The enigmatic SpaceGhostPurrp, his Raidar Klan clique, super-producer Clams Casino, and evidently Swedish internet-sensation Yung Lean, helped popularise cloud-rap as a genuine hip-hop moment. All of which used music-streaming platform Soundcloud as the primary means of promoting their faux-cerebral combination of spacey atmospherics, ethereal vocal samples and esoteric lyrical tropes. The haze proliferated at the beginning of this decade, and it soon became trendy.
In 2013, around the same time, Denzel Curry’s “Nostalgic 64” took off and saw him became one of the first rappers to use Soundcloud meaningfully as a vehicle for driving popularity. Something menacingly psychedelic must lurk in the waters of South Florida, where not only Raidar Klan and former member Denzel Curry hail, but where most of a new flock of ad-lib- and vibe-heavy rappers have emerged from; referred to, perhaps obtusely, as Soundcloud rappers.
Lucki Camel, just 16-years-old when he self-released the prophetically titled “Alternative Trap” tape in the same year as “Nostalgic 64”, is the silhouette from which behind many of these mainstream-puncturing meme rappers have recently crept out of. The Chicago native’s singular style, equally languid and hardhitting, laid the blueprint in which this generation of extravagant artists are continuing to prosper.
Lucki (formerly known as Lucki Eck$) forged a path untravelled and began bridging the gap between cloud-rap and trap over the course of his five-year career. “Alternative Trap” gave him traction in the rap blogosphere, it was drug-pusher tales over psychedelic, percussion-less beats. His lyrical themes, and experimental sounds, grew more shadowy over time.
Ronnie J—a regular producer for Denzel Curry—is seen as the fulcrum of the wave of Soundcloud rappers, helming over lo-fi, bass-rupturing, helter-skelter productions for the likes of Lil Pump, Smokepurrp, Ski Mask the Slump God and XXXtentacion. As punk as they may seem, sonically in their incoherent screams and ad-libs, aesthetically in their youthful apathy, multi-coloured dreads and face-tats, it’s more-or-less a sound that has been watered down with liquified Xanax.
Some artists have used their raps and cultural presence to glorify and fetishise Xanax use, Lil Pump having celebrated one million Instagram followers with a Xanax-shaped cake. The trivialisation of self-medication is outwardly damaging, of course, but beneath the veneers of rap invincibility, there are kids who are genuinely suffering in silence. Emo-rap’s leading light, Lil Peep, died under tragic circumstances last year.
Lucki represents, with a flickering genius, the truest representation of Xan culture, if that’s what you can call it, and how it should sound and feel; dystopian, soul-crushing and underground.
On 2014’s "Body High”, the production is especially off-kilter, eerie and drowsy. It’s on this project that you first grasp Lucki’s fight with, and exploration of, Xanax addiction. He touts Xanax not as an accessory, but a way out—financially from street hustling, and emotionally from the pain and claustrophobia it inevitably brings; a recreational euphoria-inducing freedom and a destabilising cancer.
Even the drums, to a certain extent, feel soporific. Engulfed in fluffy, chemical clouds. Not many artists feel equally at home rapping over a Bjork instrumental (Hidden Place), as on hallucinatory acip-trap (Xan Cage)—Lucki is chameleonic and unconforming.
'X' (2015)—a direct reference to the oft-mentioned drug used professionally to treat anxiety disorders—dives further into debilitating drug distortion and gives the effect of a mind awash in Big Pharma chemicals. A mixtape overflowing in meditations on self-inflicted chaos, certain tracks seems predictive of the Soundcloud moment to come two years down the line. What I Wanna, None Other, and Still Steal, in particular, have the skeletons of a surefire viral hit in 2018. A sinister bass looms on What I Wanna, wallowing in Lucki’s zonked-out debauchery. On Lowlife, he slur-raps, dragging you inside his nihilistic, toxic bubble, where little hope is instilled. From drug-peddling to addiction, a tonal shift in cadence and mood mirrors his step down-the-rung of the drug economy.
On 'X', the 808s crunch and clatter louder than ever before, and the snares are tentatively sparse. Instead of his voice floating in negative space, it navigates the emptiness. His rhymes are as chillingly stoic as on previous projects but they now bite harder, surrounded in the now-ubiquitous scatterings of ad-libs throughout. Here, a primitive form of Soundcloud rap is forming—it represents a subdued backdrop for Ronnie J’s highly kinetic sound palette.
You can see blotches of Lucki’s vision in the Soundcloud rapper invasion, but there are also many stylistic differences, call them mutations. Lil Pump, newcomer Lil Xan, even Smokepurrp, Trippie Redd and Lil Uzi Vert, ply their trade in various arenas of minimalist productions—trap-inflected distortions, glitchy and vibrant synth-heavy street-hits, manic industrial rap hellscapes—yet their vocal deliveries are heady and boisterous, veering on nu-metal rage.
Their lyrical stylings are repetitive. It’s as if one mediocre bling-era rapper’s entire hip-hop vocabulary of drug-selling, drug-consumption, and girls, was warped and chopped up through a black hole and regurgitated into a series of melodic yet incoherent mumblings, grunts, ays, and barks. Lucki tends to sound unapproachably abject, opting instead for confessionary tales of caution. Of self-induced comatose, greed and destitution.
As a rapper, Lucki rarely intonates, never sing-raps, and from time-to-time, even sprinkles his raps in pop-culture references and punchlines. On 4th Commandment Broken, an ode to Biggie’s never-get-high-off-your-own-supply maxim, he refers to himself as Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott due to his predilection for chasing paper. Admittedly a huge admirer of fellow Chicagoan Chief Keef, who is only one year his senior, Lucki has always paid homage to his now-famous ay flow, and mirrors his carefree, deconstructive approach to rapping.
What Lucki arguably pioneered is the streaming-era’s quickfire rap song—being adopted across hip-hop now, a symptom perhaps of our dwindling attention spans online. His 'X' project clocked in at an average of just over two and a half minutes per track. His debut 2015 EP, 'Freewave', was comprised of shortfire freestyle-raps over varyingly warped dreamscapes. Average track length here? Two minutes.
There’s nothing earth shatteringly innovative about brevity, many classic hip-hop cuts are punchy, though the rapid nature of rapid Lucki tracks feels carefully executed. In-and-out, like a flash of lightning. Lucki further built on the premise of Danny Brown’s XXX—in its hedonistic snapshots of mind-bending, drug-addled bedlam—with debut EP 'Freewave'.
Take Freewave 6 and Freewave 7 as examples—turn the kick-drums up, along with the intensity of Lucki’s nonchalant flowing, and it would sound indistinguishable from a 2016-era Lil Uzi Vert mixtape joint. Freewave 8 sounds like a crystallised Trippie Redd demo cut. Bookending the 2015 project is even a Playboi Carti featured remix, it makes sense, Lucki’s fingerprints are smudged all over modern Soundcloud rap experimentations.
Like his contemporaries, Soundcloud is also Lucki’s playground, considering he has self-released every mixtape and EP there thus far. Although far from obscure, and considering how difficult it is to profess influence lineages in hip-hop, it must be said, Lucki’s contribution feels important. He likely hasn’t blown up due an unwillingness to cling to a trend. And his numbing flow and penchant for conveying the dread and deprivation of drug-use may be just too much for a mainstream that seems to only accept these ideas at surface-level.
For Lucki, addiction is an ailment, not a social-media gimmick. And, still aged just 21-years-old, he has decades to further carve out an artistic space for himself to shine—let’s just hope Lucki continues down the path of recovery and reminds us not only that has he something worthwhile to say, but that he is partly the reason for what saturates online airwaves and fills our party playlists today. Even if this 2018 manifestation does go against his artistic grain.