Earlier this year, I wrote about how the lack of a legitimate middle class in rap could lead to unforeseeable consequences for the genre of rap as a whole should interest in the biggest names ever begin to wane. Indeed, at the end of 2017, the biggest sellers were still the usual suspects, with Jay-Z, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar topping the charts with their respective albums. However, relative newcomers like Migos, Cardi B, 21 Savage, Lil Pump, and Post Malone are currently topping the singles charts for R&B and hip-hop, which means the game might be changing.
This presents some interesting prospects for the coming year. With the biggest names mostly releasing albums in 2017, the charts and our ears will be wide open for the next generation of talent. But where will this next boom of rap creativity come from, and what will it sound like?
With the repeal of net neutrality rules, modern avenues of music discovery, like Apple Music, Spotify, and especially Soundcloud are all threatened by the whims of internet service providers and their grudges and deals, both backroom and legitimate. Furthermore, with streaming services like Soundcloud and Tidal bleeding money seemingly by the day, and no workable strategies for monetization, the number of options for up-and-comers may soon begin to dwindle.
Depending on where you stand, that might be a good thing. Without Soundcloud to democratize the music distribution process, many of those dubbed “mumble rappers” or “cloud rappers” might face an impenetrable barrier to entry. That could mean fewer 6ix9ines, XXXtentacions, Kodak Blacks, Lil Pumps, and Lil Xans, but that also may prevent us from hearing another Lil Uzi Vert, Joey Badass, or Vince Staples. Remember how Chance The Rapper first made his name with the Soundcloud release of Acid Rap? He jokingly “saved” Soundcloud with an exclusive release earlier this year, but without an influx of cash, the service could be absorbed by a larger entity like Apple Music (with its iTunes Music Store download counterpart reportedly slated for a 2019 expiration date) that may make it more difficult for independent artists with smaller networks and less capital to break through to mainstream audiences.