When Ohio-born rapper Trippie Redd first burst onto the scene in 2017, Donald J. Trump was about to start his first presidential term, Juice Wrld and XXXTentacion were alive, and SoundCloud rap was the new transgressive genre making waves. Back then, Redd contributed to the urgent-sounding genre with his first commercial mixtape, A Love Letter to You. A Love Letter to You was Soundcloud rap, but it also strategized Redd’s rapping ability, first and foremost; songs would be showcases. “Can You Rap Like This?” is a boom bap song, reminding listeners of a fun fact: Some of the Soundcloud raps guys can rap better than actual boom bap traditionalists. If Soundcloud rappers are punk rock, it happens that they are rappers, first and foremost. They break boundaries by being hip-hop. “I knew it was something bigger than life. When Peep, X, and Juice passed, I knew that one or two more years, it would have been more crazy,” Trippie says. “It’s like: ‘What if?’”
Although SoundCloud rap often took cues from punk rock, the subgenre became seminal in hip-hop; despite shrugging at the formalities forwarded by its forbearers, artists like Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti have gone on to become auteurs in their own right. “The time and space we were in, at that era, was one of the best eras in music,” Trippie, real name Michael Lamar White, says over Zoom. “Everyone was more open and trying to be pure. There was an open space to be creative in the music industry. Now, people are more like business partners.” Redd was a part of the SoundCloud rapper wing that valued the art of “raging.” When fanbases full of kids rush each other in mosh pits and end up with black eyes, broken noses, or violent jabs to the funny bone. Or even more dramatically when artists themselves end up in the crowd.
Trip at Knight, from 2021, felt like the point was being labored. The album was a rage for the voyeuristic; it made me imagine a space where Trippie returned to his much more traditional, Soundcloud roots. He says his new album Mansion Musik, which dropped in January, is an appetizer for another project he’s got in the works, tentatively called LOVE LETTER. “I’m trying to come up with the cover art and add a few songs for that record. So, I wanted to do this new one to do a Lil Wayne, Sorry for the Wait, type of deal,” he explains.
Executive produced by Chief Keef, the forefather of rap’s online generation, the album is supposed to be a return to form. Instead of guitars that sound like tears from an angst-ridden teenager, it’s filled with beats that sound like Keef’s 2016 album Dedication, and Trippie puts a more rage-inspired bent on it. “I’m a big fan of Sosa. I reached out to people to be on the album that are Sosa-inspired. He invented the style of beats on this album,” Trippe says. “A lot of people don’t give him credit where it’s due.” The album, at a whopping 25 tracks, is long, but somehow it still doesn’t leave you full of substance. Trippe isn’t looking at the past when he was a part of a moment in rap culture that left you shocked. Instead, he appears to be pivoting towards a more polished and inoffensive major-label rap sound. This is the promise of Soundcloud rap turned into a corporate product — decently made but not abrasive at all.
Still, the chemistry between Redd and Keef is impressive. Both drill — the rapturous subgenre that Keef helped expand — and SoundCloud rap are inventive jewels in the mainstay of commercial rap dominance. Both genres faced a share of criticism; drill music from Chicago has been blamed for the city’s high murder rate, and officials went so far as to stop Chief Keef from performing. In New York, Mayor Eric Adams is at odds with drill music, calling it “alarming” and – for some reason – comparing drill music being on websites with the removal of Donald Trump’s Twitter account. And although SoundCloud rap had more white rappers and less political intrigue, the rage at several SoundCloud rap shows became troublesome for people of the less punk and more buttoned-up variety.
While Mansion Musik won’t start any riots, Trippie Redd is still raging a little bit. It doesn’t quite have the Playboi Carti style of production. Keef and other collaborators are much more concerned with being forceful, in the more legato sense. But the standout track, “DIE DIE,” with Lucki, is a rage beat. And Trippie is up to the task, exclaiming, “You could fuckin’ try, or you fuckin’ die.” It’s like that.
Throughout his life, Redd has been through a lot. That’s what makes the impersonal aspect of the record disappointing. His brother died, as well as his friend and collaborator Juice Wrld. For young kids, Juice had his sound and rapping style figured out. Similarly to Trippie, he made a point to rap in every way possible – especially urgently and with as skillful songwriting as possible. But, unfortunately, with that talent came his demons, his addictions – born out of the pressures of the road. I asked Trippie whether Juice’s death was from being overworked by the industry, and he was diplomatic but truthful: “To tell you the truth, bro, he was dealing with a bunch of stuff. I wouldn’t blame the industry. Just is what it is”, says Redd.
The senseless violence looming over the SoundCloud generation makes you relieved that Trippie Redd is still here. As we talk, he’s in a car, smoking a joint as long as a used pencil. Yet, he has a sense of tranquility that might not have ever been there. Redd is here, his soul still intact. In addition to music, he says he’s trying to purchase land for his family. “It’s all about that. Purchasing some in Florida; so they (his family) can be good. It’s for them”, he says.