IC rappers build campus hip-hop culture
Looking out over a crowd of high-energy spectators, junior Jordan Alexander recalls his humble beginnings. In just two years, he went from recording in his bedroom to his first show in the apartment of a group of students. Although he’s been hard at work on his music for almost two years, for Alexander, known on stage as JRA, this eccentric performance is just the beginning.
Hip hop is the second most popular genre of music behind pop. While rap music was once difficult to produce and publish, the availability of the internet in the early 2000s and the rise of social media gave lesser-known rappers and producers a platform on which to share their work. MySpace’s rap scene is credited with finding and popularizing artists like Drake, and Tumblr was a popular early destination for collectives like Odd Future and Brockhampton. Since, SoundCloud has been the go-to destination for artists looking for quick and easy publishing, and the frequency and simplicity of creating music and uploading it to SoundCloud has spawned an entire “SoundCloud rap” subculture.
Rap SoundCloud gained a name after smaller artists who released their music on the platform found domestic fame around 2015. The success of artists like Lil Pump and XXXTentacion pushed young listeners to make music exclusively on their laptops and phones, creating the underground scene that SoundCloud rap is usually referred to. at. SoundCloud rapping is a unique and revolutionary step in the history of hip-hop, as it has turned even the smallest towns and schools around the world into talent goldmines. Ithaca is no different.
Alexander has been involved in the college hip-hop community for almost two years. While rap often surrounds a competitive culture, Alexander says the music scene on campus is more positive and collaborative. Artists come together to network, which is their primary mode of growth. This helped Alexander get the opportunity to hold his first performance on December 3, 2021.
“The opportunity arose because I had a mutual friend who was also doing music and I had friends who were in a band,” Alexander said. “So he had an idea for an end-of-year reunion where people could get together and perform.”
Alexander attributes the college’s friendly music scene to shared student goals and aspirations, meeting his friends who make music through his work as a TVR major at Park School. Students who make music take classes and work hard alongside their passions, putting performers on a similar level and giving them all something in common.
“We’re all trying to make the best movie, or show, or article, or get the best ratings. I feel more competitive in class than in music,” Alexander said.
Despite his respect and dedication to the underground hip-hop community, Alexander does not identify as a SoundCloud rapper. Since the term’s inception, artists tagged as SoundCloud rappers have gained a reputation for low quality, primarily due to the high volume of content on SoundCloud, which makes it difficult for listeners to filter out their favorite music. Without associating himself with the trope, Alexander acknowledges the reasons why most rappers are ignored based on where their music is published and finds blind criticism harsh given the circumstances.
“See, I don’t really like that term. [SoundCloud rapper]. I feel like when people hear the term [SoundCloud rapper], they’re like ‘Oh, this guy probably doesn’t put a lot of time into his music,’” Alexander said. “But it could be a lack of good equipment, or they are just at the start of their career.”
KBN (Kings by Nature) is a group made up of freshmen Brian Martinez, RJ Dixon, Omari Matthis, David Simmons and D’Andre Walker. The band originally made music for their own entertainment in November 2021, rapping to a drill beat in Simmons’ dormitory. After playing their music for a few other artists on campus, the band received enough positive feedback to seriously pursue music. KBN takes a different stance on the idea of the SoundCloud rap scene.
“A lot of people are SoundCloud rappers, and you have to start somewhere,” Martinez said. “When you start out as a SoundCloud rapper, you rock with it until you get big.”
The coming of artists after positive feedback from other creators is another example of the overwhelmingly supportive rap community that exists on campus. In the cases of Alexander and KBN, the active and enthusiastic community is what helped their music grow.
“Everyone wants to see themselves win,” Simmons said. “I haven’t seen anyone disparaging anyone’s music or being disrespectful. Especially the upper classes, they’ve been really supportive.
Despite the positive experiences of Alexander and KBN, Ithaca College’s hip-hop scene remained underground. Sophomore Nour Elshikh, also known by his stage name DJ Pharaoh, finds that despite the number of rappers and producers on campus, the subculture doesn’t get too much attention.
“I know and have met so many people who produce and make music, even if it’s definitely not mainstream yet.” said Elshikh. “I would still say it’s kind of popular throughout the school, it seems like more freshmen are interested in making music.”
Part of the school’s rap scene that remains underground may stem from the lack of student rappers enrolled in music school. Vadim Serebryany, an associate professor of music production, said the influence of hip-hop in music programs is not only present, but is gaining more and more attention.
“Hip-hop is discussed in various places on the program,” Serebryany said. “It comes up in Rock Styles, Tim Johnson’s Hamilton seminar and other courses I’m sure. I don’t know of any students for whom creating hip-hop is a central part of their academic work right now, but discussions about making the laptop an option as a primary instrument for an IC music major are ongoing, and I would like to not be surprised if such a program is added in the near future. »
More students enrolled in the music school could mean more hip-hop-centric events on campus. Elshikh was able to participate in an opening DJ set for Brooklyn rapper Sleepy Hallow at the Bureau of Concerts Fall 2021 event, though other official college hip-hop events are hard to come by.
“I think the community should express themselves more through campus events because there are actually a lot of students who are really passionate about their rapping and producing,” Elshikh said. “I want to see more interaction between bands and artists in the school rap scene, I think it’s going to bring a lot of people together.”