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The Soundcloud Generation: A Shift in the Business Dynamic of Hip Hop

Updated on March 8, 2018
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Student at Massasoit Community College; Intended Psych Major


Hip-hop has been one of the most interesting and constantly changing genres of music ever. It is arguably the most popular genre of music today and dominates the radio waves. But how did this genre become so popular? And how are young artists able to compete with the big names on the radio?

Before the subject of hip-hop itself is touched upon, Soundcloud itself should first be defined. Soundcloud is a moderately new app that allows music to both stream and share music for free. There is a paid aspect of the app that offers additional features, but it is optional. Artists can share individual songs or even entire tapes with the public either for free or for a fee. Artists are able to customize their home pages and add artwork or other media links to share their creativity more widely with the listening community. Soundcloud is probably the most common platform used by young, up-and-coming hip hop artists who do not have the resources or connections to promote or share their music in other ways.

Soundcloud quickly gained popularity after its inception and started being used worldwide by hundreds of thousands of young artists. While these artists were not always rappers, a majority of the music that could be found on the app was rap, a trend that has continued to this day. Soundcloud is now used almost exclusively for rap music, with some famous and wealthy artists using it as an additional platform and other less-accomplished ones using it to share their works. Soundcloud has managed to survive and thrive despite several other music streaming apps like, BandCamp and Spotify, existing and competing. In fact, many attribute Soundcloud’s success closely to their base of young rappers, who seem to use the platform almost exclusively from the other streaming apps.

While the exact “origins” of hip-hop are largely debated amongst artists and listeners alike, there are certain groups from the late 60s and early 70s who are obvious pioneers of the genre and precursors to later artists. Such groups include, The Beastie Boys, the Sugarhill Gang, Run DMC, and several others. Towards the beginning of hip hop, lyrics were often a bit slower and more articulate, with very stripped down, bare-bones beats allowed the actual rapping to be featured. This was one of the most defining characteristics of early rap that contrasts with rap today.

The Beastie Boys, who some accredit to being the first rap group ever

Hip-hop gradually began to grow in popularity as the years went by. While the commercial appeal wasn’t too strong amongst the common public in the 70s and early 80s, its popularity was strong within lower income African-American communities. The popularity of the genre soared once it reached the late 80s and early 90s as well. This is considered the “golden age of hip-hop. Rappers such as Nas, Tupac, Biggie, and many other well-known names soaked up the spotlight in this era. Many people considered this generation of rappers to be the most intelligent and skillful, making many thoughtful and timeless musical works that centered around their genius lyricism.

Nas, a 90s and current rapper who some consider to be the greatest rapper ever

Hip-hop music has always been intertwined with politics. Considering the genre itself was mainly full of poorer, African America artists, political topics about race relations and income discrepancies were frequent and obvious subject matter for passionate artists. There have been many artists who dedicated their hip-hop careers to bringing awareness to social issues and fighting for their political beliefs. Whole songs, and even entire albums were made expressing the feelings of pain, hope, and struggle in the lives of these artists.

Hip-Hop group Dead Prez's album LEt's Get Free, A politically charged work

For the most part, the promotion of hip hop music was a business that started in the streets. A rapper would make a tape and share it with his/her community. If it was well received they would be able to go to a professional to have copies made of the tape. If those copies sold well, then there would be a chance of the artist being recognized by a label and maybe a long-term deal could be done if the artists was considered popular and talented enough. However, the internet age and music-streaming apps gradually turned this business model obsolete.

Nowadays, countless young artists have used soundcloud and other similar music streaming apps to share and promote their music on a global scale. Rappers such as Lil Pump, Smokepurpp, Lil Peep, Lil Xan, Lil Skies, and countless others have made millions and blasted themselves into fame using soundcloud as their primary platform to share music. This is a great contrast to the days of the 80s and 90s, where getting one’s music into the right ands and in circulation amongst the general population was quite difficult.

Rapper Lil Pump

At around the turn of the century, the sound of hip-hop music began an obvious shift. Clever wordplay and lyricism was no longer the backbone of the music itself. Technical skill and creativity became less and less important while image and persona began to matter more. Producers and beat technicians started to become more and more important as glossy production had become what the people wanted to hear. All in all, hip-hop began to shift from the streets to the clubs and commercialism when record labels realized how much money they could make.

While the sound hip-hop artists were producing gradually began to change, so did the culture. Hip hop had always been politically charged and rooted into the idea of being strength. Many early hip hop artists grew up in rough neighborhoods and were gangsters who spoke openly about smoking weed and using guns. However, there has recently been a great increase in the amount of lyrics about drugs and violence. It is hard to listen to a soundcloud rapper without hearing them mention their use of hard drugs (lean, coke, molly, etc.) or violence. While these things have been present in the culture of hip-hop itself, they seem to have risen to be the most central part of rap lyricism today.

While this music has become very popular, there are still many critics who dislike the music for several different reasons. The most common critique about this style of music is that it is shallow and endorses the use of drugs. Many people have also spoken out against several artists in particular for promoting violence and gang-related lifestyles

Rapper Lil Pump's hit single Gucci Gang

"benz truck', a song by the late rap artist Lil Peep

Old School West Coast Classic "California Love" by Tupac and Dr. Dre

"N.Y. State of Mind" off the classic, debut Nas album "Illmatic" which is considered by some to be the greatest rap album of all time

Soundcloud vs Oldschool?

Above are 4 songs, the top 2 from the soundcloud era and the bottom 2 from the 90s "golden age" of hip-hop. Comment below which style you prefer!


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