Music’s own Metaverse: SoundCloud’s influence with artist Kwame Djoss

Since its founding in 2007, SoundCloud has evolved from an underground streaming service to one of the worlds most notable audio distribution platforms

We’ve all heard of the terms SoundCloud rapper and SoundCloud artist before. The success stories to the likes of Post Malone, XXXTentacion, and Kehlani are just a few examples that propagate this image. But while you and I might picture bleached pink-blonde hair, face tattoos, and edgy teenage rock stars, most local artists who use the app say SoundCloud is about so much more. 

During the day, Kouami Djossou, also known as Kwame Djoss, is a fourth-year Concordia psychology student — but after class, they are a local artist sharing their music on SoundCloud. 

“I got my start in music when my dad saw one of the Stromae music tutorials on YouTube. He said ‘Oh, making music is easy,’ and downloaded a music software on the computer called Linux MultiMedia Studio. When I was 12, a friend introduced me to FL Studio.”

By the end of high school and the beginning of CEGEP, Djoss started sharing their music online, but stopped from 2017 to 2019 due to internal pressure. 

“I put a lot of pressure on myself. I was listening to people who were way better than I was like Kaytranada, High Klassified. I thought ‘Yo I’m not that good, what’s the point of making music if it’s not gonna be good?’”

Djoss makes most of their songs and beats all by themself, playing all the instruments solo. By using bass, electric guitar, and a Native Instruments Maschine MK3, they sample sounds off Youtube and remix them into their beats.

When asked about describing their path, Djoss says that they just make music that they themself like to listen to.

“Usually the path that people give to musicians is like selling beats. Especially if you’re a Black musician, people will assume that you make hip hop beats and stuff. But the market for selling beats is kind of saturated. What I’m interested in is incorporating my music into film.” 

Like many other artists on the platform, Djoss views SoundCloud as one of the best music sharing platforms out there for up and coming artists. You may discover niche genres you’ve never heard of like “Phonk music” and “Memphis Rap.” SoundCloud gives you the opportunity to discover great artists with a few thousand plays. 

“The SoundCloud algorithm is really not like the Spotify one where it will guess what you like based on what’s popular and which popular artist you might like. SoundCloud will be like ‘If you like this small artist, you might like this other small artist,’ and you get hella inspiration. With Spotify, you’ll eventually end up with all the same top artists like Lil Nas X and Billie Eilish. For sharing and discovering, SoundCloud is the best for sure,” said Djoss.

“Back in 2015 when I was getting started, Spotify wasn’t really a thing. On Spotify, you can’t upload with samples and you have to pay like $20 a year to post content. I know SoundCloud doesn’t get you paid but for lowkey artists, it’s perfect. It’s free up until a certain time limit. Plus, since it’s so easy to share music on SoundCloud we have all different types of artists doing whatever.”

There’s also such a unique community within SoundCloud. Djoss recommends local artists like Magi Merlin and her producer FunkyWhat. Songs such as “Elephant Woman” by Blonde Redhead, “Fall Down” by Crumb, “Human” by Sevdaliza and “blisters” by Serpentwithfeet are also recommended. 

“I’m really inspired by the SadBois 2001 era of Yung Lean, Yung Gud too. The universe they created on the platform is just so amazing to me. It feels like a joke but then it’s so well built. A whole galaxy to get into.”

Djoss will be giving a workshop on synthesizers for the technology sandbox at Concordia when everything reopens. No dates are announced but be sure to follow them on instagram for updates on future projects.. For now, feel free to check out their works: the short film Mango Couple along with singles “Faith” and “SAGEWAVE.” 

“At the end of the day, what’s important is that you enjoy what you’re doing and stay optimistic. Inspiration can come from anywhere.”


Photo by Kwame Djoss

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Playboi Carti – Whole Lotta Red

On Whole Lotta Red, Playboi Carti found a new sound, which results in his boldest album to date.

It has been more than two years since Whole Lotta Red was supposed to drop, but due to complications like Playboi Carti’s fans leaking songs online on platforms like Soundcloud and YouTube, it ended up being released only last month. Some of the leaked songs even ended up on the album. Carti added the word “new” in front in the title of the leaked songs like “New Tank” and “New N3on,” the latter being one of the most popular leaked tracks.

Lyrically, Carti does not say much — as usual, he uses a lot of repetition. For example, on the first track “Rockstar Made,” he says the words “never too much” 44 times. Fortunately for him, it does not affect the record since he is not known for his lyrical capabilities. He compensates with his weird yet ear-pleasing voice, his unmatched energy and infectious beats.

With this album, Carti embarks on a new sound. He hops on a lot of aggressive beats with some punk and electronic elements on top of the usual trap drums, 808s and loud bass, especially on the first half of the record. Instrumentals on songs like “Stop Breathing,” “On That Time” and “JumpOutTheHouse” are some of the wildest he has ever hopped on.

To accompany these beats, Carti sings and raps with some of the rawest inflections he’s ever had in his voice, almost shouting at times. On the track “Teen X” featuring Future, he even raps in a baby voice, surprisingly creating one of the best tracks on the record. The combination of such eclectic beats and insane vocal inflections leaves the listener with some pure bangers and some high energy tracks to mosh to.

On the second half of the record, Carti slows down a bit and raps over some more familiar beats that could have been on Die Lit. Some of the songs on the second half like “Control,” “King Vamp,” “Sky” and “Over” all sound similar, which left me wondering if most of these songs could have been left out of the album since the record is already 24 tracks long. To have a 24-track album is a lot and if some of your songs sound alike, although it is good for streaming revenue, it affects the quality of the record in a negative way. The album could have easily been 16 to 18 tracks and it would have been just fine.

Whole Lotta Red contains a lot of high energy songs which are, for the most part,enjoyable. Although the album could have been shorter, it is still a good project and a fun listen.


Trial track: Vamp Anthem

Score: 7/10


Techno and house with a Montreal touch

Marbré is ready to take over the city’s electronic music scene

At the end of a corridor, mimicking the atmosphere of the Paris catacombs, lasers are skimming through the room, creating an atmosphere blending visuals and sound draped in blue light. While Jean, also known under his stage name Salem, is behind the turntables for his first set, other members of Marbré are getting ready to take over the set until 3 a.m.

But before becoming a music collective, these young men were primarily a group of friends. Hector, Jean, Pierre, Benjamin, Jules, Simons, Lucas, Ezer, and Nico, who wish to remain anonymous as part of their collective image, all share a passion for electronic music that pushed them to form Marbré in September of 2019.

The eight McGill students created Marbré with the main goal being to democratize all aspects of electronic music through their passion for mixing. “We are on a large spectrum of electronic music; listening to different styles,” said Jean, who is in charge of communications. “We can give the people a taste of all the other genres that exist.”

“That’s what we are trying to do in our sets, to transfer from techno, to tech-house, to deep-house,” said Lucas, the graphic designer of the collective. “To gather as many genres as possible.” They demystify what is happening behind the turntables and shed light on the creative process behind DJing.

The collective found a frenetic audience at both of their house-style shows that promises them a bright future. “We have to learn how to control the energy we get as this project begins,” said Nico, one of Marbré’s DJs. “The hype that we got from the night at the Belmont was not expected.”

Yet, the success of their performances does not seem to trouble the members of Marbré. “We need to stay in contact with reality, keep our feet on the ground, our hands on the plates,” said Lucas, with a laugh.

On Jan. 23 at the Velvet-Auberge St-Gabriel, Marbré had their first show as La Marbre, the name used to distinguish their techno performances. “The idea was to develop something that was more tech,” said Hector. “To continue the big house events that everyone loves but also to develop a more techno branch—something deeper.”

La Marbre will also allow them to incorporate visuals and VJing, starting with the lasers at the Velvet, which is more adapted to techno music.

Electronic music has a whole community, mostly based on SoundCloud, who come together to “dig” and share their favourite tracks. Artists dig tracks that they intend to analyze up to the last beat to use them during their performances.

“Mixing is about knowing your tracks,” said Pierre, another of the group’s DJs. “You have to listen to a track again and again to know what comes next. If you had cut the treble when a voice comes in, you’re fucked!”

According to all the members of the collective, this aspect of DJing is crucial to a set: they all talk about their hours of digging to find the “gem,” as they call it.

“Groups like Chasse et Pêche, Kizi Garden and Turning Point paved the way for us,” Pierre said. “Here in Montreal, we can really do whatever we want. There is a saturation in larger markets that makes it more professional.” The scene allows them to express their diverse style and have complete freedom in their sets.

Their upcoming performance on Feb.13 will be the next chapter of La Marbre at the Velvet, further exploring the darker musical side of the collective.     


Photo courtesy of Ezer Berdugo


Soundcloud’s fixation on suicide

Artists like Lil Peep and XXXTentacion tackle issues of mental health and depression

California rapper Lil Peep  is leading a new nexus of rap artists. He recently released his debut album, Come Over When You’re Sober — a self-obsessed project which grossly portrays depression as something to be fetishized. Peep raps lethargically about depression over pop-punk inspired trap instrumentals, which usually transitions into a banally sung chorus about taking Xanax and smoking a healthy dosage of weed. When he sings, it resembles the nasally cadence of blink-182 or Simple Plan.

Also like Peep, Soundcloud mammoth XXXTentacion uses his history with suicide and depression as the focal point of his image and music. The topic of mental health serves as a means for these artists to establish an air of authenticity, given the grave imagery expressed in the music. In an interview with Pitchfork, when discussing his history with depression, XXXTentacion said, “Some days, I’ll be very down and out, but you won’t be able to tell, really, because I don’t express that side of myself on social media. That’s the side of myself that I express through music. That’s my channel for letting all that shit out.”

Suicide is an especially relevant topic in hip hop right now, with rappers of varying influence and range ruminating on their experiences with mental health. When surveying the current music scene, the vast majority of new rappers who have personally faced mental health issues rarely shy away from expressing their tribulations.

XXXTentacion’s has been making waves on Soundcloud with his mix of emo lyricism and edgy, anything-goes demeanor. His new song “Jocelyn Flores” peaked at number three on the Billboard. Lil Uzi Vert’s sleeper-hit, “XO TOUR Llif3,” which centres on the hook “Push me to the edge / All my friends are dead,” ubiquitously earned the award for Song of the Summer at the VMAs last August. The song ponders the mental hell of contemplating suicide in the midst of a failed relationship.

That same day, Logic performed his suicide-prevention anthem “1–800–273–8255.” These topics can be cathartic for artists. It may come as a surprise, then, that much of the public hadn’t expressed more involvement or concern about mental health until after seeing Logic’s performance. Following the VMAs, it was reported that the suicide prevention hotline saw a 50 per cent spike in calls.

If you’re confronting the same feelings the rappers describe, it’s understandable why you’d feel inclined to gravitate towards artists like XXXTentacion—someone who has yet to overcome his problems. For that reason, this has the potential to position XXXTentacion as a more pragmatic and sympathetic figure. Yes, it’s a troubling proposal for artists to sing so candidly about death and depression. But, this approach may very well offer a window into the ways X’s fans relate to his music.

Depression and suicide imagery in rap music isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon. Not only because rappers as successful as XXXTentacion are bridging the gap between art and reality, but because his own experiences are intrinsically intertwined with those of his fans. He is one of the main proponents of death as art or aesthetic, which he put on full blast when he posted a controversial Instagram video last August where he simulated his own hanging.

Consumers are actively seeking music which puts these topics of mental health centre stage. But if this concept of depression as a trend disturbs you — as it should — the imperative is not to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. For us to instill mental health awareness, it’s important to absorb a certain understanding of the larger, systemic complexes of mental health. This may lead us to a deeper understanding as to why an artist like XXXTentacion might feel depressed.

In addition to the pain that came with growing up in a broken home, his propensity for sporadic violence reflects America’s blatant reluctance to promote conversations about mental health. This also explains why a large portion of his fan base might be predisposed to suffering from depression.

These young rappers who display a certain fixation on death recall the MySpace melodrama of the early-2000s emo revival. Perhaps this is a byproduct of culturally-imposed gender roles, in which boys are discouraged from expressing a full spectrum of feelings for fear of being labeled “weak” or “soft.” This new embrace of the sad-boy aesthetic might be a step in the right direction. It’s definitely a start in the process of dismantling preimposed stereotypes, but not necessarily an end to the stigma surrounding mental health.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts or emotional distress, please call Suicide Action Montreal at 1-866-277-3553 or visit Concordia’s mental health services for help.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth


Can musicians succeed without physical CDs?

SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Spotify and YouTube have changed the music industry

As more and more consumers choose digital music over physical CDs, music distribution trends are shifting away from physical product sales. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), streaming music online in 2016 amounted for 47 per cent of America’s total recorded music revenue in comparison to physical copy revenue that is equivalent to 20 per cent. In the first six months of 2016, the Nielsen Music 360 Report concluded the number of songs streamed on-demand through audio and video platforms was over 18.6 billion.

Years ago, musicians needed a music label—such as Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment or Universal Music Group to reach a large audience of listeners. The labels had the exclusive means of creating physical albums that would give fans access to their favourite songs. Today, any musician with access to the Internet can upload their own music. Services such as Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube and SoundCloud allow musicians to release their music online and share it with the world, either for free or for a small fee. This further opens the door for independent recording artists to create and release their art. With so many artists regularly releasing music, young bands can compete with the world’s talent to be heard.

Do musicians need to create physical versions of their albums to support their project or can they prosper exclusively online? Although digital music has its positive aspects, some artists might argue that being present on various online music platforms is not enough.“We can’t survive through our online presence alone at this stage,” said Jodie Amos, the singer of the UK-based rock group Badow. “Even though social media is really important to us to network with fans, the physical aspect still overrides the digital sales.” In 2014, country-pop singer Taylor Swift pulled her entire music catalogue from the online music streaming program Spotify, citing low revenue from the platform. “I think there should be an inherent value placed on art,” she said in an interview with Time magazine. “I didn’t see that happening, perception-wise, when I put my music on Spotify.”

Music streaming platforms like Google Play Music and Apple Music offer music as a service you subscribe to, instead of as a product you purchase. A monthly fee allows listeners to stream most of the world’s music collection, while paying musicians for their contribution to the platform. Global marketing research firm Nielsen found that Canadians spent twice as much on music streaming services in 2016 than the year before. They also found that, in Canada, the total amount of audio streams in the first half of the year jumped from 2.1 billion in 2015 to 9.2 billion in 2016.

Graphic by Thom Bell

“People discover bands through streaming now, and those who like what they hear can quickly find out when our next show is happening through our social media,” said Sam Robinson, bassist of Montreal-based rock group Diamond Tree. “We don’t make any money through streaming, but without uploading our music to streaming sites, we’d be missing out on a large audience and lots of potential new fans.”

CDs were once the main way music was purchased, but sales of CDs have declined steadily since the early 2000s. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), revenue from CD sales in the United States slid down 16.4 per cent in 2016 compared to sales in 2015. In 2000, 942.5 million CDs were sold in the US. In 2015, only 122.9 million CDs were sold.

In addition, creating professional-looking CDs can be costly for a musician or band compared to uploading it online. According to Eve Duplessis, who works at Montreal-based printing company Audiobec, it costs roughly $1,000 to create 500 compact discs sold in full-colour cardboard sleeves.Even then, to reach the widest possible audience, CDs are sometimes sold as “pay-what-you-can.” “I buy CDs to remember the artists I like,” said Montreal-based singer-songwriter Heather Ragnars. “If I like the music I hear at a show, I might buy a CD.” Singer-songwriter Alexandra Roussel said she finds physical media helps form a connection with her audience. “In this day and age, people like to be able to hold things in their hands. It makes for a warmer connection between the artist and their fans,” she said.

Many musicians in Montreal agree having physical copies of their music is a good way to make sales at their shows. According to singer-songwriter Philippe Da Silva, “there’s always one person who wants a physical copy they can hold. Although I believe most of my marketing happens online, I find it important to be able to offer a physical product to those who want it.” Vocal coach Angie Arsenault also believes it’s all about catering to your audience. “If you are a touring band, you should consider having physical merchandise such as CDs and t-shirts to sell to your fans at your shows,” she said. “If you are a YouTube star, perhaps a digital copy of your album is all you need. Personally, I like to have both options available.”

For Room Control bassist Richard Bunze, being able to sell a physical product to a fan is an important part of being a musician. “Anyone can upload their tunes to Bandcamp or Soundcloud, but I still think it’s important to have a tangible piece of your band for someone to take home with them,” he said. “It’s part of the whole package of your band. It’s an extension of your art,” he said.

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