Head in the Clouds

Brian Beach, Staff Writer

In the past, becoming a successful rap sensation required a record label and a mountain of capital. Now, thanks to accessible production software and music sharing platforms like Soundcloud, many new hip-hop artists have emerged across the country. Many of them are in high school and Olathe North is home to several.

What inspires these burgeoning young artists to try their hand at the rap game? For some, it’s about self-expression.

“I wanted to express myself in my own way and it’s the only way I can really just say whatever I want,” states Olathe North senior Aedryle Jericho (AJ) Kabristante, who goes by the rapper name AJ-47.

For Eagle senior Joey Guzman, AKA J-Slick, the rationale to begin rapping on Soundcloud was quite simple. “I like making people laugh and I like attention so those two together kind of made me realize that it would be fun to rap,” he says.

This Soundcloud rap culture has spread quickly because many students try their hand at the craft after witnessing one of their friends finding success. North senior Dylan Blessing, for example, began rapping because he was inspired by his friend, Kabristante.

Blessing, who is one of the newer rappers on Soundcloud, only uses an iPad and a Mac to produce his music and describes his personal style as, “sloppy.” However, he and many other aspiring rappers could benefit from utilizing the audio and visual equipment available at the Johnson County Central Resources Library MakerSpace. The equipment can be rented out for free and is perfect for producing music at a semi-professional level. Then again, rapping at a public library might not exactly help the street cred of these teenage stars, but it is certainly an option.

Guzman has his own detailed method for creating his music. “I normally just sit down when I’m bored in class and think of a general idea that will get the flow starting and then I’ll find a beat that I feel like represents the idea of what I’m trying to do. Once I find the beat, I put it onto the software that I use and then I freestyle for like five seconds, write it down, then re-record it, and that’s kind of the same process over and over again until it’s finished. After it’s all done, I listen to it like twenty times to make sure there is no noticeable breathing or just anything that anybody could hate on because I just want it to sound as professional as possible since it’s just me, a computer, and a guitar hero mic,” Guzman says.

While none of North’s student rappers have found widespread fame on a national stage, many of the biggest rap artists of today got their start rapping on Soundcloud in their teenage years. Names like Desiigner, Future, Post Malone, and Young Thug, now mainstays on hip hop and rap stations all over the country, all got their start rapping on the software. Yet, it’s not these more recent Soundcloud stars that inspire this crop of high school rappers. Instead, it’s an older group of rappers that continues to inspire this younger generation to make their own music.

“My biggest inspiration is Kanye West. He’s everything that I pretty much dream to be,” says Kabristante. Rappers Lil’ Dicky, Logic, A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, and Kendrick Lamar all inspire Guzman and his music. Unlike the majority of the new wave of Soundcloud rappers, none of these artists are under 25 years old.

In contrast, Lil’ Pump, considered by many to be the epitome of this new trend of young mumble rappers, just turned eighteen in August of this year. With repetitive, yet catchy songs like “Gucci Gang” and “Esketit,” the young man from Miami has already amassed a net worth of over eight million dollars and recently dropped a massive hit, “I Love It” with rap legend Kanye West.

While Olathe North’s rappers have yet to achieve that kind of success, this does not stop them from having dreams of stardom. Kabristante has big plans for his rap future, and he claims that, “The next five years I’m going to get everyone to know my name I’m going to make Olathe famous, put it on the map, everything.”

Even if Guzman doesn’t make it big, he still hopes to continue his rapping in college. He says, “I’ve heard about a lot of people who do it for frat parties. I’m not into partying too much, but if it’s just to have fun and have people enjoy your stuff, that’d be kind of cool to do. Of course, blowing up is always the goal, but you never know…”

Blessing has a bleaker outlook on his future, believing that in five years, his rap career will be, “in the trash.”

These rappers have built up quite a reputation among fellow students, but what do North teachers think about this new trend? For the most part, their reactions are quite neutral. When asked about to provide commentary on Guzman’s rapping, -physics teacher and head cross country coach Levi Huseman respond with a frank, yet honest, “It sounds like… rap?”

To math teacher Kimberly Dicus, the major flaw with high school rapping in general is the lack of production quality. “Mostly it sounds like pretty low production value, I mean I guess it’s what you would expect. It’s not my favorite music so it’s not something I would normally listen to anyway, but it’s good for them if that’s what they want to do,” Dicus claims.

The idea of Soundcloud rapping is brand new to government teacher Stu Stern and his opinions on the trend are almost as ambiguous as the genre of mumble rap itself. “I don’t know if it’s enough to make a future on or not. I’m sure there are successful ones. I don’t know if it’s a fad or not, I don’t know where it fits in the music world, but if you could make a living out of it, go for it. Otherwise, it probably looks like a good hobby,” he says.

Not everyone provides such lukewarm support for the budding young artists, however. Blessing already claims to receive criticism, “all the time” and instead of getting mad about it, he just says okay.

Kabristante has also received criticism but maintains a stoic nature about it. “There would be a lot of people that would just talk about it and be like aw, that sucked, but I don’t really care, I just keep doing whatever I want,” he states.

Guzman feels like his comedic style of rap is often misunderstood. He believes that, “because of the fact that it’s comedic, people kind of take it the wrong way and they don’t appreciate it for what it is. They don’t take it seriously.”

When frustrated, Guzman says he acts like he doesn’t care, “because like it would be exactly what they want.”

Still, Guzman has received over three thousand total listens on his music- not bad for someone who dropped their first release in January of 2018.

Ultimately, Soundcloud rap has allowed students at North and around the country to express themselves in ways Whether they blow up or not, these students’ creative talents have certainly not gone unnoticed in their hometown.