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The internet has changed music across distribution, creation, representation, and the blurring of regional borders. While nostalgic rap purists often lament the days of established institutions and local identities, times move forward and hip-hop has along with it.
Hip-hop artists have traditionally been entrepreneurial in spirit and often limited in resource. Luckily the internet allows access to millions of fans at a very low cost. Today dances go viral and propel a track’s popularity. Starting with the Myspace videos of Soulja Boy, rappers could vault themselves into superstardom literally overnight. And so, a list of the rappers who have done it right—using the web to blow up in ways simply impossible prior to the mid-2000s boom of social media.
1) Soulja Boy
Ah, the godfather of internet rappers. Soulja Boy began putting his tracks on mp3 hosting site SoundClick in 2005, and posted a homemade video for his debut single “Crank That” on YouTube and Myspace in 2007. “Crank That,” and the dance featured in the video, went viral and got him signed to Interscope Records. He would go on to release several more hits, including “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” and “Pretty Boy Swag.” Recently he’s more known as the guy who cheated on his soon-to-be baby mama on Love and Hip Hop.
2) Timothy De La Ghetto
YouTube comedian Timothy De La Ghetto is another O.G. of the internet rap game, having started to post comedy skits along with music videos for his songs in the early days of video sharing. DeLa Ghetto, given name Timothy Chantarangsu, hosts a main YouTube channel with more than 3 million subscribers, and over 600 million views. His rap videos regularly boast millions of views, too. Chantaransgu also has vlog, music, and style channels. Chantarangsu has taken his internet fame from the laptop screen to the small screen, combining his freestyling chops with comedy on MTV’s Wild N’ Out.
3) Lil Yachty
Jumping ahead to more recent times, Lil Yachty has the internet entranced and the older generation confused with his self-proclaimed “bubblegum trap.” Yachty took SoundCloud by storm this year, with his single “1Night” getting 1.5 million listens a week at its peak. As reported by Noisey, Yachty’s initial roadmap for success highlights the internet’s impact on the world. After graduating from high school (last year, by the way), he headed to New York City to link up with other “internet people” and to establish himself in fashion circles. Despite initial roadblocks that included a brief return to college, he eventually connected with A$AP Rocky and made an appearance at the Yeezy fashion show.
4) Post Malone
Best known for his hit single “White Iverson,” R&B songster Post Malone first uploaded the song to SoundCloud. The song and video quickly garnered attention reaching over 205 million views since its 2015 release. Malone continued to put out music on SoundCloud, including “Too Young,” “What’s Up,” and “Tear$,” to similar popularity. He has since been on Jimmy Kimmel Live and opened for Justin Bieber.
Korean-American rapper Jonathan Park, a.k.a Dumbfoundead, first made his name being a formidable force in the underground rap battle scene. Asian jokes hadn’t been twisted back with such skill since the days of Jin on 106 & Park. With the advent of battles being posted to the internet via sites such as King of the Dot, Park began to find more mainstream popularity. The Dot recently profiled him, and with millions of views on many of his YouTube music videos, Park continues toward breaking the bamboo ceiling.
6) Lil B
The Based God himself is another Internet Rap pioneer, blowing up as a Hip-hop oddity with his crew The Pack. Once The Pack split, Lil B continued to put out videos on Myspace, establishing himself in the mainstream with hits such as “Wonton Soup.” As HiphopDX said, “Rap purists hated him, and the always connected generation loved him.” He has since become of the most polarizing cultural figures in Hip-hop, hanging out with Jaden Smith and cursing James Harden.
7) Bobby Shmurda
Shmurda is as famous for his incarceration as he is for his music. In 2014 he released the track “Hot Nigga,” which blew up on Youtube when the video featuring the “Shmoney dance” dropped. The song peaked at number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the Shmoney dance has spawned endless variations, from memes and vines to Beyonce performing it on tour. Rap fans who complain that gansta rap isn’t “real” enough these days were put to the test when Shmurda almost got charged with the murders he rapped about (and alledgedly confessed to in interviews) in “Hot Nigga.”
Awkwafina’s “My Vag” and “NYC Bitches” made our list for 2014’s viral rappers, and she has parlayed her internet fame into mainstream ventures such as the MTV show Girl Code. With the birth name Nora Lum, she has also appeared on Vice with Eddie Huang , and hosts her own short-form talk show Tawk. Guests have included Jean Grae, Asa Akira, and Hasan Minhaj. Lum is a great example of how YouTube fame became her catalyst out of a day job and into entertainment.
9) Chief Keef
Keith Cozart, a.k.a Chief Keef, led the way for Chicago drill music in 2012 when he released the videos for “I Don’t Like” and “3Hunna” while under house arrest. The attention led to him being signed by Interscope and collaborating with fellow Chicagoan Kanye West. His controversial musical themes about gun violence and drugs have garnered criticism in light of Chicago’s murder epidemic.
Born in Singapore to Chinese parents, Clara Wang grew up in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, where she first started her journalism career. Her work has been published by the Austin Chronicle, the Daily Dot, the Alcade Magazine.