Underground versus the Mainstream, What’s better?

Music is something that is subject to change throughout time regardless of any extraneous factors. The popular music of the time will almost always be largely different than times previous. This is true in the case of our most popular genre today which is hip-hop music. From the hip-hop of the 90’s to even the hip-hop and rap of the early 2000s there has been a paradigm shift in modern rap/hip-hop to the old version it once was. Hip-hop, unlike other genres, has thrived from having a versatile and interesting underground scene. I say this because although there is always bad music from all genres from all times the underground of hip-hop has always stood out as being one that almost demands to be paid attention to. It’s vibrant, it’s unique, and is it better than the mainstream? That is a part of what I am trying to answer here as well as highlighting that a lot of the time art can be appreciated even if found from the most unlikely of artists/places.

The way I am positive that in the case of the genre Hip-hop that the underground community is exceptional, meets the standards of the mainstream, and quite possibly is better is because of my position in it’s availability to its content to me. I own what one could look at as a “label and music promotion” center in which I accept submissions to be promoting through the way I go about doing that. I have highlighted rappers’ albums, songs, and personas to my Instagram as well as Soundcloud account. During the busiest days, I get anywhere from 8-10 reposts a day where sometimes I can find even more flooding in. I also have a group playlist that I put the best of the best music I find in the underground scene into and highlight to make the showcase of my page. Well, this begs the question, what makes a song “good”, or even “exceptional”?

To try and answer the question of if I should repost/highlight/promote a particular track or album I assess requirements I consider worthy enough to show to others. Some of these requirements could be the “vibeablitity” (this is a made-up word) of a particular track, to just the lyric complexity from the artist. If it meets a reasonable standard for me from there I will then finely comb through the details of the song to try and make just opinions about their placement in the underground/mainstream, cultural relevance, as well as replayability. If a song meets these criteria, to me, they will be considered in the ligament of songs that surpass expectations and answer the question of if the mainstream has fallen short of being better than the underground in this piece. Of course, with this comes some complications. I will run into scenarios where an artist was basically formed from the underground recesses of the scene and therefore has become mainstream from their underground prevalence being exalted through time. I would say that is somewhat rare and in the situations where it happens, it tends to shape the genre as it progresses as these artists rising from the underground might come from the underground for a reason. Let me explain, basically, if the underground really is better than the mainstream then it is inevitable that some underground artists that are good will come along and explode onto the scene with their underground following making them mainstream. Such artists could be named as “Lil Uzi Vert”, “Juice Wrld”, etc. These artists will not be taking into account for the assessment of whether the mainstream is better or worse than the underground.

How will I go about evaluating both the underground and mainstream? My friend and I operated this repost business with me for a long time and will grade a multitude of tracks with me and then dry listen to other tracks from mainstream artists to compare. To start we will take 2 Soundcloud tracks that we know and then give our full critique. Then we will take mainstream tracks at random and give our critique the same way.

UNDERGROUND:

Track 1 –  PacoTheLyricist, Lighting (Feat. 500RAXX) (Prod. By Palaze)

PacoTheLyricist being a Bay area rapper came with such a great track with him talking about his problems as he refers to as his “demons”. The track has a generic Hip-hop beat but is nowhere near generic. It has solid verses and a great feature from 500RAXX which is almost unbelievable how well she fits this track. Paco has different flows and it sounds like he honestly poured out his soul on this track. The only problem with his track which is kind of a big unfortunate downfall is the somewhat noticeable popping that happens throughout the track which may have been a production error. Other than that the track is great. Rate: 8/10

Track 2 – Dreamkite, roses&birds (@prodswitch)

Rapper Dreamkite makes a genuinely unique track with him singing over an almost eclectic Hip-hop beat that builds into a crescendo of Dream singing and a building beat that is very satisfying. In terms of lyrical content, Dreamkite deals with somewhat deep ideas on this and really hits all the categories of what I would consider a great song. Rate 8/10

Track 3 – Kuru, what am i gonna do

Kuru comes in this track with his flow that I haven’t heard from any other artist. Kuru is an enigma of an artist with immaculate production and a sound that maybe is an acquired taste. If you would ask me, this is the new sound of the underground possibly called Trip-hop or Glitch-hop. I think that the beat switch on this is fitting and accompanied by the different vocals during it makes it really something to experience. Kuru’s beats are always crazy as well. Rate: 9/10

MAINSTREAM:

Track 1 – Jack Harlow, WHATS POPPIN (remix)

This song is what the pinnacle would consider probably the pinnacle of rap at the moment in time but I would have a dissenting opinion. Jack Harlow comes with a unique track but it somewhat confuses me why some of the hottest rappers in the game such as Dababy, Tory Lanes, and old not too outdated rapper Lil Wayne wanted to even be on this track. That is how I would describe this track, a build-up to Lil Wayne’s verse in which he tried to be on what an actually good cypher should be. They all decided to come and try their best on this just decent track. The beat is a repetitive almost annoying piano beat accompanied by Hip-hops signature sounds of 808’s and rattling hi-hats. It feels like all the artists on this meld together with not much uniqueness or going against the grain. Rate 8/10

Track 2 – Kanye West, NAH NAH NAH

This new track from Kanye dropped just a few days ago with a snippet posted on his Instagram about the new drop. It has a flute style beat with thumping 808’s accompanied by snares and claps. The track changes a little over halfway through into a more aggressive Kanye and an odd voice switch. That is probably my biggest vice with this track is the odd editing and maybe unusual flow on the chorus “Nah nah nah”. The presidential candidate line is iconic though. Rate 7/10.

Track 3 – Playboi Carti, @ MEH

The newest drop from Carti is a coagulation of odd sounds, his “baby voice”, and a generic hip-hop beat that sounds like a Pierre Bourne beat but is not. I honestly don’t think this track is very good. This is my personal opinion but the repetitive nature is what breaks this track. The chorus is Carti using his baby voice to try and make a Pop Hip-hop mix that just totally falls apart. Not much to say about this track. Rate 6/10

There are different times for everything but if we are speaking overall I feel that the underground tracks in this sequence of tracks are just genuinely better in most scenarios and are sonically better. This isn’t guaranteed to work every time as you can choose great mainstream tracks and mediocre underground tracks but it is interesting to see how much effort the underground puts into their tracks almost surpassing a lot of the mainstream. Kudos to all the artists that made the music I critique from the underground. To the mainstream, get better guys, it’s 2020. Maybe some are focused on more important matters, like politics. *cough* Ye *cough*

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