The internet has supercharged pop culture’s gestation rate and irrevocably mutated the fan-creator dynamic. Thankfully, rap has kept up with the internet’s frenetic pace over the last decade. The speed at which hip-hop has embraced the streaming era is proof that rap is still music’s most malleable genre.
Even so, the characteristics of an “internet rapper” remain amorphous. Rap’s blog era—the golden age which lasted from the mid-2000s to about 2013—brought with it the “blog rapper.” These were the artists championed in the posts and forums of sites like 2DopeBoyz, OkayPlayer, KanyeToThe, and DJBooth. Some of these acts even graduated to “blog darling” over the years (Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Childish Gambino).
Fast forward to the mid-2010s when SoundCloud first began to generate steam. The term “SoundCloud rapper” becomes commonplace when artists like Lil Yachty, Lil Pump, and the late XXXTentacion joined the scene. Music driven by lo-fi aggression and melody-first songwriting became the norm. The terms “SoundCloud rap” and “mumble rap” quickly became punching bags for rap traditionalists.
Thanks to the internet’s breakneck speed, however, the term “SoundCloud rapper” already feels dated. Besides, defining internet rap in monolithic terms is useless in 2019.
Consequently, we’ve honed in on the three most prevalent strains of internet rap and their front line representatives. Follow us down the digital rabbit hole.
“Now they need me, number one on streaming/Oh yea, you used to love me. So what happened, what’s the meaning?”–Lil Nas X, “Panini”
The early days of file sharing sites like Napster helped artists like Afroman reach the masses. After releasing his debut album Because I Got High through T-Bones Records in 2000, the artist born Joseph Edgar Foreman gave out free copies of the CD at his live shows. A fan subsequently uploaded the album’s title track to Napster, boosting its profile to the point where “The Howard Stern Show” even began to spin it on the radio.
The song spread like digital wildfire. A rap single gaining this much traction solely from the internet was unprecedented. Afroman signing a deal with Universal Records shortly after was unreal. Rap had found one of its first viral stars.
In 2019, there’s no shortage of internet channels for rappers to catch the public’s eyes. Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok have all served as hotbeds for music to skyrocket. Take Atlanta’s Lil Nas X and his viral single “Old Town Road.” Released on December 2, 2018, the record started life as an attempt to capitalize on the cowboy-centric Yeehaw Agenda meme.
A $30 beat purchased from producer YoungKio and a music video featuring footage from the western video game Red Dead Redemption 2 changed everything. TikTok users began spreading the song shortly after. Its removal from Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart this past March, on the grounds of not being “real” country music, only fanned the flames. This controversy led to a deal with Columbia Records and, eventually, the top spot on the Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for a record-breaking nineteen consecutive weeks. Like Afroman before him, Lil Nas X had stumbled his way through the door of success.
Lil Nas X isn’t the first rapper to lean into a meme to extend the shelf life of a single, and he won’t be the last. Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” was given a boost from their participation in 2016’s #MannequinChallenge. Much like “Old Town Road,” California rapper The Boyboy West Coast’s bizarrely intoxicating “U Was at the Club” had a potent, albeit much shorter, life thanks to TikTok.
Lil Nas X is the first viral star of the Meme Age to go this big. It took his second single “Panini” to dethrone his first single “Old Town Road”
After 23 weeks as the most-played song on YouTube, “Old Town Road” was dethroned by Lil Nas X’s second single, “Panini.” His deep-fried wholesomeness makes him the modern face of Viral Rap.
“The government tried to ban me from the dark web/I downloaded Tor Browser then got back in” –Teejayx6, “Dark Web”
Rappers scamming fellow rappers and their fans is nothing new. In 2019, scamming is rap’s crime du jour. This particular brand of scamming extends beyond pure extortion into fraud, or more specifically, credit card fraud and identity theft. Headlines about shootouts and hasty getaways are being replaced with BIN numbers, Bitcoin, and cold sweats in Walmart’s electronic aisles. Threats of violence are low, but the stakes remain high.
For Oakland’s Guapdad 4000, this thrill shows up on the appropriately titled “Scammin’.” “When I pull up, have my money. I need half of what I cop / Don’t remember what I swiped for, I just know I bought a lot,” he hums.
For others, the thrill of scamming comes from the sneak of the crime in an otherwise low-key environment. This circus is booming in Detroit, with rappers likes Bossman Rich and 10kkev keeping this spirit alive. The current ringleader is an 18-year-old rapper named Teejayx6. His monotone voice makes his frenetic and off-kilter rapping style all the more jarring once the stories of boofing TVs and Xboxes come into play.
Teejayx6’s records are usually matter-of-fact accounts of scams, both online and off, doubling as instruction manuals laden with paranoia. Take breakout track “Swipe Lesson”:
“Go on to your site and it's gon’ tell you which address to load / Then you type that same address on the Bitcoin machine / If you put the right address it should pop up green.”
For Fraudulent Activity, a free seven-track project released this past June, Teejayx6 crafted a song eulogizing the now-defunct black market drug website Silk Road. He is an internet rapper who moves in the shadows, leaving breadcrumb trails and fraud Bibles for those who know where to look. “I’m really helping people in the long run, you know what I mean?” he told Genius News earlier this year.
Through the telling of these stories, Teejayx6 has amassed a sizable online audience—many of whom watched the buzzmaker headline SOB’s in New York City earlier this month. Shortly after the show, Teejayx6 posted a fake screenshot of a New York Times story claiming that he was arrested and facing 30 years in prison to his Twitter account. Scamming has proven to be his brand, through and through. His thrilling music and commitment to an aesthetic have molded him into the new face of Scam Rap.
“Come kill me, I'm verified.”—JPEGMAFIA, “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot”
In his review of the single “Beta Male Strategies,” Pitchfork staff writer Alphonse Pierre called JPEGMAFIA’s sense of humor “extremely online.” Since the beginning of his career, JPEG has found solace in and contempt for the internet. “I’m a product of the internet as well, so my taste reflects the people I collaborate with because that’s what I listen to,” he told Highsnobiety.
To be “extremely online” in 2019 is to be an active part of the world’s most massive cultural melting pot. Peggy’s mind reflects this. It is a living collage of influences and tastes that solidify in a place where anime, ’90s R&B, Beanie Sigel, and Black rage collide. The Bomb Squad by way of .RAR files and Funko Pops.
On his latest album, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, JPEG makes this genesis more accessible than ever. On “Grimy Waifu,” he sings a ballad to his gun—the titular waifu, a romantic reference point for anime fans—over shimmering guitars and lilting flutes. The previously mentioned “Beta Male Strategies” is devoted entirely to cutting down members of the alt-right who are “only brave with a [key]board and a mouse” over a beat that sounds like Boards of Canada on MDMA. Acidic humor pops up again on “JPEGMAFIA TYPE BEAT,” which ribs the type beat movement and frequent comparisons to industrial rap group Death Grips.
Making references to the internet is one thing, but JPEG adds a personal touch. The same artist who raps “I feel afraid, This Easy A, I’m feelin’ framed / I wear a mask, I see the Banes, I’m still ashamed” compares himself one song on to MF DOOM, Beanie Sigel, and 98 Degrees in the space of one bar. His confidence and insecurities share the same stage, just like everyone else on the internet.
What does it mean to be “extremely online” in 2019? For JPEGMAFIA, it’s less about being your best self, and more being your true self. His Blackness is untainted by the trolls. This fearlessness behind the boards and on the mic makes him the exemplar of “online” rap in 2019.