How you making lists with no passion?
OLIVIER: Last month, Lil Yachty had J. Cole as a special guest on his podcast to discuss the so-called Death of Hip-Hop. Yachty was a big part of SoundCloud’s mainstream boom of the last decade, but statistically, rap’s commercial spike has since cooled. In the interview, Yachty blamed this on the “excessive accessibility of technology” that allows kids to make and release music with no oversight. Mind you, these are kids who once looked up to Lil Yachty for, wait for it, making and releasing music with no oversight. So how is the DIY approach that paved your way to stardom suddenly the issue?
Here’s the bottom line: if you’re using unit sales in the year 2023 as the benchmark for quality control, you’re listening to music for the wrong reasons. Because of its accessibility, hip-hop is actually alive and well, teeming with ecosystems of new life stemming from online subcultures. Over the last couple years, No Bells has attempted to cover these scenes somewhat piecemeal, but this year we did it more holistically as old nomenclature began to die and the lines between these scenes started to blur. Through several informal rounds of voting, lots of listening and Hashing It Out, Kieran, Mano and I compiled a ranked list of the best internet rap of 2023.
MANO: Some disclaimers. First of all, I’m sure people are gonna be asking, “What the hell does internet rap even mean in 2023?” or “Why are you trying to box these young artists in?” Look, we really struggled with coming up with a name for this, but we felt the spirit of this moment needed one. This wasn’t about genre labeling, it was about trying to make sense of the bubbling zeitgeist. It means something that Ken Carson and Osamason and OK and tdf were all making music that sounds like bombs detonating. It means something that kids all over America were rapping on ethereal Milwaukee type beats. We toyed with a couple alternative names like “Best Underground Rap” and even “Best Rap” but that would mean adding in a lot more songs that maybe had less of an online impact and more of a regional one. Eligibility for this list was based on a loose mix of sonics, audience, scene affiliations and vibes.
In this list you won’t find the most COMPLETE picture of internet rap, but instead a loose confluence of our tastes, which have a good bit of overlap but also differ (for example, Kieran’s way more plugged into sigilkore than Olivier or me). That said, it’s certainly expansive, touching on new-age glo, maplekore, Atlanta alt rap, old-guard pluggnb and even some flecks of digicore (lol remember that?). Above all, the driving force here is the rise of xaviersobased, 1c and the jerk sound. All three of us live in New York at the end of the day.
Some essential internet rap projects/mixes of 2023
454 & Surf Gang, FAST 5
AyooLii & people, enigma
Baby Osama, Tank Girl
che, closed captions
dazegxd & quinn, dSX.fm
Duwap Kaine, Duwap So Based
feardorian & bronclair, EVEN IF
Harto Falion & NOLANBEROLLIN, babyg_Lock
ian & gyo, empty suit
jaydes, ghetto cupid
Ken Carson, A Great Chaos*
Lunchbox, New Jazz
Osamason, Osama Season
xaviersobased, And 3
YhapoJJ, Evolution of Xur
*Ed note: ofc Ken Carson isn’t really an Online Artist anymore but it felt weird not to include this one due to its impact.
And now, BEST INTERNET RAP OF 2023. RANKED OFC, LIFE’S TOO SHORT!
30. Kanii & 9lives – “Go” (9lives)
KPR: Never thought I’d see the day: sigilkore pop. 9lives, the bridge between old-school sigilkore rappers like Luci4 and the new generation of hexD-adjacent viral musicians like Odetari, smooths out the bewilderingly glitchy sound of sigilkore into pristine-perfect form on “Go.” Some might find it chilling to hear the niche genre wiped of its chthonic hisses, but Kanii’s vocals are so electric it’ll clear your brain of any doubts.
29. Universe & removeface – “Mile Away” (Universe)
KPR: Besides the giga-syrupy pluggnb remixes of stuff like “Super Shy,” “Mile Away” might be the loveliest and most in-love song I’ve heard on SoundCloud all year. While texturally sigilkore—serrated glitches, gray vocals, a withering mix—the song radiates a kind of beaming sentimentality that feels closer to bedroom pop or emo rap. More sweet than schmaltzy, it rewires a misty sample from the Japanese rock band Malice Mizer into a frayed dreamworld.
28. YT feat. kare & kwes e – “Low Me” (whylunar)
MANO: Bar of the year.
27. Corey Lingo feat. Shine – “Desire” (Maxmadethebeat & Epv)
MANO: I’ll be real, my pluggnb diet this year consisted mostly of dreamy K-Pop remixes courtesy of the producer rxi. But “Desire” is one of them ones, pairing two first ballot Pluggnb Hall of Famers and soaring so far and high that it almost makes it onto the alternate timeline where it’s vying with Chris Brown and Ne-Yo on the charts.
26. Devstacks – “Nun Like The Rest” (Devstacks)
OLIVIER: Yeah I’ma come clean, the intro on here almost brought me to tears on first listen. As gleeful, spine-tingling strings levitate over grim synth horns, whispers from heaven tickle your inner ear. The tsunami of crackling bass that comes after is joined by Devstacks’ aqueous vocal finesse. (Dude could’ve gotten on here and said anything, it was gonna crank regardless.) Nearly every self-produced Devstacks song is grand and embossed with angelic streaks of luster, but “Nun Like The Rest” is really nun like the…nevermind.
25. STIFFY – “SWAG DE SOSA” (Yung Brandy)
MANO: There’s a better chance that Chief Keef will unite the world than any politician or government.
24. Southsidesilhouette – “Walk Away” (ReidMD)
OLIVIER: Everything about “Walk Away” screams “My Caribbean father would love this.” (He does). Southsidesilhouette’s poise over a fervent reggae sample, banging 808s, and a gilded waterfall of organ keys makes for something equally anthemic and bittersweet.
23. phreshboyswag – “inspire” (ss3bby & xaviersobased)
MANO: White boy named “phreshboyswag” from the UK who raps in a British accent on jerk beats? None of this should be cool but hear me out. When he goes in over this nuclear xaviersobased/ss3bby instrumental, I feel like I’m being spoken to by a Lord of the Rings demigod in skinny jeans. He declares that he’s “phreshboyswag almighty” in that slow, commanding way that was Chief Keef’s bread and butter, carefully spelling out every element of his swag like he’s reading from a sacred scroll. He is as based as it gets.
22. lostrushi – “FIRST ROUND PICK (BESIDE ME)” (Jahlil Beats)
MANO: If you want to be swept away into an infinite dreamscape, a gorgeous blend of damn near every strand of internet rap the last couple years, look no further than lostrushi’s debut album SISTERHOOD. His ridiculous loosie “FIRST ROUND PICK” is the one that’s gonna cause violence at the shows, though. Congrats on making your first No Bells list, Jahlil Beats.
21. Spaidez – “3rd & Concordia” (Almighty Aczaevr)
OLIVIER: I’m still on the outside looking in at this Milwaukee shit, but dawg. Play this at a funeral and watch the pallbearers’ hands hit their knees as the casket drops.
20. Baby Osama – “diff world” (MARI GETI)
MANO: Baby Osama had a very cool, very expansive year tinkering with the seams of the New York underground the same way she does with her handmade garments. Like Rocky over a decade ago she’s a master synthesizer of different swag and styles, finding common ground between sample drill and ambient plugg. My favorite is this squiggly single on DJ Phat’s page, where she burrows into an irresistible MARI GETI groove that sounds like a melted-down Diddy Kong OST. She can skate over beats like some of the harder NY dudes but centers the slippery quality of her voice on this one.
19. yuri online – “soul” (iv)
OLIVIER: I think I’ve listened to yuri online’s “Soul,” a French plugg gem, more times than I’ve opened my eyes this year. It’s like the first burst of adrenaline in your veins after asking a pretty girl out, or the soft glow of sunlight nestling your face as it’s still rising. I could jump out of an airplane and land on both feet as long as this song is playing. [Ed note: Idk what you’re talking about Olivier but I’m not changing it.]
18. Babyxsosa – “BLINGBLINGCEO” (Warpstr)
KPR: Sosa’s gabber-at-Trans-Pecos-moment: a merciless bounce house of galactic bass thuds and electroclash-y taunts about being rich and sexy. Between this, the recent 8-minute Auto-Tune epic, and her hypnotic ambient music, her range clears everyone in 2023. All hail the CEO.
17. ian – “Rhode Island” (gyo)
OLIVIER: There’s a Shakespearean structure to the ghoulish whimpers and warbles that assimilate into ian’s “Rhode Island,” a sci-fi thriller disguised as ambient plugg. gyo’s production facilitates Ian’s tumult, continuously morphing as his urgency heightens. Ian is a faceless, disillusioned protagonist crushed by the weight of pride, self-scrutiny, and unrequited love. The rise and fall of tactile snare rolls, celestial ripples of melody, and surges of distortion transpose his acute paranoia into dramatic tragedy.
16. Duwap Kaine – “Fuck The Streets” (JOSHTXYI)
KPR: I need a whole song where he does the high-pitched stutter at the chorus. Over this shimmering beat, it sounds like two Duwaps are harmonizing in some kind of angelic choir.
15. Yhapojj – “1o” (hhhcra & Yk)
KPR: Perhaps no rapper reps the “sigma alpha wolf” zoomer demographic better than YhapoJJ, whose songs brim with howl sound effects and brags that radiate nonchalant confidence. (His presence also sparked a riot at Mercury Lounge after his show was delayed and restless fans dragged the venue’s security scanner into the street like it was an effigy to burn.) Still, deep down, every lone wolf is hunting for a mate: “1o” revolves around a cheery 8-bit beat and sweet sentiments about telling someone he’s proud of them.
14. Nettspend – “shine in peace” (mag & xion)
MANO: On multiple occasions this year, the 16-year-old rapper Nettspend somehow became the poster child of What’s Wrong With Hip-Hop. Look, it’s not my place to speak on the politics or place of white people in rap, I honestly just thought the whole thing was hilarious. Like this guy’s music (which can get pretty loose and experimental, he draws heavy inspiration from xaviersobased) was not supposed to reach this many people and these kinds of people. There’s so much horrible shit we should be directing our attention to in the world and instead fully-grown adults are dunking on a teenager from Richmond and kids are doing side-by-sides with Nettspend and Summrs snippets. Like DJ Rennessy just compared his trials and tribulations to Michael Jackson’s, none of this is that serious LMAO.
ANYWAY…Nettspend is most definitely hard. “shine n peace” is still the best one, he was rapping his ass off. Real aspirational/inspirational music. “I’m looking at the sky, thinking bout how high it goooooeeees.”
13. kurtains feat. Zootzie – “the party” (kurtains)
MANO: The internet makes time feel so weird! Feels like it’s been a decade since kurtains was, you know, making H-Word and we were covering him on this very blog for that reason. Of all the folks from that era, he always struck me as a unicorn, a smart songwriter thinking about the internet and his place in it with a passion stretching beyond genres and scenes. (Dude literally covered “Fly Me To The Moon” at a Hyperpop Daily concert.) “the party” is wonderfully somber and longing, its stiff chords and dry drums unfurling like an expanse of grey highway and barren trees. The pairing of kurtains’ raw vocal and Zootzie’s Auto-Tune cursive is so inspired and makes me miss the earnestness of that bygone era.
12. carbine feat. bixby – “fakeout” (carbine, elxnce & lunamatic)
KPR: After past lives working in the niche pockets of hyperbounce and dariacore, carbine ended up somewhere between avant-electronica and straight-up pop, like brakence’s more esoteric and eccentric cousin. Pristinely produced yet charmingly weird, “fakeout” laces sweet vocals and what sounds like digitally-filtered guitar into the squelchiest bass I’ve ever heard. File under IBS-EDM.
11. che – “Badu” (Natecxo & che)
OLIVIER: Listening to a good Che song is like having five YouTube tabs open at the same time, each one playing its own barrage of bass and chirpy melody to yield one big Glo revival car crash. “Badu” is what happens when this formula is firing on all cylinders. The 17-year-old spark plug is omnipresent and strikingly imposing, flexing layers of vocal acrobatics as he heats up in real time. Produced alongside close collaborator Natecxo, Che hits his gamebreaker around the 50 second mark when frenzied arcade blips are met with keystrokes reminiscent of Luigi’s Mansion. He’s fiery, incessant and unforgiving, weaponizing his AutoTune into a vessel of mass destruction.
10. kynlary feat. quinn – “load it” (smxkey & symels) / kynlary feat. xaviersobased – “pull up on me” ($harpboi)
MANO: Going through kynlary’s staggering SoundCloud catalog feels like listening to buzzy FM radio cut in and out on a road trip, only instead of tinny country and worship music it’s a Georgia rapper crooning about his Glocks, Big Body Benzes and the girls that broke his heart. Some artists write short, hooky songs so that you play them over and over, but kynlary’s pluggnb smears feel more like a big soup where the lines between snippet, song, album and mix are blurred.
Of all of his songs this year I kept running back these two. “load it” is classic kynlary with its twangin’ synth squiggles and quinn doing quinn things like crashing her whip and pondering commitment. On “pull up on me,” xaviersobased’s voice wafts around the lumbering piano like a fog, before kynlary’s cuts through it like a hatchet with a vintage Uzi flow. It’s so fried, yet so soulful.
9. Subiibabii – “2man” (yurkiez & numb)
MANO: Hearing Subiibabii for the first time was when I was initially like, “Aw man, this jerk thing is really about to take off.” Sure it’s ultimately a poppier (and shorter shelf-life?) take on what xavier’s doing, but Subii’s got his own sauce too. Specifically, the way his nasally voice curls around “2man” is straight Fun Dip to the nostrils. It reminds me of the sprite-like punch-ins of the late 2010s Soundcloud collective PRETTYBOICLIQUE (who I genuinely think deserve their flowers—would’ve gone viral with TikTok!) Besides, you gotta give him credit here: this is the most joyous celebration of, well, a two man, that’s probably ever been recorded.
8. Osamason – “Trenches” (LEGION)
KPR: Between Osamason’s violently clipped bass, Ken Carson’s exercises in speaker abuse, and whatever the hell tdf, smokingskul, and wildkarduno are cooking with their “808s crying for help under threat of death by guillotine” beats, 2023 might be the wildest year for low-end rap music ever. It’s like a more thrilling, ear-abrasive variant of the no-melody production that started taking off in the late 2010s. “Trenches” straddles the line between intoxicating and unlistenable, drowning Osamason in such thick noise it sounds like he’s rapping from the floor of a swamp. What makes it killer is the way bass notes are arranged with just enough room that the asphyxiation becomes its own kind of delirious rhythm. Each moment of clear space feels like coming up for air.
7. 2sdxrtbxll – “hope” (whyceg)
MANO: Ok so here’s where the internet rap lines start to blur, because of course 2sdxrtbxll (pronounced “too solid dirtball”) is from Atlanta, part of a burgeoning local scene that’s doing what I can only describe as Voices In My Head Rap: tortured pain music over sinister beats, with screeched ad libs flying in like angels and demons. But I first heard a version of “hope” through cyberundergr0und, this TikTok account that helps break internet artists through speeding up their songs. (At this speed, the “s” in his name might as well stand for “Sid from Toy Story.”) This is still the context in which his music makes the most sense to me: the brash, noisy, underground moment that feels like Earth caving in on itself. whyceg’s beat for “hope” is the purple devil embodied in waveforms. And dxrtbxll guides us through the bleak apocalypse of his life, barking every line like he’s truly fed up with the world. It might be amusing at first, but it’s chilling the more you live with it.
6. KRXXK – “BLACK RAVE” (KRXXK)
KPR: When you’re lost in the depths of SoundCloud, a KRXXK production tag feels like a waymarker, a sign that you’re about to hear a banger. When it hits at the twelfth second of “Black Rave,” his follow-up to 2020’s “Blue Rave,” it feels like it’s announcing the start of a cult ritual for ghostly spirits. The beat warps between an array of pretty typical drum patterns but the vertiginous synths give them a kind of inhuman levitation, like you’re propelled by an occult facsimile of Earthly gravity. Ten minutes of shadow-soaked cave raving.
5. Lunchbox – “Who Dat Is” (Amir)
OLIVIER: Lunchbox’s New Jazz has this bounce to it that feels extraterrestrial no matter how much you get used to it. It’s my favorite project of the year. Its namesake comes from the Harlem rapper/producer’s patented new subgenre, a rage rap offshoot marked by claustrophobic pockets of offset percussion and synth warps. Lunchbox is a master of brevity with a choir boy’s aptitude for melody, cramming effusive, onomatopoeic run-ons into airtight spaces. At the helm of New Jazz’s most definitive production is Amir, the architect behind the seminal “Who Dat Is.” Like most tracks on New Jazz, “Who Dat Is” blasts off with immediate effect: cavernous bass cranks behind the funkiest synth progression you’ve heard all year as Lunchbox radiates prismatic beams like it’s Mario Kart. Off rip, he pokes fun at the ignorant: “When I come on they like ‘Who dat is?’” He raps insatiably, almost desperately, as though his days are numbered and booking studio time was all he could do to alleviate the dread.
4. AyooLii – “Same” (xaviersobased)
MANO: One of rap’s most improbable pairings in recent memory is also one of its most unhinged and glorious. On the mic you’ve got AyooLii, a flamboyant Milwaukee artist whose hypercharged low-end raps, chintzy MIDI beats and laugh-out-loud hilarious skits all fold into the same delirious universe. And behind the boards you’ve got the rapper and wildly underrated producer xaviersobased, an Upper West teenager pioneering a surreal style influenced by what folks in Milwaukee have been doing the last few years. Any up-and-coming rapper will surely realize upon listening to “same” that you can replicate the jerk sound but you can’t bite the magic of xaviersobased and AyooLii. Just listen to the way Lii kicks his verse off. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the opening bars of “same” on TikTok this year and immediately wanted to go listen to the whole thing. This is the present and the future.
3. Anycia – “So What” (Popstar Benny)
OLIVIER: When Atlanta rap temptress Anycia tweeted a bite-sized chunk of “So What” in June, you kinda just knew. She’s got starpower like a solar system. Anycia’s Popstar Benny-produced loosie features golden twinkles of southern 2000s R&B that adorn her gruff, even-keeled malaise so neatly. Her raps are self-serving and sadity, but her sleepy drawl adds precious charm to them: “I be super pressed for time, so I’ll see you when I can / I might tell you that I love you, but I do not want no man.” It’s the type of music you get ready to before a party just so you can go to the function and ask whoever’s on aux to play it again. Fifteen years ago, this song would’ve saturated iTunes ringtone libraries and 106 & Park countdowns, but in today’s new landscape of ice-cool deadpan lyricists, Anycia couldn’t have popped out at a better time.
2. xaviersobased – “fix my mind” (xaviersobased)
KPR: Ruling the scene with a backpack and a graphic tee, Xavier has been on a prolific run bamboozling oldheads with mutant vocals and bass-obliterated beats. Listening to his songs often works best as a continuous drip of glitchy rhythms, but “fix my mind” stands out as a glimpse of how this madcap style could evolve. Accelerating the old Windows start-up theme into a dizzying spin cycle of chimes and drums, the song feels outside-of-time, like someone trapped in a purgatorial coma where the clock doesn’t tick like it should. His tone is difficult to read—dreamy, dazed, downright dissociative. He sounds like a phantom floating over an abyss.
1. Izaya Tiji – “I Eat Humans” (OK)
MANO: Vape pens have changed everything. The ability to get high any time of day in any environment—in school—is one thing, but now you’ve got young creators like Fulcrum hitting blinkers in libraries and Best Buys, navigating the American wasteland in a perpetually blissed-out slump. Tuning out the chaos and turning on Ken Carson, or Yeat, or Izaya Tiji.
In the last several years Izaya Tiji has become something of a cult star. Heads who’ve devoured the music of his various archive pages will tell you that he birthed a lot of your favorite rappers despite being an enigma. That he connected the dots of the formative SoundCloud collective Slayworld. That he deserves his flowers, that he’s a Future/LUCKI/Duwap hybrid but also none of those things, that he plays 5D chess with the beat while most these dudes punch-in with the same flow eight times.
But cut through the discourse and it boils down to something much simpler.
“I feel like part of me is trying to escape the Matrix,” Izaya muttered to Fulcrum between rips of his pen, in one of his only interviews to date. Down-to-earth and humble, he spoke of slowly overcoming stage fright (he barely plays shows) and maybe finally showing more of himself online after years in the shadows. Later in the stream he showed Fulcrum his taped-up microphone setup on which he recorded the majority of his 28-song opus Alexandria. Where he probably recorded “I Eat Humans,” a massive, magnificent song about taking drugs and breaking through the system.
According to Izaya Tiji, this is what happens when you get too high: You start saying shit like “I eat hoo-mans.” You realize how cripplingly evil fascists are. The people in your life start to look like plastic. You die and come back to life. When OK’s hall of mirrors beat comes crashing in, it’s like the glass ceiling of the Truman Show smashing into a million pieces. Take your pick of simulation malfunction. The holograms wavering, the light peeking into the cave. Izaya gets closer and closer to that light, doing backflips and front flips and barrel rolls. Every melody of that hook is like an enlightened power-up.
As you get closer to that light, you start to realize that none of this shit matters. How you present, how you appear online. Years into his career, Izaya Tiji shot one of his first music videos for “I Eat Humans.” The facade he put up for years is fading. On IG Live, he hits blinkers and explodes in insane coughing fits. Maybe he’s suppressing all the emotions he talks about in these songs. Maybe he’s escaping the simulation. Maybe that’s just what people do in 2023.