The underground has changed. It used to be that independent artists were the domain of those hip hop heads most dedicated to the genre. You wouldn’t hear Brother Ali or Edan blasting out of your average set of speakers. People developed whole identities around being a part of the underground scene. The knowledge was hard earned; the collections were expensive.
The years passed and, slowly, the internet killed the old industry. The idea of underground rap is blurred, if not completely eradicated. Chance the Rapper is a pop star and so is Mac Miller. Major labels do still have sway, but they’re no longer the only way to reach superstardom. You might be hard pressed to catch Run the Jewels on your local radio station, but they’ve had no problem reaching previously unimagined heights more than a decade into their respective careers.
These young kids have cultivated not only an audience, but a culture.
As much as I’ve heard people mourn the death of that culture, I don’t think the sense of community has been lost on this generation. Whether you call them bedroom artists or Soundcloud rappers, there’s a modern counter to the DIY principles of old. Gone are the heydays of Charles Hamilton, Blu and MF DOOM. In their place are Young Lungs, Brockhampton and Jon Waltz. These young kids have cultivated not only an audience, but a culture. As much as we want them to reach a wider public, it’s hard not to feel a certain pride in “getting it.”
They’re young, they’re talented and they don’t care about genres. Disparate influences are the norm. These artists aren’t tied down by geography. They’ve transcended their local scenes. Twitter is the world’s greatest A&R. Artists like Kevin Abstract know how to use the platform to their advantage. In the past, the media had a near monopoly on an artists’ image. He talks directly to his fans. He isn’t just his music. Kevin Abstract’s social media presence is an art.
We’ve created our own subculture. We play Cousin Stizz at parties and followed Allan Kingdom before the Brit Awards. It doesn’t stop at rap music. We’re producing our own photography, film and experimental sounds. There is no barrier to entry if you’ve got an internet connection. There are no magazines to collect, the articles are all online. Most of the music is free. Accessibility is at an all-time high. Times have changed and the underground has shifted. It’s never been easier to be a part of something. The culture is alive and well.