Artist Spotlight – Three Artists That Should be on Your Radar

By Oliviero Zanalda

Hip-hop has become an extremely fast-paced genre, with people constantly blowing up at a moment’s notice and fading into irrelevance just as quickly. This is a list of four rappers (one honorable mention) who are currently gaining popularity and could eventually break into the mainstream. Should they achieve mainstream success, I’m confident they will be able to maintain it. That’s why I wrote this article. All of these artists bring something new to the table and I think that they should be recognized for this. In this article, I delve into the artists’ background, their rise to fame, and what they’re doing that makes them stand out from other rappers who similarly haven’t achieved mainstream success just yet. Again, the artist’s future is not determined, so take this article with a grain of salt, but if any of them become household names, don’t forget where you heard them first.

Although these artists haven’t necessarily influenced the genre, I believe that they have the possibility to do so if they are able to continue growing their fanbase and artistic capabilities. This is why I’ve included this article in the Artist Spotlight series.

BabyTron

Image courtesy of BabyTronSB (YouTube)

BabyTron is one of the most entertaining rappers gaining traction right now. Hailing from Detroit, BabyTron is a perfect representation of the unique sub-genre of Michigan rap. BabyTron started rapping in high school, forming the group ShittyBoyz with fellow Detroit natives StanWill and TrDee. ShittyBoyz started gaining some attention with the short-lived popularity of “Scam-rap”, a genre of rap that focused on internet scamming and credit card fraud. BabyTron stood out in the group though, with his casual delivery mixed with comedic lyrics that contain clever wordplay. Additionally, once Scam-rap started to lose its popularity, he was able to adapt and quickly change the focus of his lyrics from scamming to other illicit topics while maintaining the same entertaining flow. He was also signed to a local Detroit label, The Hip-hop Lab, which has helped him develop this unique style even further and improved the quality of his music. The production of his songs is also something that will stand out to a first-time listener. Most of his beats are lively and extremely fun to listen to as they utilize samples from songs from the ’80s and ’90s blended with unconventional 808 placement. This is also what makes BabyTron so special and what might make his music appeal to people who tend to stray away from modern rap music. His nostalgic production and epigrammatic delivery and bars could interest people who aren’t fans of the autotune heavy, futuristic-sounding music of Yeat and Ken Car$on. Fortunately, BabyTron doesn’t solely rely on nostalgia, which means he can innovate if he has to. BabyTron is set to be one of the leaders of the Michigan rap scene, but his success is also reliant on the growing popularity of the sub-genre. Only time will tell as the sub-genre still needs to grow and reach more listeners outside the midwest, but I believe that BabyTron is going to be one of the bigger artists of this sub-genre if Michigan, and specifically Detroit, becomes a more well-recognized capital of hip-hop innovation.

In Prince of the Mitten, BabyTron raps over 19 different beats from fellow Michigan rappers’ songs

Ken Car$on

Image courtesy of The Artistree

Ken Car$on is continuing the tradition of heavily autotuned Atlanta trap that was pioneered by Young Thug and Future while taking inspiration from Playboi Carti’s often criticized simple delivery and lyrics. It’s safe to say that Playboi Carti is one of his biggest inspirations, with the Atlanta rapper signing Ken to his Opium label and introducing him as the opening act throughout his 2021 King Vamp tour. However, Ken Car$on is not another Carti clone. Ken Car$on reminds me of youth. He coined the name “Teen X” for his brand, short for “Teen Ecstasy”, or “Teen High”, which is meant to represent the ecstasy and excitement of one’s youth. While youthfulness is a recurrent theme in pop culture, concurrent with the obsession and romanticization of teenage years in movies and TV shows, Ken Car$on reinvents this often played out concept. His music is genuinely fun to listen to; his lyrics that regard partying and youthful ignorance are complemented by his child-like voice and appearance. His production is just as spry as his delivery and lyrics. Utilizing 8bits and other similar plug-ins, Ken’s production is reminiscent of early-90’s video games music. While this may sound counter-intuitive to the youthful concepts surrounding his music, video games are often associated with young people, so this actually adds to his youthful essence. What makes his youthful appearance genuine is that it isn’t a facade. He started making and releasing music online at around 17. This contrasts with the “Netflix Teenagers” who are almost always played by adults well in their thirties reciting scripts written by people who think they know what 18-year-olds are like, but will just end up making Vine references 6 years too late. Ken’s appearance isn’t just a stage act either. People who have met him have stated that he is a genuinely funny person who does what he pleases, no matter how silly it makes him look. Ken Car$on is gaining popularity at a decent rate. Hopefully, a future collaboration with Playboi Carti can help gain him some recognition for his reinvention of youth representation.

