From Mixtapes to Millions: How SoundCloud is Launching Rap Careers

Feb 3, 2017

Think electronic music still reigns supreme on SoundCloud? Eh, not so fast. When it comes to the most-streamed songs, rap and hip hop outpace other genres 4:1. What once was a mecca for EDM fans is now a thing of the past. Ask any hip hop enthusiast where they find fire releases from the most promising rap artists, and they’ll likely tell you it’s SoundCloud. Move over, Diplo – 21 Savage’s got bars.

YouTube’s list of the 50 all-time most-viewed videos is produced mainly by pop artists well-established among millennial audiences – think Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, and Fifth Harmony – though there are a few exceptions, like the inexplicably viral hit “Gangam Style” from Korean pop singer PSY and a few Spanish-language songs. Though “Gangam Style” has held onto the #1 spot, the next most-viewed videos of all time are “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, and “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift, each earworm garnering more than 1.9 billion views.

On the other hand, out of SoundCloud’s top 50 most-streamed tracks, a whopping majority-41-of the most popular songs fall into the rap/hip hop category, with artists who have found mainstream success like Fetty Wap and The Weeknd being repeat favorites; only nine songs fall into other music genres. Though even SoundCloud has its exceptions: with over 12 million listens, the fifth most-streamed song of all time is “Trumpified,” a pro-Trump anthem from an amateur “rapper” named Scott Isbell. Despite these outliers, according to Pex data, users have tagged their music with “rap,” “hip hop,” and “trap” over 6.7 million times on SoundCloud.

SoundCloud has become a platform that serves as an outlet for artists who cater to a more niche audience, many of whom become chart-toppers without the help of top 40 radio play. Take “Bad and Boujee,” “Black Beatles,” and “Broccoli,” for example: certified bangers from artists who build on newer platforms like SoundCloud and Spotify rather than traditional outlets like top 40 radio. In contrast, nearly all 50 of YouTube’s most-viewed videos are songs that were at one point in the national radio rotation (though when popular rap songs are made into music videos, they’re usually successful on YouTube as well).

Some of rap and hip hop’s newest acts, like Bryson Tiller and PartyNextDoor, as well as some of today’s most popular artists like Chance the Rapper can track much of their success from SoundCloud. Chance, who released his critically-acclaimed “mixtape” Coloring Book in May exclusively to Apple Music, made the album available on his SoundCloud account two weeks later (though the album has been posted by fans on YouTube, Chance never uploaded it to his own account). SoundCloud announced that Coloring Book was their most-listened to album of 2016, thanks in part to the54,000 times it was shared by his 1.34 million followers. Post Malone, a hip hop singer from Texas, caught the attention of the genre’s community with his debut single “White Iverson,” which has garnered over 44 million listens on SoundCloud since its original release date early in 2015; one hit was enough to earn Post Malone a deal with Republic Records.

Though YouTube does have a much larger, more global audience, SoundCloud’s smaller audience and smaller upload pool gives unsigned artists a chance of being discovered more easily. While YouTube’s most popular songs are likely by artists you’ve heard time and time again on the radio, with SoundCloud, you might just discover the next big thing in music.

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