By Milend Kolbet
Launched in 2007, SoundCloud is a free music streaming service that was initially popular with DJs, due to its simple mechanics and ability to post hour-long sets. The platform itself is easy to use: it doesn’t take much to create an account and upload whatever content you desire. Due to its DIY nature, SoundCloud has been a home to all types of recordings — including leaked calls from Turkey’s Prime Minister in 2014, which fueled political uproar and caused the site to be temporarily banned in the nation.
While SoundCloud has always been a platform for up-and-coming artists to get their music out to the public, around 2016 it became synonymous with a movement which propelled several current big name artists to widespread success. So called SoundCloud Rap often features young artists with flashy personas, who post music with purposefully low production quality, mumbled lyrics, and little professional mixing. Many of the stars associated with this style are from Broward county Florida, including XXXtentacion, Ski Mask the Slump God, Lil Pump, Kodak Black, and Smokepurpp.
The easily accessible nature of the music meant that in 2016 someone like Lil Uzi Vert or Lil Pump could go viral in a matter of months. While musicians did not initially make money on SoundCloud, many soon found major record labels dangling astounding figures in the hopes of signing them, including Lil Pump who despite not previously having released an album, earned $8 million upfront to produce one.
It’s astonishing how many famous musicians got their start on SoundCloud — including Travis Scott, whose first two albums, Owl Pharaoh and Days Before Rodeo, launched his career. Interestingly, even today these two albums, and many other early hits from famous artists, have not been released on popular paid services such as Spotify and Apple Music. For many SoundCloud users, the site boasts content that isn’t available anywhere else, and it continues to draw users in.
Yet despite this, the service wasn’t actually making money. Its fatal flaw was that no subscription fees were required. SoundCloud found itself on the brink of collapse in 2017 and required a $169.5 Million cash injection. Since then the company has revamped its services, offering a premium subscription based option, and astronomically increasing the number of advertisements between songs. Recently the service also lost some traction as many of SoundCloud’s biggest stars have died or lost popularity, such as XXXtentacion, Lil Peep, and Tekashi69.
Recently however, with the rise in popularity of Tik Tok as a social media platform, emerging rap artists are foregoing SoundCloud in favor of a new model for becoming famous overnight. To go viral on Tik Tok you only need a few lines that will grab the listener, or provide the grounds for some sort of dance challenge. These lines are turned into a sound clip which multiple users will create a dance or trend around, propelling the original song to popularity. While these songs have a few grabby lines, Tik Tok songs are usually unlistenable outside of that one line that sticks. It almost feels like you’re being tricked, like when you see an amazing movie trailer, and realize later the only good parts of the film were the clips in that trailer.
However, all an artist needs to gain streaming revenue is a sound that people will play over and over on Tik Tok. That little clip gets stuck in your head and it becomes impossible not to listen to the entire song. Then once the song is popular, big name Rappers will hop on the song, making remix after remix. Let’s take a brief look at Spottem Gottem, whose song Beat Box created a recent Tik Tok trend called the Beat Box challenge. Currently if you visit his Spotify profile this is what you will see:
Beat Box now has nine variations, many with separate big name stars, but these remixes are currently casting a shadow over his other music.
In some cases songs are blowing up via Tik Tok before they are even released. After hearing Pooh Shiesty’s unreleased track Switch it Up on a Tik Tok trend, I have been constantly listening to leaks of the song, ironically only available on SoundCloud.
Tik Tok also differs due to the evanescent nature of the platform. Rappers are not finding the long-term success they did on SoundCloud, and when a trend is over, sometimes a rapper’s career can be as well. Recently, M City JR’s 2016 song Addicted to My Ex became popular on Tik Tok, having over 74 million streams on Spotify. However, with the exception of one track, none of his other songs have passed one million. In fact no song he has created after 2017 has even passed 130,000.
Tik Tok is slowly but surely killing the type of music and culture associated with SoundCloud Rap. While SoundCloud hits were centered around experimental mumble rap, Tik Tok inflates songs with a few catchy lyrics during a beat drop, with little else to the tracks. While SoundCloud is a place for artists of all calibers to release their work and grow a following, Tik Tok seems to be a place where artists are able to earn tremendous revenue off of one hit wonders. Hopefully after these trends end, and the floods of remixes stop, some of these artists will be able to find the longevity that their SoundCloud predecessors continue to enjoy.