Yes, I know where I am. I also know where you’re reading this. But…
I never liked the term “underground.” As much as I have always been in love with “underground music,” it has always felt to me like the very thing I love about the music that tends to fall under the umbrella—the freedom and risk-taking sonically, the noncompliance to the popular rules of the day—it’s always seemed that the title “underground” sought to undermine those qualities, by boxing it in. And everyone who used it, used it that way…not just popular music lovers.
Beyond the catchall use of underground as “music that’s not generally commercial sounding and/or widely commercially released,” the term is at once used as a pejorative (see: Ebro) to mean “unappealing to the masses/unable to crossover because it’s not good enough” (which we know is horse shit)—as a badge of honor; a secret club for the smarter, cooler kids; a weapon used to shame anyone who dares like popular music. Most of that shit is wack and needs to stop.
It’s wild corny to fix your face to say that all the music that doesn’t make it past the corporate gatekeepers and onto the radio 100 times a day just isn’t as good as music that does. Plus a lot of that shit is trash.
But the so-called purist fans can hobble their favorite artist’s career by rejecting anything that to them remotely smells like they want to gain a fan beyond the hot, funky, obscure basement rap club they’re standing in. Think of any “backpack” or “conscious” (subsets of the underground) artist who collaborates with a mainstream artist and puts it out. Now recall their Twitter mentions that day. (Did you even listen to that 2 Chainz verse on De La’s album? He blacked. Haters hated anyway.)
Underground can mean how the music sounds, or how famous a rapper isn’t. It’s further complicated by the facts that A) the major deal is all but dead, so almost everyone is independent now (what that means these days is a convo for another time), and B) there are artists who do have major backing who pretend to be underground, for the authenticating narrative (and so they don’t get taxed in full by collaborators).
Soundcloud is a huge player in the underground conversation (and probably not so incidentally, “Soundcloud rapper” has also been used as an insult). Lil Yachty got his start on Soundcloud. Now he has a Target commercial. Some call him an industry plant. If XXXTentacion never changes his moody emo violent sound, but still gets chosen by Walmart ‘cause one day Drake apologizes and puts him on his Summer single, is HE still underground?
I want the stigma gone, and I want the elitist heads to stand down.
Every rapper’s story began underground, one way or another. If the underground can mean all those things, then why can’t it mean the genesis stories of mainstream faves? Why can’t it mean the Polo Club, before they became the Migos? Kendrick is, as I type, coasting up the Billboard charts. He’s widely accepted as the most “woke” rapper of the times, still making the Blackest music. Section.80 is underground, ain’t it?
What if underground could be all the dope music that’s waiting to be brought to light, and all of the stories that come from the ones who went on to greatness?
I might could love that underground.