by social issues such as homelessness. As seen in the 1980s, this disempowerment breeds a sense of anger and rebellion, and drives the youth to try and regain a feeling of emancipation in any which way they can. In this case, through music.
Inverted a previously established genre on its head
Although Soundcloud Rap is not explicitly political lyrically, it’s DIY style and unorthodox distorted production stands in stark contrast to conventional established hip hop. This is further reminiscent of the 1980s punk scene, which inverted a previously established genre on its head through the artist’s raw focus on emotion and apparent disregard for sonic quality control. In both cases, musical conventions and conformity are rejected, in favour of raw emotion and originality. By consciously dismissing previously established expectations and deconstructing the genre, the artist regains full control of their art, and symbolically rejects the restraints placed on them by their disempowering surroundings.
Hence, it becomes apparent that despite the negative stereotype of youth being politically apathetic, this is in fact contrary to reality. In times of conservatism, it may be concluded that the now disenfranchised youth attempts to regain a sense of control, and release raw expressions of emotion in one of the only ways they can; through music. In actively challenging preconceived notions of how a genre should sound through the use of DIY recording and raw emotion, both punk artists and Sound Cloud rappers alike are able to reclaim a sense of power that had previously been removed.