As a mixed-race person, I never felt represented in the underground music scene. As much as I love punk rock, rap metal, and screamo, I always felt like an outsider with my textured hair and multiracial background: I was surrounded by White artists and their White fans.
But in 2017, British rapper Scarlxrd (pronounced Scarlord) came along and changed the game with a scream so loud it shook the standards of alt music. Black and raging, Scarlxrd helped create a new kind of underground music, perhaps unintentionally proving that Black artists can be a part of the underground scene. In fact, they can be more than a part of it, they can lead it.
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Since his debut, hundreds of rappers and producers have joined the trap metal genre, including POC artists who use the screaming, guitar-shredding platform as a means of sharing their experience with police brutality, racism, and abuse. But despite being pioneered by a Black rapper and having so many POC artists in the scene, there seems to be a discrepancy about Black and brown people being in the alt world. Well, let’s get into why that is and how someone like Scarlxrd is challenging those beliefs.
What Are We Even Talking About? A Brief History of These Subgenres
When you mix hip-hop and heavy metal together, you get rap metal: a musical subgenre that marries guitar shredding and punk rock screaming to spitting raps and turntablism. This subgenre began to take shape in the 80s, when bands like Rage Against the Machine, Urban Dance Squad, and Anthrax took their eclectic influences and gave birth to this new multicultural genre that is still going strong today.
But despite one of its parents being hip-hop, rap metal stars have primarily been White: Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Korn, and Twenty One Pilots, are all the headliners of this alt genre. Of course, there’s the beloved Cypress Hill in there, but White people have dominated rap metal.
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It wasn’t until the mid-2010s, however, that a new subgenre emerged from the mind of British rapper Scarlxrd (pronounced Scarlord) and took the underground world by wildfire: introducing, trap metal, a mix of trap music (trap artists include Gucci Mane, Future, Migos, Fetty Wap, and Rick Ross) and, you guessed it, heavy metal. Trap metal is also considered to be emo rap, hyperpop, and cloud rap. (Note: Rapper BONES has also been credited as a pioneer of this genre. My focus for this article, however, is on the Black influence on the subculture.)
Trap metal has soared and become of the most popular genres in the underground scene. If you’ve seen the video for Ghostemane’s “Mercury”, recognize the name $uicideboy$, heart the deep-voiced Corpse Husband on Tik Tok, or love Rico Nasty and the late great XXXTentacion, then you’ve encountered trap metal.
There is also nu metal (aka nü metal), a subsidy of rap metal that combines metal with grunge, funk, and hip-hop, and is often compared to deathcore. Popular artists in the genre include Poppy, Grimes, Disturbed, Evanescence, Papa Roach, and Rob Zombie. But some of these artists are also considered to be members of the aforementioned genres. It’s all connected and everyone takes inspiration from everybody else. So, a Scarlxrd song may be trap metal, nu metal, and deathcore all at the same time, as he grew up a fan of different types of music.
The trap metal community is one of the most accepting I’ve ever been a part of. When I attend concerts – like I recently did for the musical conglomerate Deathproof Inc with Nascar Aloe as the headliner – the crowd is one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen, and the performers embrace them all. In fact, when one of the audience members booed Nascar Aloe’s fellow artists, he politely shut them down, telling the crowd that he loves his whole team of misfits. If anything, trap metal artists are more humble than any musicians I’ve ever met. So, if you’re scared, don’t be.
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There’s Racism in All Kinds of Subcultures, Especially the Ones Related to Hard Core Music
This alternative lifestyle, and its lovely racist haters, span outside of music. The emo, goth, and scene subcultures have been around for decades, serving as a way for people to stand out and up against mainstream society. But even in this rebellion against the mainstream – fighting against the societal beauty standards of blonde beach babes and Ken dolls – Black and brown people are still the ostracized minorities. “Most of us in the goth community recognize a general level of acceptance quite a bit beyond mainstream society,” shared an article from the Black alternative space Afro Punk, “However, there is a problem. Black people in particular, have a consistent experience of feeling othered in our communities.
