Head in the Clouds | Quinn Satterlund
Cloud rap, a distinct subgenre of southern rap and trap music, initially came from the late 2000’s hip hop scene of Atlanta and Houston. However, in the last decade, cloud rap has since metamorphosed into something incredible, with artists like Viper, Yung Lean, and Lil B taking the hazy lo-fi sound of cloud rap to new heights — if it’s already in the clouds, then I guess new heights would be space? The characteristics of cloud rap come from its mixing pot of influences, ranging from Drum and Bass, Grime, Pop, Trip Hop, and most obviously, Hip-Hop.
The spacey, almost ethereal-sounding cloud rap draws its name from an interview with pioneer Lil B the Based God: when shown a CGI picture of a castle in the clouds, the BasedGod replied with “that’s the kind of music I want to make.” Lil B is credited with creating one of the first cloud rap mixtapes, “6 Kiss,” with such songs as “I’m God” and “Walk the World” being key starting points for the new wave of cloud rap. The intro track to “6 Kiss” is even titled “B.O.R (Birth of Rap),” signifying “6 Kiss’” groundbreaking status as the start to modern cloud rap.
Even earlier, however, were Viper’s mixtapes “Ready … And Willing” and “You’ll Cowards Don’t Smoke Crack” which include some of the first instances of cloud rap’s characteristic dirty, lo-fi sound that it became known for. At first, I, like many others, listened to Viper as a joke: his low-quality videos were laughable, most of the tracks were produced by Viper himself, who obviously has no experience in making beats, and Viper’s seemingly favorite topic is his addiction to a specific narcotic that rhymes with “track.” But the more I listened to it, the more I began to like him, and I began to see his use of samples and raw, unmastered vocals as something beautiful. His work ethic was undeniable, with his number of albums well over 1500 (yes, albums), showing that Viper doesn’t do it for the money, he does because he enjoys it: it’s not a job for him, but an outlet to release his thoughts and emotions, even if they have to do with crack.
Cloud rap arguably reached the mainstream when Swedish artist Yung Lean’s music video for “Ginseng Strip 2002” went viral in 2013, thrusting the genre into the spotlight. Many critics point to “Ginseng Strip” as a major influence on the “Soundcloud rap” era in the following years, with artists such as A$AP Rocky, XXXTENTACION, Lil Peep, and even Post Malone taking inspiration from the rapper (although they are not cloud rap artists, each have made songs that contain elements of sad, dreary lyrics over dreamy synths, something that most have attributed to “Ginseng Strip’s” popularity).
The use of social media has also been a connecting factor for all these artists, with the original cloud rappers using Myspace and YouTube, while most of the newer artists use SoundCloud and Instagram to spread their music. If you want to start listening to Cloud rap, I recommend Yung Lean’s “Lavender” EP, Bladee’s “Gluee,” Lil B’s “6 Kiss,” SpaceGhostPurpp’s “Nasa Gang” mixtape, and Viper’s “F**k Earth Im Gon Wage An Interstella War” as great introductions to the beautiful world of Cloud Rap.