Sophomore Collin Flynn has promised his parents he won’t drop out of UNC to pursue SoundCloud rapping — “over and over and over again.”
Flynn began uploading his music to the free music platform last semester under the name “Karma,” and already his first song, “Ride,” has over 8,000 plays. Flynn is one of millions who post music on SoundCloud, including college-age rappers looking to get famous.
Flynn said part of SoundCloud’s appeal is that anyone can post music and potentially “blow up.” Rappers such as Lil Pump and Sheck Wes got their start on the platform before going on to achieve record deals and Billboard hits.
“All you have to do is have a mic, a computer and a place to record, and you can be the next Lil Pump — theoretically,” Flynn said.
Sophomore Shawn Duncan, who posts music under the name “~ssion,” said SoundCloud is especially popular with college students because it is free to post and listen to music, providing accessibility students may not have to other platforms such as iTunes and Apple Music.
Duncan, like Flynn, considers himself a student before a SoundCloud musician and is not planning to pursue music as a career. He said he is not seeking a huge following, but rather posts music for people to enjoy.
Community was central to “watchu_meen!!??,” a song that orientation leaders Vance Stiles, Excellence Perry and Smit Mehta wrote and posted this summer to play for their orientation groups. The song was based on Mehta’s catchphrase and caught on with the orientation staff and students.
The song, which is Stiles’ most viewed, features Mehta saying “watchu mean” as the chorus. Perry said it became iconic during orientation — so much so that they performed it in a mini concert during Rise Against Hunger.
“We would hear students at the orientation session humming it, and some of them would ask for the SoundCloud link,” Perry said. “And with that link, it spreads like wildfire.”
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Stiles said SoundCloud is area-focused, allowing rappers in small areas to produce music and listeners to hear music by artists near them. He compared rappers posting music on SoundCloud to people selling their mixtapes on street corners in the past but with greater circulation.
Though Stiles has considered pursuing music production as a career and is interested in the field, he said it will probably always be a hobby for him because it is such a competitive industry and Chapel Hill is not a central location for trap or rap.
“We wish it were Trap-el Hill, but it’s really just Chapel Hill,” Perry said.
Perry also uses SoundCloud to make joke tracks with his sister, including one they created about Crocs and socks after he bought her Crocs for Christmas. He said they are able to create a fully produced song in under 30 minutes by making beats on GarageBand, giving them an opportunity to be their own musical group.
Stiles said GarageBand is one of many factors that has made music recording cheaper, along with the availability of more inexpensive "daws", which are digital audio workstations. Because anyone can make music with cheap equipment, artists can start producing music without large amounts of money.
“Now anyone can make music,” Stiles said. “That doesn’t mean it has to be good music, but anyone can make music, which is empowering.”
With so many artists posting on SoundCloud, both Duncan and Flynn said it is important for rappers to find a unique sound to differentiate themselves. Duncan said SoundCloud attracts an “underground sound,” which makes its way into the mainstream as songs like “Mo Bamba” by Sheck Wes go viral.
“SoundCloud has changed (the music scene) because it’s easier for underground artists and underground sound to come to light,” Duncan said.
Stiles and Perry said the sound is characterized by being rawer and less processed than most mainstream music because it is not as controlled by record labels. Electronic mashups also have a role on SoundCloud, whereas Perry said they are not as prevalent on platforms like Spotify that focus more on the biggest hits.
Another trend Stiles and Perry said they see is that listeners focus less on lyrics and more on melody, in SoundCloud rap and beyond. They also said rap is more popular than other genres both on SoundCloud and the top charts, which they said indicates that rap is the new pop in the music world — especially on college campuses.
“Look at the airwaves now,” Stiles said. “It’s covered in rap. 21 Savage, 10 years ago, would not have had a name for himself. Now everyone’s rapping him and Post Malone all the time.”