By Maddie Young, Contributor
[Photo via Spotify]
When hearing the phrase “SoundCloud Rapper,” a specific image comes to mind: a middle-school kid wearing Air Force Ones with rainbow hair rapping about a Louis Vuitton bag that they don’t even own. But a new generation of DIY rappers have taken over this new golden age of hip-hop—rappers like Post Malone, Chance the Rapper and 21 Savage all got their careers started with SoundCloud, evidently introducing a new wave of rappers today.
Austin Hitte, the real-life depiction of Troy Bolton, grew up in Vinton County, Ohio, living a double life as a varsity basketball player and a DIY rapper recording his first mixtape, High School Eulogy. While shooting many victory baskets for the Vinton County Vikings, he noticed his friends were focusing on college while he was generating beats in his head. But before Hitte was known for his flow, he started singing for his church’s offering.
“I was nine years old. I told my dad I wanted to sing while people were taking offerings and that is my earliest memory of singing,” Hitte says.
He noticed that this was his passion, but his songs weren’t always a rhythmic flow of rhyming lyrics. Hitte started with pop, performing everywhere from the Great Wolf Lodge to O’Charleys and even the National Cheerleading Championships. The middle school fangirls ate him up, screaming back the lyrics to covers. Hitte also had to throw in that he won every single competition that he was in—humblebrag. In one competition he swallowed a bug while belting a note and still walked away with a victory. But then, something struck.
“My voice started changing.”
He switched his style to Mac Miller-inflected hip-hop—a distinctive mix of swagger and an adventuresome demeanor. Austin’s father, however, was not upset about putting the holy hymns aside, as music surrounded the family. At just 13 years old, Hitte drove to Tennessee to co-write songs. It’s a family business; not only was his mom taking the role of manager, but she was also helping him get into Tennessee bars to perform.
“I went in with my mom, and I took two shots of tequila,” Hitte recalls a memory at the Coyote Ugly Saloon, a bar in Nashville, Tennessee. “My mom asked me if I wanted to take a body shot, and I was like, ‘What did you just say?’ She said, ‘I bet you wouldn’t.’ So I took this body shot off of this girl with my mom watching me.”
While Tennessee is home to country music, Hitte doesn’t include any of that twang in his sound. Rather, he finds places that will accept his hip-hop game. “Not everyone will be receptive,” he explains. “Some don’t want new, but you just have to keep doing it. That’s why in Tennessee I find places that will accept my music.”
Hitte knows the country industry; he grew up in it. Developing in a heavily rural area, where Hitte claims everyone “likes to hunt,” made it difficult in high school for people to open up to his music. He noticed that not everyone dressed liked him or had the same hair has him. This is a pattern when starting off as a new artist, especially when using social media as a promotional tool. This is a trend in the “SoundCloud rapper” game, and there are so many artists available. How do you stand out?
While Hitte hasn’t officially been signed to a label just yet, he enjoys the control over his own music. But the hardest part of just starting out, Hitte says, is finding places to play that accept his music since listeners aren’t always looking for the next big thing. Memorable experiences, combined with a chill beat and an effortless voice, create an impressive artist that just put on a graduation cap and gown. Being so young in High School Eulogy, he raps about the issues that the younger generation goes through.
“Plan B” isn’t what his college audience would assume but is about dealing with the negativity of those around. Bitterness constantly surrounds society, and it shadows his Plan A: “I need a Plan B according to you.” This comes a song after “Illuminati”, a playful and liberating opener about being carefree. But his newest single, “Hometown Hero”, breaks the exterior image of any SoundCloud rapper. It has a country twang with a banjo leading Hitte’s flow, “Do it on my own, nothing is impossible. Be the hometown hero like I got it though.” Never have a banjo and a rap artist sounded so smooth together.
His supportive friends are always his constant groupies. Although, Hitte won’t accept their gratitude right away. They have to go through a little study: “I call it the friends test. I will get into the car, and I will turn on a Spotify playlist and just play regular music. Then I switch to my notes and play my stuff and just sit back. I don’t tell anyone what’s playing and see how it goes. The coolest thing is just when I see their heads bopping.”
Not only does every song need to go through a friend test, but Hitte wants as many new pairs of ears to hear a track as possible. When cruising in his car, he blares his new beats and looks at whoever is walking around. He can instantly tell if the song is a hit or bust.
So far people have taken a liking toward his rhymes. With his latest album, University, it seems as if his albums are growing along with Hitte. A nine-track piece with songs titled “Dolla Signs”, “Hope” and “N the A.M.” and along with a message saying, “I can’t change the world being a pop star… I wanna be a hip-hop icon,” this certainly can be Hitte’s future with his work ethic, crisp sound and militant passion.
While the “SoundCloud rapper” generation isn’t going anywhere, neither is Hitte. You won’t find him with colorful braids or rapping about hip-hop clichés—rather, you’ll find Hitte just being his Vinton County-self.
Check out Austin Hitte’s latest album, University, below.