Yeat

Image courtesy of Pitchfork

If you don’t know who Yeat is yet, you will soon. With a simple name and simple lyrics, his music is so simple that you won’t be able to forget his innovative simplicity. The Portland (Oregon) rapper is set to be the next big thing, with cosigns from Drake and Kanye West, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more of his static, slurred flow on mainstream rap songs in the near future. As a matter of fact, you may have already heard his music without knowing it. His song “Sorry Bout That” blew up on Tik Tok last year, and is still one of the most popular Tik Tok sounds today. What makes Yeat stand out is his voice. The best way I can describe it is as if someone was attempting to melodically growl in the best way possible. His lyrics are nothing to write home about, but lyrics are not the focus of his music- as angry as it might make certain people. His futuristic-sounding production relies heavily on loud bass, very little sampling, distorted synths, and, most importantly, bells. He admitted to not knowing a thing about producing music and that the only production he ever does is when he adds the bells into the song himself after he receives his beats. With a record deal with Interscope in the books and his recent 2 million monthly Spotify listeners milestone, Yeat is hip-hop’s next big star who will help usher in an even simpler subgenre of trap music. He is the lyrical rap fan’s worst nightmare, for better or for worse. His music is modern. Modern art forms, such as visual arts and architecture, are often very simple in appearance, even if they took a lot of time and effort to create. This form of modern has now been adopted by hip-hop, with simplicity becoming a key element in how the music is presented by innovative artists like Yeat. Hip-hop is a living, breathing genre, and it’s constantly innovating and reinventing itself. The only way it can do this is by allowing rappers like Yeat to push the boundaries of the genre.

Honorable Mention: Sematary

Image courtesy of r/HauntedMound (Reddit)

Sematary is who Chief Keef could’ve been if he had grown up listening to black metal and had access to the experimentalism of Bladee’s music. The Northern Californian’s music relies heavily on extremely distorted guitars fused with twisted vocals that sound like they were growled into an Xbox 360 mic and heavily autotuned afterward. His lyrics mix black metal and Chicago drill, two of the most lyrically aggressive genres, putting him on track to becoming a very controversial rapper should he make his way into the mainstream. Low-quality is also Sematary’s image, whether it’s his purposefully poorly designed album covers or his Instagram page many of his posts look like they were taken in 2015 on an iPhone 5. His music isn’t for the faint of heart as it focuses on satanic imagery and one can find heavy distortion over almost every part of a Sematary song. Whether his satan worshipping is an attention-grabbing tactic or not is yet to be seen. Additionally, his music also attempts to reverse the reputation that black metal has gained as a genre that attracts neo-fascists. His lyrics are extremely anti-fascist, with many of his obscenely aggressive threats directed towards those groups; and when I say aggressive, I really mean it. While these topics can be shocking to some people, they could help him gain attention. The reason I give him an honorable mention is that I’m not sure if this type of music can gain enough popularity to thrust him into the mainstream. While it’s very unique, it will also turn a lot of people away as some of his songs are genuinely hard to listen to if you’re not used to the type of lyrical content or production. He could gain more popularity in the underground scene, however, which might be what he’s going for. While some may view Sematary as a bit cringe-worthy, which he no doubt is at times, I think that it’s part of the absurdity of his character. A kid who’s obsessed with 2013 Chicago drill, black metal, satanism, anti-fascism, and looks like he’s in need of a shower could be an underground sensation, or he could be the driver of a wave of nostalgia and experimentalism that will soon fade away. 

