For the past several years, much ado has been made of the wave of rowdy, rule-breaking rappers that bubbled up from the underground on the music streaming site Soundcloud, dubbing their movement in honor of the service and praising or censuring the DIY, freeform aesthetic nature that the site helped facilitate. We’ve called them Soundcloud rappers, crediting them with bypassing the usual conventions of the recording industry and all its trappings.
The thing is, what they did wasn’t exactly new, even though the scale and ease with which they spread their viral, contrarian punk rap had been unseen. Soundcloud rappers like the Juice WRLD, Lil Pump, Lil Yachty, and Tekashi69 were simply building on a blueprint that had been laid out a decade before — one that was stubbornly chugging along, struggling to maintain its relevance even today. Myspace was like the precursor to Soundcloud, the launching pad for a million dreams, a million stories, and even one of rap’s biggest careers.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to stay relevant when you lose over 50 million songs in an ill-fated server migration geared toward the effort to do so. By now, you’ve probably heard: Myspace confirmed this week that the company lost millions of files dating all the way back to the social site’s launch in 2003 up until just four years ago. Leaving aside the surprising news that anyone was still uploading songs to the site long after the advent of Soundcloud, Spotify, and other dedicated streamers, it’s actually a minor tragedy that such a large archive of music has been lost, because, with it, we’ve also lost a huge chunk of hip-hop history.
It’s odd, but for all the written histories of the world, so much of what we know about what’s been written is third-hand knowledge from surviving accounts — think of it as a library losing every copy of the Harry Potter franchise, but maintaining an archive of literary magazines containing reviews of the books themselves. We’d be left with books about books, but no tangible proof of what was in the original texts — what they looked like, how much they weighed, and more importantly, what was in them, to begin with.
Myspace’s disastrous loss is the digital equivalent of the decline of the Library of Alexandria — the real tragedy is we won’t even know what was lost, aside from hazy, anecdotal firsthand recollections and maybe dead links on reference sites. Many of the sites that would have contained information about which artists, bands, labels, and songs got their starts on the groundbreaking social networking site are themselves lost to antiquity, their servers long since shut down or wiped, which means that even the guideposts we would use to remember that there were these little nuggets of information are gone.