Unlike other rap sensations, Childish Gambino never quite experienced a big moment or breakout hit. Rather, his success snowballed as he gradually became one of the hottest rappers on the internet. Bino’s early mixtape Culdesac raised a lot of eyebrows, but his star-studded 2012 mixtape Royalty finally grabbed the attention of many others. As he put it, “Drop a new track all blogs go to heaven.”
“I invented the Internet,” Soulja Boy told Brian Petchers in his recent Forbes interview. Although his 2007 hit “Crank That” seemed like an overnight smash, Soulja’s success was a long time coming. During his teenage years, he would spend hours on MySpace each day networking with artists and connecting with fans. Even today, King Dre stays busy flooding Instagram, Vine, and Twitter with new content. “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” may not be your ringtone anymore, nor is “Turn My Swag On” likely still set as your alarm clock, but Soulja Boy will forever be remembered as hip-hop’s original internet sensation.
Nobody really knows what Kreayshawn is up to nowadays, but in 2011 she was a major topic of conversation. Like many other viral sensations, Kreayshawn’s time in the spotlight came and went rather quickly. Her “Gucci Gucci” music video captured millions of views in a hurry, and even received the ultimate co-sign, a Lil Wayne remix.
In early 2012, everyone had their eye on 16 year-old Chief Keef. Chicago drill music was beginning to find its niche, and Chief Keef was releasing music videos while on house arrest. The chaotic “Don’t Like” music video caught the attention of Kanye West, and the rest was history. Keef soon signed with Jimmy Iovine at Interscope Records, and released another viral video “Love Sosa” before delivering his major-label debut album. In part due to the internet, Chief Keef was [Finally] Rich.
In late 2012, all eyes were glued to Atlanta’s Trinidad James. His “All Gold Everything” music video had the nation talking, and everyone wanted answers. Who was this stylish, gold-toothed rapper. Is his music for real? Radio stations began spinning “All Gold Everything” 24/7, and all the hype led James to a deal with Def Jam. His name remained buzzing through the winter, but unfortunately by the spring most of the hype was lost. His severely underrated follow-up mixtape 10 Pc. Mild failed to get much support, and by that time the tale of Trinidad James’ major-label days were soon over. Earlier this year, James was officially dropped from Def Jam.
In an era where fitted caps and New York rap are both practically dead, Bobby Shmurda’s rise to fame couldn’t have been less likely. Thanks to Vine, YouTube, and an overwhelming street response, “Hot Nigga” has turned into one of the year’s biggest hits. It’s become common courtesy to toss your hat and hit the Shmoney Dance upon hearing the Jahlil Beats-produced banger. With a deal with Epic Records now under his belt, it’ll be interesting to see how Shmurda follows up the infectious single.
Likewise many of his predecessors, Lil Terrio got famous off a Vine. “Oooh Kill Em” reached YOLO level hype, as teenagers across America repeated the phrase. It didn’t stop there though. Terrio turned the popular saying into a song, which led to a record deal, which led to a Vevo account. Yeah, the internet is crazy.
From 2010-2011, Mac Miller was HUGE. The Most Dope movement was in full stride as fans gobbled up his K.I.D.S and Best Day Ever mixtapes in abundance. Early music videos like “Nikes On My Feet” and “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza” set the internet ablaze. In fact, TreeJTV, Mac’s official YouTube account, has totaled over half a billion views since its first post in 2009.
Hip-hop’s most respected online figure is Lil B. Thanks to his constant Twitter and YouTube presence, the Based God’s loyal fanbase has grown expansively over the years. Videos such as “Ellen Degeneres” and “Wonton Soup” elevated Lil B to a god-like status, as he taught the world how to cook. On Twitter he stays busy retweeting selfies for his #GirlTime series, or by quoting his own inspirational sayings, - Lil B.
Creating one of the darkest, creepiest music videos in hip-hop history is one way to become an internet sensation. That’s what Tyler, The Creator managed to do with his 2011 hit “Yonkers”. The weirdness of “Yonkers” kept Tyler the topic of conversation for most of the summer, which led him to win Best New Artist at the MTV VMA’s that summer. Social media exploded as the whole Odd Future entourage mobbed out with Tyler on stage.
Is going viral always great?
“Internet rapper” has generally forever been considered a negative term. In the eyes of many core hip-hop heads, being real life-hot is always more favorable than being internet-hot. Often, however, it’s the opposite that’s true. “Bad publicity” may not even exist anymore. In today’s day and age, if rappers aren’t routinely mentioned on the internet, they’re most likely irrelevant. All artists, upcoming or experienced, crave to have that next viral music video.
Having an online following is essential in today’s market, as social media has become the easiest and most effective way to connect with fans. Soulja Boy took the MySpace route to land himself a record deal, and it just so happened that Vine sensation Lil Terrio was signed off his cyber success. Of course, there are risks involved with being an internet rap star. Too much exposure at once can hurt the longevity of an artist, and could leave them stuck in midst of a major-label contract doing nothing. Fame is a double-edged sword.
Scroll through the list to unveil ten viral hip-hop sensations. You’ll notice that some by now are forgotten, and some are still buzzing with success.