CONCERT REVIEW: The Front Bottoms at Mission Ballroom 10/11/21

By Henry Hodde

The Front Bottoms’ performance at Mission Ballroom last Monday was a reminder that punk rock and roll is not dead. The genre is alive and well alright. It may not look the same as the days in which The Clash and The Ramones reigned supreme, nor does it sound like Metallica, or even Green Day. Nevertheless, fans of noise first and foremost ought not despair. 

The Front Bottoms at Mission Ballroom

The Front Bottoms are not a new band. Guitarist Brain Sella and childhood buddy Mathew Uychich began to write music together in 2007, adding Uychich’s brother Brian to complete the original lineup. Sella and Mathew Uychich still form the heart of the New Jersey band, but on Thursday, the founding duo were complemented by Erik Kase Romero and Natalie Newbold. The next hour and a half quickly morphed into 90 minutes of exhilaration, energy, experimentation, happiness, and noise. The concert was easily the best I’d attended live in recent memory.  While this distinction doesn’t really carry significant weight considering that I grew up in rural Middlebury, VT and spent my first year of college living through a pandemic, I have a feeling that it will take a while for another show to match this celebration of sound. 

“You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)” set the tone for the concert, with a strong drumset backing a series of playful guitar riffs and a set of conversational based lyrics that embody any good Front Bottoms song. “West Virginia” brought hard hitting head bangs, “Jerk” crowd surfing and a sense of vulnerability through Sella’s words. Then we were into the classics. “Twin Size Mattress.” “Montgomery Forever.” “Peach.” The songs that stole my heart- each one building the excitement, the energy, and the joy on the faces of those that populated the crowd. 

Sella belts out “You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)”

It’s the randomness, the human in the lyrics. I remember sitting in my room at boarding school, trying to write an English essay when Sella’s voice first reached my ears from my roommate’s Iphone 8 speaker. I was struck by the abstract, the volatility, the repetition. Lyrics like “this is for the lions living in the wiry frames of my friends bodies,” “I avoid using traditional techniques,” and “it’s snowing right now I wish it was summer” all define The Front Bottoms. They might seem pointless, unimportant, childish even. But it’s exactly this approach that makes the band relatable. It’s what makes the band identifiable. It makes them relevant. As a 21 year old kid, I don’t necessarily need wisdom in my music, nor do I desire it. No. I want friends. I want to feel someone else speaking about a sense of chaos and uncertainty. Who else gets the occasional feeling that they just need to voice their aimless and spontaneous thoughts?

“Au Revoir (Adios)” closed the show. Fitting right? One of my best childhood friends used to hate when I played that song for him. “There’s no point,” he’d exclaim. “The entire song has like 3 distinct lyrics!”  I always thought he was missing the point. “That’s not what The Front Bottoms are about,” I’d tell him. I wouldn’t say I listen to The Front Bottoms to learn how to live my life for the next 10 years. No. If I wanted that, I’d turn to those podcasts from Yale professors that my mother loves to forward my way. Maybe I just want to laugh, to bounce up and down for an hour and a half, and most importantly, to listen to noise. And I think there’s some value in that too.

Artist Spotlight : Xavier Wulf

By Oliviero Zanalda

Every so often, an artist or group of artists will emerge and immediately cause an impact, becoming widely acknowledged by the public as influential. While certain artists have been fully credited for their music and influence, as they should be, many artists haven’t received the full recognition they should get. This series is meant to highlight artists that haven’t been fully credited for their experimentation, artistic capabilities, and influence on music. 