Yasmine Summan, a co-founder of the alternative music podcast “On Wednesdays We Wear Black”, wrote about the lack of Black representation in the alt world, “A quick Google image search for ‘emo girl’, ‘emo boy’ or ‘goth gf’ shows a hierarchy of idolized alternative ‘goals’…The majority are built in white beauty standards…Having poker straight, flippy Caucasian hair, ‘dead’ or pale-looking skin and Eurocentric features is commonly celebrated and considered the ‘true’ alternative look,” as a person of color, Summan has been told that they “don’t look ‘real emo’ because [they] don’t have the features of a white person.” And they’re not the only one. Black alt teens growing up in the early 2000s, myself included, wanted to perm their hair to replicate the accepted unacceptable scene kid style and wear corpse paint. But no matter what we did, we still weren’t the right color.
The alt community has been so heavily associated with Whiteness that when BIPOCs identify with the scene, their very identities are questioned by members of the White and POC communities. “The ballad of ‘too white for the black kids, too black for the white kids’ is an often mocked one, but it isn’t without some truth,” wrote Yomi Adegoke for The Face, “Growing up, whether you were a skater, goth, emo or indie, if you were black you were also an Oreo, or the British equivalent, a Bounty: white on the inside and black on the outside.”
With social media, POC alt culture has become more accessible, “One thing I really like about TikTok is that so much information is available,” alt-Bratz doll Baby Succubuz told Summan, “I’ve learned so much about my hair type and how to properly take care of it when I didn’t really know before.” But with more positive connections in the community comes more accessibility for bullies. Goth model and Tik Tok influencer Dani Dissolve told Summan, “I get judged for being a Black goth woman every day online…. I’m always met with comments telling me how I’m ‘not alternative or goth enough’…We’re being accepted more but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, and many conversations which still need to be had.”
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Scarlxrd, King of the Underground
Despite all of the conversations that have already started, there remains the belief that Black people cannot be Black and part of the alt scene. Well, hate to break it to some of you, but Scarlxrd is Black and leads the scene. At least the underground part of it.
Underground music has been defined as “music with practices perceived as outside, or somehow opposed to, mainstream popular music culture.” Ironically, many artists that started out as underground music have become mainstream and headliners at music festivals. See, there’s the mainstreamed, more acceptable Black alt music – like Rico Nasty and Willow Smith – and then there’s the hardcore, guttural one that will probably never get radio play. It’s important and wonderful that artists like Nasty are getting featured, with their dark skin, spikey hair, and chokers, but I don’t think her popularity would even be possible without the raw screams of Scarlxrd.
Born Marius Lishtrop, Scarlxrd started to enter the public eye under his Youtube personality Mazzi Maz, a perky and delightful vlogger who incorporated anime and cuteness in every video. In 2016, he formed the nu metal band Myth City, taking the first steps into his metal career, a choice that many of Maz’s fans weren’t so happy with. But shortly after, he would leave Myth City and Mazzi Maz behind and be reborn as the gutterpunk, trap metal pioneer Scarlxrd. “ June 2017, [Scarlxrd] uploaded the deliciously confrontational “KING, SCAR”,” reported Jordan Basset for NME, “a sickly, sordid nightmare lullaby that, punctuated with guttural howls, laid those traps beats over keys that could have been stripped from a creepy Victorian wind-up toys.” The track was an earth-shatteringly original record that began to pave the way for an entirely new genre. He began to separate himself from his “happy person” Youtube character, wearing black surgical masks, military attire, chains, and sometimes monster-colored contacts lenses. His new persona would later earn him the title of “rap metal overlord”.
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After the release of “KING, SCAR”, his solo career took off, followed up by songs and videos that only further established his unique and disruptive sound: “HEART ATTACK”, “LIES YXU TELL”, and “6 FEET” gained him fans, and all helped solidify that this new, Black alt artist wasn’t going anywhere.
