On April 9, Gustav Åhr closed his sold-out show at Subterranean with a cover of Blink-182’s “Dammit,” the bratty 1997 single that became the California pop-punk band’s first hit. Shirtless and sweaty, Åhr belted out the lyrics in short, hoarse shouts, duplicating the regimented rhythms of Blink bassist-vocalist Mark Hoppus. Åhr loves pop-punk, and as a skinny white 20-year-old with dozens of tattoos and pink-and-black hair, he looks the part—but if you’ve heard of him, you probably know him better as rapper Lil Peep.
Peep is one of many young underground rappers influenced by the mainstream rock and punk of the 1990s and 2000s—not just Blink-182 (who headline Lollapalooza’s Bud Light stage on Friday, August 4) but also the likes of Marilyn Manson, My Chemical Romance, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Disturbed. These rappers don’t share an aesthetic, though a few (in contrast to the bygone radio rockers who inspired them) seem to favor lo-fi production that makes their music sound like it’s always playing through a broken smartphone speaker. The only other thing they reliably have in common is their preferred streaming service, which might explain why “Soundcloud rap” is an established enough term that the New York Times recently embraced it.
You may have heard that Soundcloud itself is in dire financial straits—on July 6, the company laid off 173 employees, and around a week later an anonymous Soundcloud staffer told TechCrunch that it was fully funded for only 80 more days. But Soundcloud rap is thriving, albeit mostly below the radar. Many of these rappers use the streaming platform’s genre-tagging options to cheekily reference their love of rock: in March, when Genius chief content officer Brendan Frederick tweeted a screenshot of Soundcloud’s most-played chart for “Alternative Rock,” it featured Lil Peep, hip-hop hit machine Lil Uzi Vert, and popular alleged strangler of a pregnant ex-girlfriend XXXtentacion. (Uzi, who headlines Lollapalooza’s Pepsi stage Thursday night, is too successful to be considered a Soundcloud rapper, but he drinks from the same well.) Soundcloud has since tweaked its alt-rock chart to exclude rappers, but the point’s already been made.
Peep is the new rapper who’s most obviously indebted to Blink-182 and their ilk. His tortured, half-sung raps sound more like Used front man Bert McCracken than they do anyone in Migos. Peep’s vocal style and appearance tempted Pitchfork to call him “the future of emo” in a January profile, which while provocative basically erases his present artistic choices. That’s not to say I think Pitchfork should’ve ignored Peep’s influences—that would mean ignoring the way that he (alongside many others) borrows from pop-punk to push hip-hop in a new direction. But many commentators seem to assume that commercial punk and underground hip-hop are mutually exclusive categories, such that drawing on the former disqualifies an artist from the latter. To the contrary, one of Peep’s favorite bands has played a crucial role in bringing them together.
Thu 8/3 through Sun 8/6, noon-10 PM, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson, lollapalooza.com, general-admission tickets sold out, single-day VIP passes $650, four-day VIP passes $2,200, all ages
Thu 8/3, 11 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, metrochicago.com, sold out, 18+
Blink-182 pop-up shop
The first 182 customers get a free gift bag with their purchase, but please no lining up before 9 AM. Thu 8/3-Sun 8/6, 11 AM-7 PM, Rotofugi, 2780 N. Lincoln, rotofugi.com, all ages
Formed in 1992, Blink-182 didn’t hit their stride till Hoppus and guitarist-vocalist Tom DeLonge recruited drummer Travis Barker in 1998. (Hoppus is now the sole original member; Alkaline Trio front man Matt Skiba replaced DeLonge in 2015.) Barker brought musical rigor and professionalism to the band, as well as a deep understanding of hip-hop. As Barker writes in his 2015 memoir, Can I Say: Living Large, Cheating Death, and Drums Drums Drums, he grew up listening to all sorts of music—country singer-songwriter Buck Owens, jazz drummer Buddy Rich, satanic metal pioneer King Diamond—but the Beastie Boys changed his life. As DeLonge told Rolling Stone while promoting the 2011 album Neighborhoods, “If he didn’t bring his love of hip-hop into Blink-182 then we’d never have songs like ‘I Miss You’ or ‘Down.'” Blink also wouldn’t have had “After Midnight,” a Neighborhoods track built on a beat that Barker made for Alabama rapper Yelawolf.
Barker has crossed over into hip-hop more successfully than any other rock musician this century. In 2001 Sean Combs (then P. Diddy) asked Barker to play drums in the video for “Bad Boy for Life.” And his collaborations with rappers grew into serious partnerships after Blink-182 went on hiatus in 2005. That year Barker produced his first instrumental for a rapper (Bun B’s “Late Night Creepin'”) and formed hip-hop supergroup Expensive Taste, which included Houston rapper Paul Wall (who topped the Billboard 200 in 2005 with The Peoples Champ).
