It’s been a tough few years for the burgeoning genre known as SoundCloud rap. It exploded in the mid-to-late 2010s with a series of influential albums, mixtapes, and singles from young artists such as Lil Uzi Vert, Trippie Redd, Ski Mask The Slump God, Denzel Curry, Yung Lean, Bones, Lil Skies, $uicideboys, Gothboiclique, iann dior and Wifisfuneral, most of which were released on the popular streaming platform, SoundCloud. The genre blended elements of mid-2000s emo and rock music with the percussion of Southern trap, making for a unique combination of sounds that quickly became one of the most dynamic and nuanced scenes in rap. The songs would range from depressive, emotionally-charged ballads to aggressive, in-your-face bangers. Even major, decade-defining artists such as Drake and Future began to borrow from the SoundCloud scene on albums such as “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”, “SAVE ME”.
In 2017, however, things changed drastically, seemingly in an instant. One of the subgenre’s biggest stars and arguably the inventor of this style of music, Lil Peep, died of an accidental fentanyl overdose at the age of 21. 2018 saw the murder of XXXTENTACION at 20. Then, just this past weekend, the biggest pop-crossover artist in the subgenre, Juice WRLD, died of a seizure at 21.
Suddenly, emo rap is missing three of its biggest proponents. A genre that once had so much promise now seems lost, with its biggest, most inventive stars lost. It’s particularly sad for me to watch because I came of age during this time period, and the aforementioned artists had a monumental impact on my tastes and development as a music aficionado. A number of these artists spoke to me in a way others couldn’t, talking about themes such as depression, addiction, and anxiety so matter-of-factly that it normalized the conversation for me and made me feel understood during times when I felt no one else could.
Sure, it’s sappy to say such things. But the emotional connection I formed with these artists’ music felt real and tangible to me and helped me through my roughest patches and darkest moments. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking to feel the genre slipping away in the way that it is. These artists had unlimited potential, but all of it fell by the wayside, seemingly without any rhyme or reason.
These artists spoke of their own deaths often in their own music. Lines like Lil Peep’s “Imma die young/Imma get killed” off his single “Kiss” and Juice WRLD’s “What’s a 27 club?/We ain’t making it past 21” off his hit “Legends,” itself a response to the deaths of Peep and X, feel like premonitions now. We as fans are allowed to peer into the minds of mortally conscious artists. Listening to these artists now recontextualizes their work and arguably makes it better than it already was. With each of these deaths, we receive a cautionary tale that reminds us to respect life.
The genre may continue to live on in other forms, of course. But I doubt it will ever reach the same artistic heights or level of popularity that it achieved while these artists were still with us. The high-profile losses of Peep, X, and Juice are already undoubtedly changing the way we look at drug abuse, violence, and mental illness in music, and their stories and songs will live on forever in my heart and playlists.