Up until about a year ago, “SoundCloud rapper” was almost solely used as a disparaging term to discredit up-and-coming rappers. It wasn’t until artists like Lil Peep, Xxxtentacion, and Lil Pump began to blow up off of the service that people started to see it as a viable platform for talented artists to find their niche. Despite the wide variety of sounds and genres that exist on SoundCloud, there’s still a certain type of music associated with the scene and it can be tough to shed the preconceived notions of what a “SoundCloud rapper” sounds like no matter how strikingly different your music might be. 18-year-old Detroit-Metro artist c.robin says the only similarity between his music and an archetypal “SoundCloud rapper” is the use of autotune: “But even with that, I plan to go onto releasing complete albums without autotune as I mature as an artist,” he says.
Robin recently released his second self-produced mixtape Order 66 on the service (as well as a shortened EP version on Apple Music due to sample-clearance issues), a follow-up to 2016’s Goofy Tunes. Listening to the project, you can tell Robin is someone who draws from an amalgam of artists, both contemporary and classic. He mentions Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Pharrell, Rick James, Jai Paul, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West by name when talking about favorites and influences, and it shows: album standout “Star” samples Gil Scott Heron & Brian Jackson’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” and sounds almost like Ocean and West met over a Madlib beat. Likewise, “Hope They Don’t See the Smoke” has an almost Yeezus-esque breakdown. It all feels familiar yet forward-thinking. Robin credits his eclectic influences to his parents for raising him on Michael Jackson and his two older sisters for putting him on to “everything else.”
“In elementary school I developed a hardcore fandom for Michael Jackson,” Robin said. “I’d watch his live performances and memorize the choreography then perform them to my mom.”
Robin’s parents emigrated from Iraq in 1982, “the year Thriller came out,” he said. His family is Chaldean, an ethnicity with a population of about two million worldwide who are direct descendants of the people of Mesopotamia. Robin has a lighter skin tone and looks somewhat racially ambiguous, a fact that has made him feel like the odd one out at times, saying he’s “too white for middle easterners and too middle eastern for white people.”
“White high school baseball players used to make fun of me for chewing sunflower seeds in class cuz I never played baseball and to them that’s a baseball thing,” he said. “They didn’t understand that I was not raised in the same culture as them. Sunflower seeds are a Chaldean household necessity at all times…I don’t play no fucking baseball!”
Prior to rapping, Robin began pursuing music as a producer, where he would listen to 9th Wonder and Kanye West instrumentals on YouTube for hours for inspiration.
“For years I was posting soul-sampled beats on YouTube,” he said. “I started recording my vocals on top of tracks because I wanted to create an album like The Wonder Years by 9th Wonder where it’s my production for the entire project but various artists rapping and singing on each track. I got a microphone so I could record reference takes to send to the artists I was planning to feature.”
In this way, Robin began rapping almost by accident, saying he originally created songs like “Dirty Lemonade” as a joke to listen to when hanging out and smoking with friends. It wasn’t until he began receiving positive reception on rap forums that he started to take music more seriously, though his racial identity also came into play with regard to how people received his music. “When I first started posting songs on the internet I saw a lot of people getting turned off cuz I was a ‘white rapper,'” he said. “I’m sure lots of these kids would feel awkward meeting me and realizing how much ‘whiter’ their personality is than me…I’m a first generation american.”
White rappers and SoundCloud success stories are far from anomalies in 2017, but preconceived notions about what a “white SoundCloud rapper” sounds like affects people’s perceptions of any music on the service, not just Robin’s. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t actually white: unfortunately, to an outsider, what you look like can matter more than what you actually are. Thankfully, in the case of c.robin, all it takes is one listen of the music itself to dispel notions like these, because Order 66 takes leaps and bounds away from the archetypal “SoundCloud Rap” album he crafted with Goofy Tunes. And despite Order 66 racking up over 100 thousand total plays on the service in just a few short weeks, Robin has his own qualms with the scene in general:
“I just think everyone’s become too comfortable creating the same song. Everyone is stuck trying to make the next catchy auotune banger that goes on Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat story. No one is focusing on chord progressions, no one is focusing on developing their natural vocal abilities, no one is focusing on maturing as a songwriter. For a while after Goofy Tunes, I was stuck trying to do the same thing as everyone else. I think it’s a problem that’s holding back a lot of talent in young artists. Everyone is trying to appeal to everyone, they’re forgetting to put any personality in the music. Personality is good, making music that isn’t going to be liked by everyone is good. Goofy Tunes was like me serving the people, Order 66 is like—okay I served you all, now you actually have to listen to what I like. It took me eight months to release the first single from Order 66 after Goofy Tunes, I spent a lot of time maturing as an artist in that time.”
When asked about the title Order 66, Robin confirmed that it was reference to Star Wars but wants to “keep the reasoning for that title a secret…for now.” In the meantime, you can stream Order 66 on SoundCloud or Apple Music below: