For anyone who has ever had that one friend who thinks they can just jump into the underground rap scene and get famous in less than 3 months, this is for you. That “one” friend often looks like a fool after those 3 months pass, and that is of course because “making it” is never that easy. And yet, even though that person might indeed make a fool of themselves by simply thinking that they really could get famous in an instant, should we really blame them? 

The underground has featured and continues to feature what can only be described as a revolving door of artists, sounds, and corresponding trends with each passing group of months. As these things enter the door once it opens at the end of these periods, it becomes very clear that there is not enough room in the space that our scene allots. Therefore, as these things enter, others must leave. 

The pace at which this process happens demands for artists to stay on their toes in nearly every way imaginable: make as many attempts at a hit as possible, promote these tracks as if their life depends on it, and repeat the process until their fanbase is stable, satisfied, and in good standing. If they would like to remain relevant as an artist, especially one that is aiming for that lofty upper echelon, they need to accomplish all of these things with ideal efficiency. 

Or at least, that is what we think is the case right now.

As this trend continues to repeat itself – with every new wave of popularity shifting the landscape in one fell swoop – perhaps it is time for a complete re-evaluation of how artists should go about shooting for success in the underground. “Doing the most” might just be a complete detriment for upcoming acts despite its currently-perceived utility. 

We may have finally seen the culminating burnout that this process was subtly plummeting towards as the new year finally arrived. Though many may not completely notice it right now, contemporary success out of the underground really has nothing to do with how many tracks one uploads, how aggressively they promote it, and really, even the quality of the track in a vacuum. 

Like it or not, that very success is now being determined by streamlined, methodical, and calculated artistic marketing. With this, a new kind of process has been born — one that sees its trust lay in the hands of an intelligent application of a handful of premeditated offerings rather than a mass of rapidly-produced tracks that lack any preconceived substance. 

It used to come down to which of the 40 SoundCloud tracks that you uploaded within a minute of each other would pop off first; now, it is about strategically composing, constructing, and marketing just a few songs in the way that social media algorithms want you to.

More specifically, the Tik Tok algorithm.

Yes, it is indeed becoming more and more obvious as the days trudge onwards that Tik Tok, of all things, is slowly dictating the careers of numerous rising acts in the underground scene. And honestly, no one should be complaining about this. Just as any other social media platform allows for the elevation of content tailored for that specific platform respectively, so too is Tik Tok working in the same light. Just because the now-immense platform chose hip-hop as its specified content does not mean we should disavow it in any way. 

Actually, we should be accepting it and learning its ways. 

And that is exactly what the most successful rising acts are doing at this very moment. Bringing this all back to our central analysis, it is crystal clear that simply pushing your content into the endless void that is SoundCloud just does not work anymore. If you want to make it today, you or the team that surrounds you must be savvy — savvy to the point of obsessive algorithmic research, even. 

If that is what “doing the most” means today, then yes, artists should absolutely be following that guiding principle. But as this scene continues to ignore the fact that the ways in which you grow your artistic influence have changed and are continuing to change, it does not seem like this phrase has come to take on this potentially nuanced meaning. 

Rather, it seems as though a great majority of hopeful acts are still chained to the mindset of past days. They release these landfills of content hoping that the “diamond in the rough” makes itself clear. What they fail to realize is this: in today’s landscape, they can actually just construct that diamond from scratch and have a better chance of elevating their career in the process. They just need to know how to truly do it, or at least attempt to do it. 

As 2020 carries on, perhaps we will see the collective mindset shift in this direction. That is just the hope, and if something or someone needs to be the catalyst that sets this shift into motion, then they need to make themselves known by the time the summer rolls around. 

And to end this on a positive note, I have no doubt that the scene I just illustrated will indeed come to fruition. Even though it really is frustrating to see outdated ways of thinking meticulously marinate in the minds of so many acts who could just use a little fine-tuning to make their music so much more appealing, I know for a fact that things will undoubtedly become better in due time.

I can say this as someone who has grown with the current wave of talent that we admire so much today, and also someone who has ever-so-precisely studied the successes, failures, and resulting trends of past eras within the underground. In doing this, I can definitively state that, if anything else, consistently progressive scenes such as this never stop doing exactly that, progressing. Though it may take some time to truly take shape, it will happen. 

If it is not clear already, that notion remains true right now; we are just waiting for it to fully manifest in this instance.