The term “internet rapper” is a catch-all phrase for a gang of rhymers trying to get their piece of the online pie. It’s also a condescending title: casting a glass ceiling on those christened with it. Popular opinion suggests internet rappers, and online artists in general, are obligated to go major and raise their profile on a mainstream level. Until then, they’re doomed to waste their careers away on blogs and social networking sites. Middling online success is about as far as most internet rappers get. However being an internet rapper is far from a death knell. Sure you’re not well known in the grand scheme of things. At the same time hard work put in over the web can lead to unexpected acclaim, or even a shot at longevity, if the cards are properly played.
Curren$y’s constant stream of free music and albums have kept his fans happy for three years running. You’d think his time was up after serving stints at No Limit and especially Young Money. Yet N.O.’s underdog embraced the online space and has a pretty sizable following: primarily on social networks. He essentially traded background roles on prevalent rosters to become his own man: granting him more visibility in the process. He may never be a megastar but I doubt he cares. Spitta evidently approaches his career as a marathon: not a 40 yard dash. “Hot” rappers with sudden smash singles are mostly here today, gone tomorrow. Conversely, Curren$y’s M.O. should keep him around for awhile. His subject matter, after all, doesn’t vary outside of smoking weed, smashing chicks, rocking muscle cars and playing video games. At the same time he’s rapping about what he knows. More importantly, he must be doing something right since his supporters haven’t grown tired of his topics.
Kendrick Lamar, from what I surmise, is presently more of a blogger’s favorite than the Jets’ captain. Nevertheless, the adulation garnered from his projects regards him as one of the top rappers online. It remains to be seen if he has the chops and/or intentions to break out as a mainstream act. With that said he’s in a strange place since he, unlike Spitta, has yet to prove he can maintain interest for the long haul without a machine behind him. Consequently, one should expect Lamar to drop consistent gems for his audience until he decides to raise his profile or find his groove as an underground rapper. His track record shows he knows his fan base and each release predictably keeps them glued to the play button.
Finally, I’ve harped on the Cool Kids, and their previous label, for not capitalizing on their initial looks. They’ve nonetheless weathered the storm by finally dropping When Fish Ride Bicycles: sitting at #1 on iTunes’s Hip-Hop/Rap Chart. Sales numbers haven’t been divulged but their position shows people are still genuinely interested in their brand of rap. Chuck and Mike’s situation exhibits how maintaining an online presence to keep enough loyal fans interested favorably pans out. The duo had their dry spells in between dropping free albums and leaks. At any rate, their recent release should breath some life in their cause.
There’s still plenty to gain from having one’s career unfold on the web. Obviously, business acumen and the right people to keep one’s name buzzing, without cheapening your brand, are necessary towards gaining recognition anywhere. But the rush to go major isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. So many people get lost in the mix once they sign because they feel the machine will take care of them. Some artists have the luxury to largely focus on their careers while their support base ties the loose ends. Others have to do considerably more work to get noticed: thus explaining the explosion of rappers dropping projects online in recent years.
The internet isn’t an even playing field. Still, many “artists” throw crap at the wall just to see what sticks. In the meantime, artists with huge ad campaigns drown out the competition just like on TV and the radio. The key, in spite all of this, is to establish your lane, provide a compelling hook to your music and build a good rapport with fans and the media: from social sites to established outlets. You don’t have to be cutting edge or new. You DO need to make a product people want to consume and have the proper distribution channels available. The web can’t guarantee widespread success but it can sustain a career if properly utilized.