Within three years, and especially after Barker’s 2007 remix of “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” rap and pop stars practically beat down his door asking for remixes. He launched TRV$DJAM, a dance-forward remix project with former Crazy Town turntablist DJ AM (aka Adam Goldstein), which brought him even deeper into the world of hip-hop—Cool Kids rapper-producer Chuck Inglish recalls meeting Barker through Goldstein. The Cool Kids were among dozens of rappers who contributed to Barker’s 2011 solo album, Give the Drummer Some: the others include Lil Wayne, Pharrell, Slaughterhouse, RZA, Snoop Dogg, Bun B, Cypress Hill, Rick Ross, and locals Twista and Lupe Fiasco. Barker has been mentioned in lyrics by Gucci Mane, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne, and all sorts of rappers have invited him to drum with them onstage—maybe you remember the extra punk punch he gave Vic Mensa‘s vitriolic “16 Shots” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! the night before the 2016 election.
“Travis has a style, he looks familiar to rap, and more importantly, it’s just history—people know your history. It makes you cooler,” says Chuck Inglish. He’s collaborated with Barker a handful of times; Barker coproduced and drummed on “Sour Apples,” from the 2011 Cool Kids record When Fish Ride Bicycles, and he’ll be on the duo’s forthcoming reunion album, Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe. (In 2012, judging by Inglish’s Instagram feed, he and Barker were in the studio working on an instrumental album, but it has yet to materialize.) Inglish says working with Barker is easy, and it helps that they’re both drummers. He was impressed by Barker even before they met. “At Guitar Center, in the drum section, they always have videos of a famous drummer doing a live solo set,” Inglish says. “It was usually Travis doing a solo.”
Inglish became a fan of Blink-182 when they released their breakthrough album, 1999’s Enema of the State. The video for “What’s My Age Again?” made an especially strong impression. “When you were sitting up watching TRL, after Puff Daddy videos and shit, it would be these guys, jogging down North Hollywood streets buck naked, and they didn’t look weird—it was, like, ‘Oh, who the fuck are these dudes?'” Inglish says. “Then the song was catchy. And then you kinda go into the meanings of what they were writing about. I didn’t even know what ‘enema’ meant in high school till, like, 11th grade. I thought they spelled ‘enemy’ wrong. And then when you started growing up and catching all the puns and stuff, it starts to appreciate.”
Blink’s prominence not only enabled Barker’s collaborations with the biggest rappers of the day, but it also guaranteed that their influence would reach young MCs emerging more than a decade later. In the late 90s and early 2000s, few other bands could shift pop culture—or at least nudge it—like Blink did. In 1999 they competed with boy bands on MTV’s Total Request Live, in 2001 they debuted atop the Billboard 200 charts with the album Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, and in 2003 they released an untitled album whose timing helped open up the mainstream to a flood of pop-punk and third-wave emo. The effect was immediate: Blink warmed up the seats for Fall Out Boy, Paramore, and Panic! at the Disco. These days My Chemical Romance may be emblematic of 2000s mainstream emo (whose vague postgoth aesthetic owes a debt to Tim Burton), but Blink got there first with a reference to The Nightmare Before Christmas on “I Miss You.”
Chicago rapper Ju says Blink broke up before he discovered them, but he latched on to the bands that followed in their wake. “I think the first song I ever heard that was rock or pop-punk was ‘Sugar, We’re Goin Down’ by Fall Out Boy—on the radio,” says the 22-year-old south-side native. “I was like, ‘Yo, that shit is so fucking fresh.’ So I just started getting into it. I really started listening mainly to Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, whatever other pop-punk bands were around that time—My Chemical Romance.” He and frequent collaborator Melo Makes Music lean hard on the rock and punk bands of their adolescent years. Ju says he stumbled upon his current rapping style in 2014, while recording a song for his defunct duo Moon & Ju. “I did some My Chemical Romance shit, and I was like, ‘That shit’s kinda cool,'” he says. “I just kept with it.”
In October, Ju dropped one of his most popular songs so far, “Stains.” He stretches out his words with pained yearning over a familiar sample—the bass melody in “Adam’s Song,” from Enema of the State. “I had no clue that was a Blink-182 song—I thought it was just a producer making a hot-ass beat,” Ju says. (The producer in question, Mysticphonk, has also worked with Lil Peep.) Ju is too young to have a nostalgic connection to Blink-182, but he gives credit where it’s due. “They’ve influenced the entire genre of pop-punk, so therefore I’m under the influence of them,” he says. “But I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Blink-182 and been like, ‘Yeah, Imma bite that’ or ‘Yeah, Imma do that.'”
Blink’s fingerprints are all over the newest generation of rappers, even the ones who don’t make it as obvious as Peep—sometimes their impassioned vocals sound like hybrids of all the third-wave emo singers Blink influenced. Frank Guan at Vulture was almost certainly talking about those 2000s acts when he wrote in May that the refrain in Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Llif3” “wouldn’t sound out of place on an emo chorus—in fact, it’s a perfect emo chorus.”
I can hear the connection myself. Recently I listened to Take Off Your Pants and Jacket on a run, and about a mile and a half in, when the heat started to make me sluggish, the chorus for “Stay Together for the Kids” rescued me. Not too many songs can give me a burst of energy like that—but “XO Tour Llif3” is one of them. Great pop-punk—and great rap inspired by pop-punk—does it every time. v