Xavier Wulf is by far one of my favorite artists of the past decade. The Memphis born, LA based rapper is one of the pioneers (along with Bones, Chris Travis, and Black Smurf) of the dark, underground Memphis rap scene that created the “trap-metal” subgenre of hip hop. Some of the most notable current mainstream artists include $uicideboy$, City Morgue, 6ix9ine (in sound, not persona), and XXXTentacion. This sub-genre utilizes loud, often vulgar, and in-your-face lyrics, dark trap production, and reckless personas that aren’t focused on money and fame like many mainstream trap artists. In its birth in the early 2010s, trap-metal was highlighted by its rejection of the mainstream and its embrace of skate and BMX culture. While many of these artists have changed and conformed to current trap standards, Xavier Wulf has always been the self-proclaimed king of the underground, which we hear in “Request Refused”, where he states, “I’m an underground king and I ain’t gonna drop the belt”, and that’s why he has such a loyal fan base. 

Biography and Early Career

Xavier Wulf, whose real name is Xavier Beard, was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1992. He started rapping in his late teens around 2011, originally going by the name Ethelwulf as a part of the rap group RaiderKlan, which included rappers such as Spaceghostpurrp and Denzel Curry. He released his debut mixtape The Wolf Gang’s Rodolphe in March of 2012, before leaving RaiderKlan to pursue a solo career. RaiderKlan’s importance can’t be understated as they were one of the first rap groups to exclusively release music through free streaming services, being cited as early pioneers of the 2016 Soundcloud movement. Wulf’s early work was heavily inspired by Memphis legends Three-Six Mafia with absurdly violent lyrics and rudimentary production (listen to “Who the F**k is You” and “Help Yo Self” for early examples of Wulf’s solo work). It wasn’t until the release of Blood Shore Season 1 in 2014 that Wulf started to develop the sound that he’s so well known for. His breakthrough mixtape Blood Shore Season 2, released the same year as the first mixtape in the series included “Psycho Pass”, which blew up on the now non-existent social media app, Vine. This is how I was introduced to his work. 

How I Discovered Him

When I discovered Xavier Wulf, I was a moody 7th grader in late 2015, the era of hoverboards, Fetty Wap, and Vine. I was coming off a three year long Eminem phase and I was searching for rappers who broke the lyricism mold that I had become so accustomed to. When I first heard “Psycho Pass”, I only heard seven seconds of the song, which was only the beat drop, but I was immediately hooked. The song’s repetitive, submarine-radar-like beeping accompanied by the rapid 808s and slow bass, which are all introduced separately, counter Wulf’s pugnacious voice and lyrics. His lyrics in this song are simple and almost as aggressive as his delivery, with the topics consisting of infidelity, smoking weed, ridding himself of his opponents by any means necessary, and burning incense for some reason. One of the best parts of the song is when Wulf says, “I’m standing on a boat finna set the damn sail/I burn incense because my brain likes the smell/She get a whiff and thought that it was a spell/I ain’t say, ‘Come,’ but she at the hotel” which he spits right before the aggressive beat drop where the production finally matches his energy. I continued to listen to the rest of Blood Shore Season 2, which is widely considered as his best project by critics and fans alike. Following the success of the mixtape, he continued to drop similar two Tundra Boy Season projects and Project X, which includes the song “Akina Speed Star”, another breakthrough song for Wulf which includes an intro sampled from the anime Initial D.

