By Barbara Norton, Editor-in-Chief
In the mid-2010’s, teens made the switch from DIY duct tape wallets to DIY hip-hop, thanks in part to the popularization of music-sharing platform SoundCloud. Characterized by its complete lack of gatekeeping, SoundCloud gave any humble hopeful the chance at a golden ticket—instead of touring the Chocolate factory, though, they’d get a record deal and worldwide fame.
For SoundCloud’s early success stories like Post Malone’s “White Iverson” and XXXTentacion’s “Look at Me!”, viral hits launched them into the big leagues, inspiring a string of duplicates in both image, name and style. This democratization of hip-hop raises the question—is the next Lil Uzi Vert in your calculus class?
Take senior Connor North, who can usually be found wearing a hoodie with his Spotify code on the back (a Christmas present from his girlfriend) and can weave an Avatar: The Last Airbender reference into conversation without skipping a beat. When North first started making music, he rapped under the name “Beef Chief,” a steak emoji nestled next to his name on Snapchat. Some tracks such as “Mardi Gras” songs are a blend of trap and brass, marked with a steady cadence and a rasp that is noticeably absent from his speaking voice. Others, such as “Asteroids,” are drifting melodies with a breathless croon and a hint of autotune.
“I used to be Beef Chief, but then I was like ‘If I actually blew up one day, could I see that name on a big-ass billboard?” North said.
Apparently he couldn’t, because North soon switched his name to “NEEDAMEDIC,” a nod to his late father who was a doctor. Despite his awareness of a possible future in the spotlight, North won’t give you an autograph quite yet.
“I’m not planning on making a career out of it [rapping], just ‘cause there’s such a little chance that could happen,” North said. “If fame does come from it that’s great, but I’m not gonna bank on that.”
Though he’s wanted to create music his entire life, North only began releasing music in the past five months. Since then, he’s released four singles on Apple Music, Spotify and SoundCloud, and has two more planned for release this month.
One of these singles is “Payroll,” a “crowd favorite” worthy of playing if James Bond ever takes a spin in the Batmobile—the ringing of a telephone periodically puncturing a pounding bass. As North raps, “Got the fuckin’ president on my payroll/Bitches want some money but I’m swimmin’ in the pesos,” his voice sounds distinctly deeper than when he’s providing answers over an AP Statistics Webex, but just as steady.
North records at a professional studio in Portland, so the filmed-in-my-childhood-bedroom din hallmarking so many SoundCloud songs is noticeably absent from his tracks. North assures me that he doesn’t actually have the president on his payroll, and he’s perfectly aware of the discrepancy between his life and his lyrics.
“I made “Payroll” in probably about 10 minutes. That was one of the songs where I was like ‘y’know what? I really want to have fun with this,” North said.
However, not all of North’s music is as playful as “Payroll.” North’s most recent release, “Goodbyes,” pays homage to his father, who passed away from lung cancer in August.
“With “Goodbyes,” which is way more personal to me, it was like ‘I want to express how I’m feeling in this moment before it’s gone,” North said. “It was right when I heard that my dad was gonna be on hospice care, so they were done with his treatment and they were just gonna let it take its course.”
North featured LA-based rapper ZEDSU on “Goodbyes,” who got his start on SoundCloud and now has nearly 600,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. North claims that more collaborations are in the near future, one of them with an artist who you might’ve seen on the baseball field or in your sophomore English class: Senior Tobias Holme, who produces music under the name Lil Tob.
The lyrical upperclassman has been interested in music since he was gifted a guitar in first grade. His passion manifested itself through his involvement in a band in eighth grade.
“The band was called Nosecone, like the tip of a rocket… Because we rock it,” said Holme with a small laugh. Nosecone performed rock and punk songs—including a healthy dose of Grateful Dead—giving Holme a background that he uses in his most recent musical endeavor: creating his own music on SoundCloud. While Holme’s dreams also lie in the studio, that is where his similarities to North end—Holme’s aspirations are behind the digital audio workspace instead of behind the microphone.
“When I was in the band, I realized that I knew enough about music to produce,” Holme said. “I really wanted to be able to create and control every sound that goes into a track.”
Since that realization, Holme has begun looking into a career in music production, and, in the meantime, focused on honing his craft. He regularly posts his music on his Snapchat, sending it to people—including North—free of charge.
“I see people on Snapchat they’re like ‘oh, five bucks for a beat, fifty bucks if you want me to master your vocals’ and I’m always like ‘music isn’t really about how much money you’re making, it’s about creating sound with the people you love and the people around you,’” Holme said. Holme hasn’t always been so open about sharing his music, though.
“There was a point when I first started music when I was like ‘Oh gosh, I sound so bad on this,’” Holme said. “But I’m over that and now I’m like, ‘I’m doing this for me.’ I don’t care who likes it or doesn’t like it, this is what I want to put out.”
Despite their passion and dedication, both Holme and North are more than aware of the connotation that a high school rapper carries.
“I more just call myself an artist,” North said. “When you normally hear a high schooler that makes music, you’re like ‘oh, this is going to be SoundCloud rapper level.’” North is rightfully wary of the “SoundCloud rapper” label—a far cry from the blunts, battery charges and benzodiazepines of SoundCloud’s founding fathers, it instead invokes an ambience of Supreme hoodies, Juuls and flame emojis. Though both connotations are—for better or for worse—completely divorced from the likes of 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G. and Ice Cube, there are also divisions within the new genre.
First, we have the major players: those who spun raw angst, face tattoos and low-fi production together to usher in a new era of rap, immortalized by their posthumous albums and teenage disciples. Then, there are the listeners: those born after 1995 who resonated with SoundCloud’s emo-rap, or perhaps just with the glamorous success stories it periodically churned out. Embodying the same energy as those who remark “I could do that” when gazing at abstract art, some listeners took advantage of rap’s open floodgates and tried their hand at a viral song. Instead of gaining fame, however, they gained blackmail material and a painful memory to lock in the abyss of freshman year. Senior Julia Myers uses SoundCloud to discover new, smaller artists that aren’t on Apple Music and sympathizes with those who bear the burden of the genre’s stereotype.
“I’ve only heard good things about SoundCloud, it’s just the ‘oh, a SoundCloud rapper’ comment that I hear every now and again,” Myers said. “It’s a hard stigma to be in, especially when you’re trying to be creative.” While she’s aware of the less-than-glamorous connotation, Myers doesn’t let it tarnish her view on the platform. Instead, she views SoundCloud as innovative rather than inept.
“The beauty of SoundCloud is that anyone can make anything,” Myers said. “It’s another outlet for people to express their creativity.” North and Holme’s creativity is precisely how they subvert the SoundCloud rapper stereotype, working to establish themselves as artists instead of punchlines.
“When people hear that I make the melodies, they’re more open to hearing something because it’s not just some kid yelling,” Holme said. “I think someone might respect me more just because I’m involved in the music part.” North has had a similar experience with his music, claiming that most people’s opinions are tainted with visions of clout goggles and voice cracks until they actually hear his songs.
“I don’t count myself as a SoundCloud rapper because I put so much energy and time into making it sound like something you might hear on the radio,” North said. Far from just inspiration for a Pete Davidson-Timothee Chalamet SNL skit, North and Holme’s dedication and passion undermine their typecast. And who knows—maybe you’ll hear them on the radio on the way to your 9 to 5.