Rap’s “Lil Underground” Movement Looms Large

Hip hop has always been about the hustle. From selling mixtapes out of your car trunk to peddling homemade CD’s out on the concrete jungle, the rap game is about putting yourself out there because the only person you can rely on is yourself.

The world has changed in the Digital Age and hip hop has evolved with the technology as aspiring rappers and bedroom producers have chosen to upload their music onto streaming giants like Soundcloud rather than wait around in hopes of being discovered by major record labels.

This no-fucks-given, DIY approach has broken down the walls between artist and audience, creating a new genre often dubbed “Soundcloud Rap”. Instead of touting the stereotypical “models and bottles” lifestyle of hip hop’s past, this new generation of rappers embrace the misfit tag, opening up about their outsider status with drug-addled introspection that isn’t afraid to show vulnerability.

So who are these Soundcloud rappers who’re taking over the rap game? Here’s a list that will put names to their tattooed faces and separates the “Lil” from each other. 

Lil Pump

The brace-faced Miami-based teen sensation racked up a combined 30 million streams for “D Rose”, “Molly” and “Boss” on SoundCloud, but became a household strip club name for the the lean-loving “Gucci Gang”. Although a recent arrest for discharging a firearm inside his home left him sporting the wrong kind of bling (ankle monitoring bracelet) there is no slowing down the 17-year-old wunderkind as hip-hop’s A-list have bowed down to work with the Soundcloud king, including Gucci Mane, Two Chainz, and DJ Khaled.

Lil Peep

Every generation has its Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse or Bradley Nowell (of Sublime): a game-changing artist that blazes the trail for an out-of-nowhere genre before burning out too soon. Lil Peep became the tattooed face of the SoundCloud rap takeover after ingeniously merging emo and hip hop, while over-sharing a depressive, drug addled outsider persona — two themes that have defined the “sad boy rap” genre. The 21-year-old (real name Gustav Åhr) paid the ultimate price on Nov. 15, 2017 when he died from an overdose, leaving fans a last message on his now infamous Instagram.

Smokepurpp

Omar Pineiro aka Smokepurpp has helped redefine the Florida hip hop sound with fellow Miami rappers and collaborators XXXTentacion and Lil Pump. The producer turned rapper, has risen from the SoundCloud underground (he deleted his first song off the site after it received digital crickets) with internet smashes like “Audi” (25 million streams and counting) that led to his debut album, DEADSTAR, to be released this past fall on Interscope Records.

Lil Xan

The 21-year-old Mexican American (real name Diego Leanos) rapper has been in your timelines lately for blasphemously calling hip hop icon Tupac “boring” and rating him a “two” out of 10. This has made him public enemy #1 with the OG’s, but maybe that’s exactly what he wants. Best known for “Betrayed”, which racked up millions of streams on Soundcloud and got him a major record deal, the baby-faced lyrical assasin, who takes his name from Xanax, is hard to forget, sporting “Zzz” tattooed under one eye and “Candy” under the other. It’s shocking and amusing, which is exactly what his morose music sounds like. 

Awkwafina

Don’t let the glasses fool you. This brash, Korean-American, multi-hyphenate (rapper-actress-comedian) hails from the same high school alma mater as Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks and is well known in the underground New York scene, having been profiled in the 2016 documentary Bad Rap. The Queens-native (real name Nora Lum) brings a fresh and funny (she has a recurring role on Hulu’s sci-fi spoof Future Man) change of pace to the Soundcloud sound, with viral songs on her page like “My Vag,” “NYC Bitche$,” and “Giant Margaritas”.  She’ll be making her big time movie debut this June as part of Sandra Bullock’s Ocean’s 8 crew.

Lil Skies

The Pennsylvania product may look like he came out of central “Lil” rapper casting with face tats, drug-touting lyrics, and Wild ’N Out hair, but Lil Skies has a different vibe. The 19-year-old can flow, forgoing the button-up studio histrionics with confident rap bars that bring a realness to million + streaming hits like “Nowadays” and “Welcome to the Rodeo”.