 

Anime

Another aspect that sets Wulf apart from many rappers of the genre is his love of anime. In many of his songs, including “Akina Speed Star”, he references anime characters and settings. In “Tis the Season” he states, “Princess Mononoke chiefing chee out with Chiyoko”, Princess Mononoke is a reference to the 1997 anime Princess Mononoke from anime legend Hayao Miyazaki and Chiyoko is from the 1998 anime Akira, which is also referenced in the title “Akira Speed Star”. On “Tokyo Drift”, he remixes the Japanese hip hop group, Teriyaki Boyz iconic song “テリヤキ・ボーイズ TOKYO DRIFT (FAST & FURIOUS)”. These days, the fusion of hip hop and anime is common in the industry as Rappers have adopted the Japanese art style to design album covers, merch, music videos, and public persona. Rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s Instagram bio makes the controversial claim that he’s “Asian on the inside”. In 2018, Kanye West claimed that Akira “is not only the greatest animation achievement in history, the subject matter is so relevant to the current state of the world” on Twitter. Some fans even claimed that his outfit at the first Donda listening event was inspired by the film. What Xavier Wulf does differently from these artists is how he is (relatively) subtle about his passion for Japanese culture. He doesn’t have wrapped cars like Uzi and doesn’t go on rants about anime on Twitter like Kanye, but instead makes references to characters in his music and collaborates with Japanese artists (listen to “Riding Shotgun in Japan”, Xavier Wulf’s collaboration with Japanese rapper KOHH). His merchandise doesn’t contain anime characters and most of his album covers lack any reference to his love for anime. I appreciate this because I think that the way Lil Uzi uses anime is borderline cultural appropriation, a theme that I’ve noticed is emerging in hip hop.

Fashion and Public Persona

Another aspect that makes him stand out from other rappers is his taste in fashion. Wulf and his collaborators often choose dark clothing and baggy hoodies over designer pieces and overwhelming chains. While Wulf’s main focus is hip hop, he also collaborates with many independent clothing designers and owns his own brand, Hollowsquad. His concerts are as loud and aggressive as his music, reminiscent of underground punk-rock concerts with mosh pits, stage diving, and injuries being a common theme at most of them. His ability to create this kind of energy without assistance from technology is astounding, with reporter Boom from The Knockturnal declaring, “his energy is felt like an atomic bomb with the wave of excitement that passed through the crowd the entire show. No major light show, no pyrotechnics, or star-studded surprises”. Wulf is also known for his passion for refurbished cars, with his BMW E46 m3 making several appearances at his car meet ups around southern California. He recently refurbished another BMW m3 and seems to be working on another BMW. Before becoming a passionate gearhead, Wulf was a BMX enthusiast, however, his keenness for the sport has faded away in the past few years.

Collaborators and Next Steps

Wulf isn’t known for collaborating with bigger rappers, with his most mainstream collaborations being a 2016 feature on Lil Peep’s “drive by” and a 2017 feature on “F**k a Swisher” by Smokepurpp. Wulf’s main collaborators include Bones, Eddy Baker, idontknowjeffery, and, until recently, Chris Travis. What all these rappers have in common is that they hail from East Memphis and blew up around the same time, which is probably why Wulf chooses to collaborate with them instead of branching out. He’s released two mixtapes with Bones, a mixtape with idontknowjeffery, and countless features including the same array of East Memphis rappers. What’s next for Wulf is up in the air as the last project he released, Rude Dog, wasn’t received well by fans. This was due to the fact that he swapped his iconic, aggressive delivery for a lazier flow with mundane lyrics over mediocre production. Since then he’s only dropped a few singles and hinted at Blood Shore Season 3 but hasn’t followed up on the project since. Xavier Wulf’s been in the game for about 10 years and has been dropping projects relatively consistently since he began, so I don’t blame him for wanting to take a break if that’s his plan. If the next project is the third installment in the Blood Shore series, I’m excited to see whether or not he ditches this new flow for his classic delivery. Regardless of this, Xavier Wulf’s impact on hip hop won’t be forgotten. As the genre continues to evolve, his influence will adapt with it and always allow for an alternative sub-genre that one can look for when seeking a harder, darker sound than what mainstream trap can provide.

Recommended Albums:

Blood Shore Season 2

Project X

Tundra Boy Season 2

East Memphis Maniac

Brace

Recommended Songs:

Video of Xavier Wulf performing his 2015 song “Fort Woe”:

Interview with Xavier Wulf from 2014: