Soundcloud rap culture in the 2010s spawned the rise of a new breed of rap artists: the emo rappers.
Blending elements of hip-hop and emo, emo rap features many of the lyrical themes, as well as vocal styles, of emo music. In emo rap, instrumentals are generally influenced heavily by trap and cloud rap, although some emo rappers lean more heavily into the guitar-led instrumentals of emo.
Often addressing themes of depression, anxiety, relationship struggles, and suicide, some of the below emo rappers have found huge resonance with the Gen Z audience in particular. However, the scene is not without its issues. Tragically, some of the most influential emo rappers died in their early twenties, while their music lives on.
This list highlights some of the most influential and best emo rappers from the scene. Let’s go.
Juice WRLD is the alias of Jarad Anthony Higgins. Hailing from Chicago, Juice WRLD is one of the most important emo rappers. His distinctive style melded emo lyrics and vocal delivery with cloud rap and trap elements.
Juice WRLD’s angsty and raw songs about his battles with drug addiction and finding escapism through relationships found huge resonance with a younger generation of listeners.
The artist released four studio albums in his short career – Goodbye & Good Riddance (2018), Death Race for Love (2019), Legends Never Die (2020), and Fighting Demons (2021). The latter two records were released posthumously.
For a taste of Juice WRLD’s music, check out his massive ‘Lucid Dreams,’ which is one of the most-streamed tracks on the whole of Spotify. Dig deeper with his smash hits ‘All Girls Are The Same,’ Lean Wit Me,’ and ‘Robbery.’
XXXTentacion, also known simply as X, is the alias of Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy. He is one of the most significant emo rappers. The artist had a tough upbringing, in and out of juvenile detention centres, where he met fellow collaborator, Ski Mask The Slump God.
From 2013 onwards, X dropped a number of tracks on Soundcloud, with growing success. It was his 2015 Soundcloud release ‘Look At Me!’ which actually got the music industry to start looking at him seriously.
XXXTentacion dropped his double platinum debut album 17 in 2017, and the quadruple platinum follow up album ? in 2018. Skins (2018) and Bad Vibes Forever (2019) were released posthumously.
X is a leading figure in emo rap due to his overt and candid lyrics about isolation, depression, and suicide. While some have praised for his ability to connect with and help validate the feelings of young people struggling with such issues, he has also been critiqued for taking a flippant attitude to violence and suicide.
Key tracks from XXXTentacion include ‘SAD!,’ ‘Everybody Dies In Their Nightmares,’ and ‘Jocelyn Flores.’
X was shot and killed in the summer of 2018, in a case that remains under investigation.
One of the most important names in emo rap, Lil Peep was a Swedish-American emo rapper and a member of GothBoiClique collective. His music blended elements of emo, rock, and trap, contributing to his widespread appeal.
The artist released two studio albums – Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt.1 (2017) and Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt.2 (2018) – the latter of which was released posthumously.
Lil Peep’s songs deal heavily with the themes of drug use, depression, suicide, and relationships. The artist came out as bisexual in 2017, and openly talked about his personal struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts, and his bipolar disorder.
It has been said that Lil Peep’s openness about his personal struggles helped him connect with his audience on a deeper level. In an interview with The New York Times he claimed, ‘they say that I stopped them from committing suicide, which is a beautiful thing… It boosts me, because music saved my life as well.’
His biggest hits include ‘Falling Down’ and ‘Star Shopping.’ Lil Peep died of a drug overdose in November 2017 while living in London.
Lil Uzi Vert
Lil Uzi Vert is one of the biggest names in cloud rap and trap, with his melodic, trap-led style and eccentric fashion sense earning them a huge following. Vert is by no means a strictly emo rapper, but he is associated with the scene.
Amongst the artists’ antics, they are famous for getting a $24 million diamond implanted in their forehead. The diamond was ripped from their forehead by a fan when Vert was crowd-surfing at a concert.
After breaking onto the scene with their 2016 single ‘Money Longer,’ Vert has released two studio albums so far – Luv is Rage 2 (2017) and Eternal Atake (2020). His success was also helped by his feature on Migos’ chart-topping hit ‘Bad and Boujee’ in 2016.
Showcasing a highly melodic, atmospheric, and ‘cloud’-style brand of rap, Lil Uzi Vert’s biggest tracks include ‘Neon Guts’ (feat. Pharrell Williams), ‘For Fun’, and ‘XO Tour Llif3.’
Yung Lean is credited as one of the most influential artists in the early days of cloud rap. The Swedish rapper first rose to success with his 2013 track, ‘Ginseng Strip 2002,’ which went viral on YouTube.
Lean has released four studio albums to date – Unknown Memory (2014), Warlord (2016), Stranger (2017), and Starz (2020), as well as four mixtapes. Sonically, Yung Lean’s music draws on elements of trap, and has a floaty, downtempo ‘cloud’ feel.
Like many artists in the emo rap scene, Yung Lean has struggled with mental health issues and drug addiction – themes that he addresses in his music. In 2015, he was hospitalised as a result of his addiction to Xanax, lean, and cocaine.
Despite his viral success, and despite being regarded as a seminal figure in the scene, Yung Lean’s popularity does not reach the heights of many of his American peers. His 2022 mixtape Stardust is his most critically-acclaimed release, and well-worth a listen.
A relative newcomer to the emo rap scene, 24kGoldn has nonetheless risen to significant fame in recent months.
Golden Landis Von Jones – the real name of 24kGoldn – has something of an unusual story. Born in California to an Ashkenazi Jewish mother and African-American Catholic father, he deviated from his original plan to become a hedge fund manager when he realised he had a shot at a career in music.
Golden’s 2019 single ‘Valentino’ was a big step in his success, although the artist has somewhat distanced himself from the track since. It was his more emotionally-attuned single ‘Mood’ (feat. iann dior) which saw the artist really step up.
‘Mood’ topped the Billboard Hot 100, and has amassed over a billion streams on Spotify alone. With lines including ‘we play games of love to avoid the depression / we been here before, and I won’t be your victim’ the track showed 24kGoldn leaning into more emo rap themes than the somewhat macho ‘Valentino.’
24kGoldn dropped his debut album El Dorado in March 2021.
Wicca Phase Springs Eternal
With a background in rock music, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal is an interesting artist within the emo rap scene. The influence of more guitar-led emo music is present to some extent in much emo rap, but seeps through in Wicca Phase Springs Eternal’s music more than most.
WPSE is best known as a key member of the pioneering emo rap collective GothBoiClique, whose other significant members include Lil Tracy, and, before his death, Lil Peep.
An artist of the internet-age, much of WPSE’s success and popularity has grown online – indeed, the name GothBoiClique is derived from a tweet that the artist posted. His eclectic sound is drawn from influences as diverse as trap artist Gucci Mane, UK garage artist The Streets, and 90s pop-punkers Blink-182.
Aside from his various collaborative projects, WPSE has released four solo studio albums – #HELLVERSION (2013), Abercrombie & Me (2015), Secret Boy (2016), and Suffer On (2019).
Check out his track ‘Just One Thing’ from Suffer On for a taste of his sound.
The Kid LAROI
Australian emo rapper The Kid LAROI is unique on this list as the only antipodean entrant. Born Charlton Kenneth Jeffrey Howard, Laroi belongs to the early contingent of Soundcloud rappers.
The young rapper who was born in 2003 has gone on to reach significant international success, in part thanks to his collaborations with major US artists. His biggest hit is ‘STAY’ – a collaboration with Justin Beiber.
The Kid has also collaborated variously with emo rap legends Juice WRLD on ‘GO’ and Juice WRLD and Marshmello on ‘Hate The Other Side.’
He released his debut album Kids Are Growing Up in 2022. His hit single WITHOUT YOU showcases his poppy emo rap sound.
Trippie Redd is one of the big names in cloud rap and his music touches upon emo rap. In 2017, he dropped his debut mixtape A Love Letter To You with the lead single ‘Love Scars’ – something of an emo rap anthem.
While ‘Love Scars’ may ostensibly put Trippie Redd in the emo rap bracket, his sound and lyrical content tends to skew towards trap, with his lyrics tending towards the classic trap themes of sex, drugs, and violence.
Trippie Redd’s rap career started in part as a result of the death of his brother in a car accident when Trippie was just ten years old. The event motivated the artist to live out his brother’s ambitions.
He has released four studio albums to date – Life’s A Trip (2018), ! (2019), Pegasus (2020), and Trip at Knight (2021).
Joseph Edward Mulherin is the man behind nothing,nowhere. With roots firmly in guitar music and bands, he performs with a band, and his distinctive brand of emo rap is heavily influenced by the rock music scene. His 2017 debut album Reaper is a fully guitar-based emo rap record.
Unlike many emo rap artists, Mulherin is straight edge. In August 2018, he pulled out of a tour due to anxiety and depression – conditions that he touches on in his music.
The genre of his music fluctuates quite drastically between the typically trap-inspired emo rap sounds of tracks like ‘hammer’ and ‘lights (4444)’ and fully fledged rock tracks like ‘fake friend.’ The artist switches between these styles even within the space of the same LP.
He has released four studio albums in his career – The Nothing,Nowhere LP (2015), Reaper (2017), Ruiner (2018), and Trauma Factory (2021).
Although Kid Cudi would probably not class himself as an emo rapper, this list would be incomplete without him. You could even say that Cudi is the father of emo rap.
Kid Cudi is a hugely respected rapper in the hip-hop scene and with good reason. Aside from his musicality and flows, his lyricism is simply a cut above. His personal and often confessional lyrics deal candidly with themes including depression, alienation, heartbreak, and addiction.
The chorus on his track ‘Soundtrack 2 My Life’ from his legendary 2009 Man On The Moon album expresses Kid Cudi’s sentiment – and the sentiment of emo rap – perfectly: ‘I’ve got some issues that nobody can see / and all of these emotions are pouring out of me.’
An ‘honorary’ emo rapper who is nonetheless an essential name within the development of the genre.
Header image: Lil Peep
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