When looking at musical history, one of the most important periods was the punk rock scene of the 1970s. Embodied by short, fast and aggressive songs with an almost DIY feel to them, the punk genre blew up thanks to icons such as The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and The Clash. Well there is a new wave of punk in 2017, but it’s not rock – instead, it’s rap and it has been growing on the music sharing site SoundCloud.
This new wave of “punk rap” took centre stage when XXXTentaction‘s single ‘Look At Me’ somehow found it’s way into the top 40 charts in 2017 despite sounding nothing like any other song on the charts. It was a track with a heavily distorted beat, aggressively sexual and violent lyrics, a repetitive chorus and amatuer production, yet it has been streamed 120 million times on SoundCloud alone.
Being lead by a group of young rappers out of South Florida, artists are offering an almost direct alternative to the mainstream rap scene that tends to top the charts. Rappers such as Lil Pump, SmokePurpp, Trippie Redd and Ski Mask The Slump God have helped lead a new sub-genre of rap that is charactarized by it’s heavily distorted low-fi beats and repetitive, non-sensical lyrical content.
Now it would be easy to listen to this new genre of rap and dismiss it as nothing more than a fad, but the comparisons to the punk rock wave of the 70s are pretty astounding. First off let’s look at the roots of a lot of these artists. Just as a large portion of punk rockers came from lower class working families in the UK, these SoundCloud rappers are coming from low-income, high crime rate neighborhoods in South Florida.
Much like the punk rockers that came before them, who dressed in leather and were identified by there look, artists such as Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Pump and Trippie Redd are easily identifiable from their multi-coloured dreads. The concerts of both scenes also play out very similar, with rowdy and aggressive fans cramming into overcrowded clubs and moshing as the erratic artists could at any moment attack members of the crowd. Drugs are rampant amongst these rappers as they were around the punk scene, but instead of Heroine or Cocaine, it’s Weed and Lean.
Even from a musical standpoint, the similarities are apparent. Much like the punk rock scene that came before it, these rappers are writing and recording short and aggressive songs from their own homes with a complete DIY feel, utilizing cheap recording equipment. The very amateur recording style and focus on beats rather than lyrics is completely against the mainstream rap scene that has progressed to a more lyrical driven sound. Put a track like ‘Alright’ by Kendrick Lamar next to ‘Take A Step Back’ by Ski Mask The Slump God and XXXTentacion and you could make the argument that they are barely in the same genre.
Just like the punk rock movement, these rappers have developed a near cult like following from fans without the aid of big record labels or mainstream radio. With the move from physical albums to online streaming, these young rappers have taken full advantage of the online platform, becoming rap superstars purely through utilising social media platforms skilfully.
Lil Pump is a perfect example of this entire movement. The 17 year old, who is identified by his pink and blonde dreads, used social media to become one of the hottest names in rap music right now. Pump‘s entire focus is on creating hard hitting beats and catchy hooks. In fact that’s all he does, because almost 90% of his song lyrics will be repeated words. It might seem dumb, but using this short, aggressive rap style and his online persona, Lil Pump‘s debut self titled album launched at number 3 on the Billboard charts. His track ‘Gucci Gang‘ is not only one of the biggest memes of 2017, but it currently sits in the ARIA top 40 despite never being played on Australian radio.
This is a group of teens who have fully grasped the shift of music to an online environment. They have been able to record, produce and release albums at a rapid rate and market them all for a fraction of the cost a big label might spend on a project. They endear themselves to fans by streaming live videos on Instagram on an almost daily basis and rather than promoting themselves when a song is set to drop, are constantly marketing their image day in and day out.
The biggest difference between the punk rock scene and this new wave of punk rappers is that unlike the rockers of the 70s who had a central anti-establishment, anarchist belief, these teens have no direction in their movement. You could argue that due to the lack of direction the SoundCloud rap scene has, it is more of a collection of similar sounding artists than an actual movement.
This topic has been debated by heavily by many music sites and publications, and it is impossible to tell whether or not in 50 years we will look back at this South Florida rap scene as an important step in musical history or even whether it will be a relevant scene in 6 months time. However right now these teenagers are on track to become some of the biggest artists in the game, and when one leaves to move to a big label, a new young rapper is ready to take their place. It may seem like a stretch to call these kids punk, but they are taking the established structures on how to become a massive recording artist, and they are tearing it to the ground.
Now that’s punk.