New Artist Spotlight: Creepin’ N’ Lurkin’ With Bill $aber

Bill $aber is a budding rapper hailing from Buffalo, the city he derives his name from, with a frantically growing fanbase endearingly known as the “Animals.” In October of 2016, Pigeons & Planes posted an article featuring his horned visage alongside the likes of breakout artists such as XXXtentacion and Ski Mask The Slump God. “Creepin N Lurkin,” his biggest single to date, sits comfortably just under 300k views on both YouTube and SoundCloud, showing off his dark, yet somehow more reserved and smooth take on the rumbling lo-fi wave more commonly found in Florida than in New York. He is reportedly gearing up to drop both a full-length project titled Year of the Ram and an EP with Ronny J, the producer behind some of the hottest songs of the last few years, such as Denzel Curry’s breakout hit “Ultimate” and Lil Pump’s SoundCloud-chart-topping “Molly.” A few months back, we got a chance to discuss his newfound buzz and aspirations looking towards the future.

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The Fate of SoundCloud

UPDATE 10:08 AM PST: SoundCloud founder Alexander Ljung and Chance the Rapper both tweet that SoundCloud is here to stay. Ljung announced that Kerry Trainor and Mike Weissman, previously of Vimeo, will be joining the service as CEO and COO, while Ljung will keep his role as chairman.

The clock is ticking on SoundCloud as it faces a hugely pivotal and defining week.

We’ve heard many rumors lately about the apparent termination of SoundCloud due to funding issues, as for many years the company has been running on an unsustainable revenue model and the bubble could be on the verge of bursting. This would be a huge shock to the music industry with many fans, DJs, and artists alike relying heavily on the streaming service. Premium paid service SoundCloud Go doesn’t seem to have had the traction and impact the owners hoped, but this is unsurprising when we look at the fierce competition in the market, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and TIDAL. SoundCloud failed to amass as many subscribers to the premium service as they had hoped, thinking it would be able to help tackle their monetary woes. The struggling company has had to let go 40% of its staff and has shut down its London and San Francisco offices.

When rumors of SoundCloud’s demise first arose, we got an interesting response from hip-hop’s golden boy, Chance the Rapper. In a tweet, he offered support to SoundCloud and vowed to save the struggling streaming service, leading some to believe that an Apple Music-SoundCloud merger could possibly be in the cards due to the rapper’s affiliation with Apple. The next day, Chance announced that SoundCloud was “here to stay,” also dropping Young Thug collaboration “Big B’s” exclusively on the service. With Chance being able to do no wrong in the public’s eyes, he was hailed by many as the savior of SoundCloud—but it seems like those reports may have been off the mark.

Fast-forward to this week and events have gotten to a critical and defining period. According to a report from Axios, shareholders will be voting this week on a new reorganization plan for the company. The plan has been put forward due to a new investment of $170 million which values the company at $150 million overall. This valuation is significantly lower that it was just a year ago, when Bloomberg reported the company was mulling over a $1 billion deal. At that time, a situation like this seemed hugely farfetched.

The investment has been put forward by Raine Group, Temasek, and existing backers of the company, and the deal hinges upon existing backers accepting somewhat of a raw deal: the new investors would get first priority on funds should the company face liquidation. A “no” vote would leave the company in a huge mess and serious questions would undoubtedly be raised about its prospects (though reports that SoundCloud could face demise in a day seem a tad premature at this point). A joint statement has been put out which reads as follows:

“Financing of this size will enable to company [sic] to pay off its remaining debt, while ensuring a strong, independent future… In the event that the transaction does not close and in the event SoundCloud does not otherwise obtain additional funding, based on current cashflow forecasts, SoundCloud faces liquidity concerns in the near term.”

SoundCloud artists Lil Pump & Smokepurrp — Kyle Johnson / The New York Times

Somewhat ironically, the service’s woes seem to have started just months after we first began to see its first artists, such as Xxxtentacion, Lil Pump, and Smokepurrp, use the service to truly break into the mainstream. If anything, the SoundCloud story is a cautionary tale in regard to how solid business models should always be looked at rather than simply potential—the music scene is rapidly changing and SoundCloud only has to look at Napster to see how giants can fall.

Though it is too early to panic, SoundCloud artists should be backing up all music uploaded on the service in the event of a closure. SoundsPurple will keep you updated with the results of this latest vote that will prove pivotal to the future of the existence of the streaming service.

New Artist Spotlight: c.robin Talks SoundCloud & Chaldean Heritage

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:

Review: Xxxtentacion – Revenge

For those not willing to scrounge SoundCloud and blog posts for haphazardly-released singles and snippets (AKA, the vast majority of people who listen to music), Revenge is probably their first taste of Xxxtentacion and his polarizing universe. Xxx embodies a type of angst that might be appealing to younger listeners—perhaps a version of this generation’s Odd Future or Eminem—but without the wit or pathos that made those two acts so much more endearing and appealing to fans. It’s hard to enjoy music when its main motif seems to be “abusing women,” especially if the artist was previously in jail for allegedly assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. Though it’s easy to appreciate Xxx’s willingness to think outside the box musically and foray into different genres, it cannot mask his shallow content.

Of course, Xxx is far from the only rapper to be criticized for misogynist lyrics, but a larger problem lies in the fact that there seems to be no meaning beyond the lyrics taken at face value. There’s no lesson to be learned, no indication that it’s self-aware or tongue-in-cheek. When Future opens his album with “Even if I hit you once you part of my collection,” it works because you’re supposed to be disgusted with him. You listen as he grapples with his demons throughout HNDRXX and ends up begging forgiveness its excellent closer, “Sorry.” There’s no “Sorry” on Revenge, no turning point. There seems only to be hatred for hatred’s sake. It’s a shame the lyrics are caustic to the point of hindrance, as the songs themselves could be creative, fascinating, even great if more was put into the writing, but Revenge mostly sounds like if Lil Uzi Vert had a younger brother who tried to make a Death Grips album after hearing Nirvana for the first time.

Breakout single “Look At Me!” is the most sonically dissimilar track on the album, likely tacked on as an intro for name recognition and to boost units “sold” via streaming. Its haunting beat (sampling dubstep artist Mala’s “Changes“) invokes the atmosphere of a Legend of Zelda dungeon, though its content, flow, and overall style is simply a more abrasive take on contemporary rap. It’s not until the B-Side of the album that Xxx begins to call back to this distorted, more lo-fi sound he toyed with on “Look At Me!” as songs like “I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore,” “Looking For A Star,” and “Valentine” take on contemporary R&B, the current Caribbean/dancehall trend seen on albums like More Life, and indie rock, respectively. “King” acts as a bridge, starting off softer like the previous three tracks, and then building into something more akin to metal. “YuNg BrAtZ” and “RIP Roach” fully commit to this blown-out sound, calling back more to roots of punk rock and grunge rather than Lil’s Uzi and Yachty.

Perhaps the most (only?) successful aspect of Revenge is the presentation, as Xxxtentacion’s bouts of aggression are best experienced in short bursts. At just 18 minutes long, even the tracks themselves are short, with every song but one being under three minutes, and three of the songs even being closer to the 1:30 mark. It acts almost like one of those snippet sampler mixtapes rappers used to put out in the early 2000s, transposing a collection of songs from his SoundCloud onto a commercial offering and allowing for Xxx to explore different sounds without turning off the listener by committing for a full album (or even full song). In that way, it’s the perfect bite-sized introduction to an artist whose catalog is expansive, inaccessible, and generally hard to navigate — even if it does so to mixed results.

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