The new Lishtrop is akin to Eminem’s Slim Shady: Both represent the tyrannical and chaotic, but also serve as artistic outlets for their respective creators. “Scarlxrd is the most brutally honest version of myself…” Listhtrop told Noisey. And, in an interview with Genius, he shared, “People meet me in real life and they say, ‘[Explitive], you’re such a passive guy. And it’s like, ‘Yeah, because I released the [stuff] I got inside me. [Who] knows what I’d be like [otherwise].”
When Scarlxrd started as a solo artist, he knew he was taking on something that would take time to be understood. “I’m doing something totally different, and the UK scene is very community-driven, and I just don’t fit a part of that,” he told Noisey, “Because I’m a new artist, I feel like it’s very difficult for people to put a pin in [me]…. But in like three years’ time it will be very clear what I’m doing.”
And, although it did take some time, Scarlxrd’s raw, unapologetically aggressive sound has connected with people all over the world, as he represents the free, nonconforming release of rage. But this doesn’t mean he or his fans are aggressive or violent people. “Everybody who comes to my shows has a smile on their face…” he told loudersound.com, “I speak the truth and I’m honest, and that pulls a positive perspective out of people. It doesn’t take a negative mindset to do it, it takes the mindset of having something to say, and this is how I communicate my ideas.”
Scarlxrd’s music has touched on many issues: From heartbreak and isolation to suicide and racism, his shrieked-out lyrics address parts of life that people of all races, sexualities, and creeds experience. It’s just that the way he expresses these feelings has been labeled as something that doesn’t belong to his race. You can think of it like the response to the British singer Yola, and how many people didn’t think a Ghanian, plus-sized queer woman should be allowed to sing country soul music. Well, she does. And, people connect to it and love it.
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The humility and the humanity that Scarlxrd has brought to the underground scene have been revolutionary for hardcore Black musicians. Scarlxrd represents not only the eclectic genre of trap metal but the right for Black artists to express themselves in this stereotypically unhealthy, but actually healthy, medium. Death metal, deathcore, trap metal, etc, is really no different than screaming into a pillow. It’s just loud enough that everyone else can hear.
New Music All the Time: Go Give It A Listen!
Scarlxrd is proving to not only mainstream society but to members of the alt community that Black people can do what White artists can do. Black people are already seen as dangerous, so, a genre that relies on disorienting, dark visuals and blood-curdling screams being associated with people of color, may not seem like the brightest idea. But, if White artists can express themselves in this underground scene, POCs should be welcome too.
The alt world is finally coming around to accepting Black and brown people. As the internet expands, the world gets smaller, and exposure to new cultures and ideas is easier to access. So, Scarlxrd has been able to touch people from around the world, and inspire other Black artists to pursue this White-dominated artform, now making it one of the most racially diverse and accepting subgenres in the industry.
Music is for everyone. Art is for everyone. Even if you don’t like trap metal or deathcore, or emo/scene fashion, I hope you can appreciate what it means to some fans (and also the talent it takes to scream like that and not damage your voice. Incredible.) to finally have a space where they can feel at home, especially in a world that is already against them.
Scarlxrd is a very prolific artist and regularly has music coming out (like sometimes three albums in a year). Currently, he just announced his newest project, ATV2, will come out the week of April 10th, with a three-track EP. Go check out his Instagram, Youtube, and website, all under Scarlxrd to keep up and see how he’s continuing to change the world.
By Z Murphy
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Z Murphy (she/they) has a passion for storytelling. As a queer person of color, Z always aims to challenge their readers to look at art in a new light by putting racial and sexual identities in conversation with pop culture. With this dedication to inspiring respectful and insightful dialogue, Z is thrilled to be a part of the Hollywood Insider cohort, a media network that supports content focused on perceptive exploration rather than gossip.