When Kanye West dropped “Real Friends” this time last year, we learned a few things.
- Kanye Omari West is still the GOAT.
- A Kanye x Kendrick x Madlib collaboration, which was partially tacked on at the end of the song, sounds as good as it does in our wildest dreams.
- Ye has a dirtbag cousin who blackmailed him for $250,000 over a laptop containing an unspecified sex tape.
Something else happened after “Real Friends” dropped, too: an 18-year-old kid from Kansas City, Missouri saw his song skyrocket on SoundCloud. Thanks to the streaming site’s “related tracks” algorithm, rapper Rory Fresco’s “LOWKEY” was next in the play queue after Kanye’s “Real Friends.” In 24 hours, the song jumped from 5,000 to 150,000 plays. That number is closer to 4 million today.
Which got me thinking: what comes on after other popular rap songs on SoundCloud?
Placing my trust in the site’s “state-of-the-art machine learning algorithm” to not inflict irreversible damage to my eardrums, I decided to embark on a journey into the unknown of SoundCloud’s “related tracks” rabbit hole. The mission, which I perhaps foolishly chose to accept, is simple: listen to five of my favorite current songs, and stick around for whatever comes on next.
A$AP Mob - "Yamborghini High" ft. Juicy J > Nedlog Era - "OCULAR VISION"
I’m not entirely sure how SoundCloud’s algorithm took me from “Yamborghini High,” an A$AP Mob posse cut about getting as high as heaven’s gates, to a Stone Mountain teenager whose name is Golden Era backwards (it’s like if Joey Bada$$ copied Rae Sremmurd’s approach picking a rap name), but I’m not mad at this. “OCULAR VISION” features subsonic boom bap production and feral-sounding raps, which makes for an impressive combination. Lyrically, the song has a habit of veering off into early Odd Future territory (“N*ggas thought that they was really plotting / Til they got caught watching granny porn with the door open”), but if Nedlog Era ever decided to change his name to something that sounds less like “egg nog,” I might be tempted to check out more.
This idea might not be so bad after all.
Childish Gambino - "Redbone" > .marjan & Desperry - "Mare Mihi Lucent"
Confession: I found out where this artwork is from five seconds ago (sorry, I was never a manga kid), but I’ll admit this song has me intrigued beyond the, shall we say, eye-catching imagery. “Mare Mihi Lucent” is pretty much standard SoundCloud R&B: woozy production, a soft-spoken female singer and just enough sloppy songwriting to make you do a double-take (“This is what it takes when you can’t take someone behind you.” Huh?) Desperry’s rap verse kinda puts me off, but if I could bottle up marjan’s seductive chorus, I’d sip that all day.
J. Cole - "Everybody Dies" > Gary Da Iceman - "Bad Christmas"
I know SoundCloud said their algorithm has “state-of-the-art machine learning,” but I didn’t know it had a sense of humor. After hearing J. Cole take “lil whatever” rappers down a notch on “Everybody Dies,” I couldn’t help but laugh when this came on next. “Bad Christmas” by Gary Da Iceman kinda sounds like a Lil Yachty Christmas song, if Lil Yachty rapped like Jaden Smith. Seriously, no rapper with the name Gary Da Iceman should be allowed on any streaming site, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t catchy. He actually rhymes “you can’t come in, I don’t see you on the checklist” with “your bitch sucking on my dick and y’all just kissed.”
YG - "I Got a Question" ft. Lil Wayne > Jose SooFresh Bodon - "Nobody Else-Infatuated"
I knew there had to be a bad song in here somewhere (no offense, Jose SooFresh Bodon). First, having “Straight Outta Moms Vagina” as your artwork is a huge no, not least because of the grammatical error. Second, using it as the artwork for a song in which you talk about you and your girl breaking a bed is just...wrong. Maybe I’m not the target audience for “Nobody Else-Infatuated,” but I wasn’t prepared to hear “she dripping down her thighs, baby soaking wet” after bumping a YG song. I blame Trey Songz.
2 Chainz - “Good Drank” ft. Quavo & Gucci Mane > Parlae - "Yo Bitch Ass" ft. Migos & Hoodrich Pablo Juan
Honestly, I feel bad for any song that SoundCloud picked to follow “Good Drank” because it’s a modern masterpiece, the Mona Lisa of trap music. To my surprise, it wasn’t just a random remix or struggle rap song that was next in the queue, but Parlae’s “Yo Bitch Ass,” which features Migos and Hoodrich Pablo Juan. The song has a little over 5,000 plays, which goes to show that even big-name guests can’t guarantee buzz. Or maybe it’s just not that great of a song. Either way, I just listened to two Quavo hooks back-to-back, so it’s not all bad. We need that solo album in 2017, bro.
So, after five songs, was this experiment a success? Thanks to A$AP Mob, I stumbled on a diamond (albeit an unpolished one) in the rough. Thanks to YG, I felt like burying my head in said rough. And thanks to J. Cole, I think I've found my new favorite Christmas song to annoy everyone with. I don't know if you'd call that a "success," but I regret nothing.
As for SoundCloud's algorithm, it feels more strange than "state-of-the-art." Sure, recommendations on other streaming services can be a little generic, if not inaccurate (Pusha T comes up under Chance The Rapper's "related artists" section on Spotify, for example), but taking me from a J. Cole song with over two million plays to a rapper called Gary Da Iceman with 62 followers and who "do dis for fun" is just bizarre.
As much as I'm glad SoundCloud put me onto "Bad Christmas" (which I will be playing on loop from now until December), I can't help but feel like that look would have been better placed elsewhere, to an artist with more serious ambitions. SoundCloud is more of a lawless jungle than most streaming sites, so maybe there needs to be a little more curation when it comes to the play queue.
Ultimately, there are better places to discover awesome music you've probably never heard before (shameless plug alert). But if you find yourself in the mood for some musical Russian roulette, SoundCloud might just surprise you—for better or for worse.
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.