The digital age is a dichotomy. The extreme rearing of its ugly head manifests at the hands of an orange demagogue who now, unfortunately, leads the free world. Whether he’s using Twitter to denounce adversaries, or share his “eccentric” political views with the world—“people who think climate change is real: SAD”—Trump represents social media’s evil conveyance. At the polar opposite end, the digitalized world can benefit a wide-spectrum of participants, specifically musicians.
Regardless of the time period, scaling the music industry’s precipice will always be a daunting task. However, I imagine that boosting one’s name in the ‘90s inherently presented more limitations than its modern counterpart. There was no SoundCloud; no Band Camp; no social media. There weren’t any blogs, and the label power was extremely concentrated. It was a time when traditional outlets, like the radio, dictated an individual’s future, and reigned supreme; a time when meticulous advertising means—i.e. passing out demos in Times Square—were standard, and necessary. Unless your networked facilitated connections, musicians’ chances of “making it” were sparse.
Today’s digital world aids artistic exposure like never before, thanks to decreased barriers to entry. No longer does someone need to be legitimized by an impressive co-sign, or need to rely on the radio’s blessing—we have SoundCloud and social media now. Sure, these lower barriers open the floodgates by ballooning artist volume, potentially increasing filtration difficulty, but the cream always rises to the top. And with a helping hand from digitalization, that cream has a markedly better chance at churning upwards.
Let’s take a look at three artists who are using this progressive method to their advantage. Some you might’ve heard of, others might be pleasant surprises—all are making big moves in 2017, and deserve your attention.
The self-proclaimed DIY pioneer, 24-year-old Russ has been grinding towards his musical dreams for nearly a decade. The Atlanta transplant by way of New Jersey possesses a penchant for lyricism and production, and leveraged this dualistic skill set for his recently released, standout debut album, There’s Really A Wolf .
Even though his musical acumen is respectable, Russ’ internet savviness might be his strongest asset. With virtually no backing from any labels or media outlets, Russ managed to cultivate a deep following—earning him millions of SoundCloud plays—by maximizing his social media presence. This impressive fanbase and musical output earned him a spot on Columbia’s roster, and proves that it is plausible to make it in this industry with talent, persistence, and shrewdness.
The combination of vocal smoothness and lyrical prowess takes flight on the back of St. Louis’ Smino. The 25-year-old rapper-R&B singer hybrid has been musically active professionally for over six-years, but is just recently starting to earn his deserved respect. Now, the quasi funk artist is running downhill with a full head of steam, and showing zero signs of slowing.
Projecting his distinct, endearing voice over a bed of experimental production makes Smino a commodity. In today’s music landscape, a higher premium seems to be placed on individuals who can strip down archaic genre restrictions in favor of musical blending. Smino achieves that in spades. His debut album, blkswn, and other work, including his EP blkjuptr, showcase the talented artist’s eclecticism, and present a strong case for his rising star status.
When J. Cole recruits an artist for his label, Dreamville, it’s a solid indication of one’s talent and/or potential. Despite a pedestrian social media following (~27k SoundCloud followers; ~32k Twitter followers), J. Cole saw the future through 26-year-old J.I.D, born Destin Route. A diamond in the rough, Cole picked up J.I.D, dusted him off, and inserted him in his lean, talented roster. Smart acquisition for the 10-year-old Interscope subsidiary.
J.I.D’s gritty flow—reminiscent of a less acute Danny Brown—comfortably resides in nostalgic-sounding production, creating diverging music that uses Hip Hop’s traditional style to propel his artistry forward. His debut album, The Never Story, featuring rising talents 6LACK and EarthGang (the latter collaborated with Cole on DJ Khaled’s “Jermaine’s Interlude”), positions the Atlanta native for an illustrious career that we’ve only begun to witness unravel. Keep an eye out for this one.