What does “underground rap” mean today? Evolution of underground hip-hop

Several of the personalities we spoke to give credit to different people and trends for helping amplify underground rap in the 2000s. Tanners mentions video games like the Tony Hawk’s professional skater series to expose players to center-left sounds. He’s also yelling at the Murs’ Paid Dues Festival for preparing bills filled with underground rappers from all over the country. Figures like Kanye West and Alchemist have been championed to bridge the gap between platinum performers and less visible performers. And later, Nipsey Hussle had all the appeal of mainstream rappers he collaborated with, but he was absolutely keen on staying independent until he saw fit.

Nipsey had the device to do it successfully, with services like the iTunes Store. Apple found a way to bundle free file sharing entities like Napster and Limewire into an MP3 marketplace where songs and albums could be purchased digitally. Dru Ha says MP3 took the headache out of paying retailers to pick up CDs that weren’t guaranteed to sell.

“The risk of going out with a product was, not only did you pay for the product and the promotion to release it, you also had to bear the risk that it wouldn’t sell and be returned, because the music and CDs were being sold. on consignment. . When iTunes really started, the MP3 game leveled out [the game], because suddenly you didn’t need 500 copies in a store, ”he says. “Now it’s just a matter of, can you be discovered on iTunes? ”

Dru Ha saw a sea change in Duck Down’s business model. “We literally watched it from downloads representing 10% of our overall sales. Then we saw it go to 20, then to 30, to the point where it was 50/50. It’s half physical and half digital, and when it started to shift even more to the download side, many of us were willing to happily shift our attention to the physical side, because now we are doing numbers.

A major hurdle for underground artists was distribution, but at this point Bootcamp Clik, Rhymesayers, and other indie bands no longer had to haggle with distributors to get their CDs in stores. They could upload their music and be just as immediately accessible as a mainstream artist like Jay-Z or Kanye West. The lack of circulation had been a basis for being considered underground, but this problem no longer existed, which was the first moment that blurred the term “underground”.

This trend continued when blogs like 2DopeBoyz, Illroots, FakeShoreDrive, Fader, Pitchfork, Rap Radar, NahRight, Smoking Section, Ruby Hornet, Pigeons & Planes and many more started posting artists of all kinds on a daily basis.

“I would say blogs are a descendant of magazines,” says Slug. “Magazines were the gatekeepers in the beginning, and you could only get yourself talked about in a real print magazine if you had a publicist. Well, that shit was crazy. People were like, “Why the hell did I have to pay someone $ 2,000 to give me some debriefs?” It’s like, ‘OK, so what about this? With these blogs I could send my shit straight to the blog. If they like it, they can post it. Drug.'”

The blogging era left Chery under the impression that the term “underground rap” was not as applicable as it had been in previous years. Instead of music consumers having to look far for certain rap music, they’ve been inundated with it. Because blogs shared all kinds of music, there was less of a perceived difference in status between an experimental artist on an independent label and a polished, major aspirant like Wale or Kid Cudi. For young people in particular, who weren’t used to the industry’s previous model, it was all good rap music.

“I remember one of the first things I thought [about the blog era] was that the ‘underground artist’ didn’t feel so underground anymore, because if you talk about Blu & Exile or UNI, you find them through blogs, ”says Chery. “These are the same blogs that introduced you to Wale. Back then, the volume was not as large as it is today. But I think for me that was the start of the feeling that there was a lot more music available. It was so. There are so many more options. I’m not used to having to do so many rides at the same time.

Many blame the blogging era for changing fan relationships with artists. In 1995, when a CD by an independent artist only shipped 30 copies across an entire market, some of its buyers felt a very human desire to keep the artist to themselves. An obscure artist was a fan’s beloved secret. But that dynamic faded with a generation of fans used to almost any music being immediately accessible.

“This moment in time was actually a reversal of the underground philosophy of the previous era,” says Tanners. “You rooted for the artist you love. You wanted people to know Kendrick Lamar. You might have wanted to know more about him first, but when he started popping you were like, “Oh yeah, this is happening.” ASAP Rocky, I was excited when people started to discover his music because I knew it was a change.

Not only do fans have more access to music than ever before, but aspiring rappers have also been exposed to a range of influences in ways that previous generations of artists couldn’t be. “I remember driving through the suburbs in 2011 listening to Underground Vol. 1 with a friend of mine, and just thinking how so cool that ASAP Rocky listens to the start of the Three 6 Mafia career and works with SpaceGhostPurrp, like, “I’m going to take that sound and try to make it mainstream, “” Tanners said. “It didn’t sound like a perversion to me. It sounded like reverence.

Now these artists share real estate on DSPS and playlists like Spotify’s RapCaviar, which was created by Tuma Basa in 2015 and is now followed by more than 14 million fans who want to hear from artists across the country. Current curator Carl Chery credits RapCaviar with spotlighting low-key artists from the so-called “SoundCloud rap” era alongside mainstream stars.

“RapCaviar usually features some of rap’s biggest stars, but he’s used to supporting emerging artists and helping turn their songs into hits,” said. “He supported artists who were considered underground, in the most modern sense, at the start of their careers, like Lil Uzi Vert, XXXtentacion or Juice WRLD.

SoundCloud has hosted an ever-bustling scene of non-conformist artists influenced by punk rock and little interested in appeasing the masses – it turns out some of them have gone platinum anyway. Many of the biggest groups today are unabashedly left of center. Kendrick Lamar is one of the best-selling rappers in the world, and Dante Ross feels like he embodies the classic perception of an underground rapper.

“If you think about the essence of what underground rap meant in the ’90s, Kendrick Lamar does the trick,” says Ross. “He ticks all the boxes: lyrical, no trap, and skill-based. So he has more in common with the Golden Age than he probably has with a Southern trap rapper. So a lot of it is semantics to me.

Tanners shares the same sentiment about Travis Scott, a Southern trap rapper who he says illustrates well that, “in our lifetime, the idea of ​​something counter-cultural has completely evaporated. Travis Scott is literally selling fries right now, ”he says, noting that his“ dark aesthetic ”would have been too abrasive for McDonalds at one point. “He is for me the prototype of someone who would have been an underground artist,” says Tanners. “He would have been in Memphis making records with Juicy J and DJ Paul in 1996, and maybe he would have become a star by accident.”

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