The days of Limewire and Napster are behind us by at least a decade. CDs are practically ancient artifacts. Catering to the music obsessions of the Millennials is nearly over, and business markets are looking to gratify the fixations of Generation Z.
The tech savvy Generation Z are internet experts that don’t need either the confines of a physical copy or an illegal download to satisfy their ears. Video platforms (YouTube), streaming services (Spotify and SoundCloud), social media (Snapchat, Instagram) and messaging services (Musical.ly) are all mediums where the latest music trends are shared.
With the internet being a hub for practically everything and anything awesome and uncomfortable, it’s hard to make this new generation squirm. For this group, calling something weird or confusing has less of a negative connotation.
So what pushes the envelope for Gen Z in music? All they really need is wi-fi and the world and its music are at their fingertips. Which brings us to an artist whose success comes from his loyal fan base and his use of the online world as a powerful tool: Bronx-born Isaiah Rivera, better known as Wifisfuneral.
“I wouldn’t put myself in a category with anybody, because I feel like I’m starting a whole name for myself. What I would describe my music as is very refreshing and new, very out of the box, in a nutshell,” commented Rivera on his style and sound during a recent interview with Submerge.
Now hailing from Palm Beach, Florida, Rivera is a 20-year-old rapper whose art covers his experiences with depression, selling Xanax and his past with addiction.
Rivera has continued his viral success since the release of his album Black Heart Revenge, which landed him in the Top 100 on the iTunes hip-hop charts. He has garnered more than 139,000 followers on SoundCloud, and is currently on a nationwide tour named after his latest work, Boy Who Cried Wolf.
With the dark corners of the internet displaying more and more reflections of humans’ internal psyche, artists on all platforms are deciding that now is an important time to share what’s going on in their minds.
When asked who paved the way for the mental honesty in his work, Rivera responded, “I think myself, because at the time [I started] I was really the only person even doing it.
“Honestly, people will talk about depression itself but not really get in depth with it,” he continued. “I guess you could say who sparked the idea was [Kid] Cudi, because he was like the only artist I saw really doing that. Just being first to express it honestly, it didn’t have to be about how he talked about it, just the fact that he was the only one to talk about it [a dark mental state].”
Rivera admits that he doesn’t see a stigma against presenting personal information on his mental state to the public. He believes that the more an individual shares about himself, the easier the task is to spread awareness on mental illness.
As mental illness gradually becomes part of the public discussion, SoundCloud (a platform for creatives to share audio directly to listeners) has been a popular medium for a new wave of emotional rappers on the rise. With more than 70 tracks on SoundCloud, Rivera has gained much of his following on the site, but he would rather audiences not lump him in the category of “SoundCloud Rappers.”
“Well if everybody got their music from LimeWire, would they [the public] consider them LimeWire rappers?,” asked Rivera. “If everybody got it off BearShare you’d be considered a BearShare rapper. In the early ‘00s, the music you’d hear would be these exclusive Drake and Nicki Minaj songs. They were like YouTube rappers when they first started. It’s just that people try to take it as something that it’s not and say things like, ‘They can only be called SoundCloud rappers because that’s the only thing that they produce their music on.’ Like obviously, bruh, because that’s the only place you’re going to fucking pay attention.”
SoundCloud is also known for the large success of other South Florida rappers: XXXTentacion, Ski Mask the Slump God and Lil Pump. But Rivera does not want to be categorized with these acts either. He wants to stand out on his own and is adamant that he sounds nothing like them.
With content that may be uncomfortable for some, his three projects (Black Heart Revenge, When Hell Falls, Boy Who Cried Wolf) specifically address his experiences with drugs—not to glorify the substances, but rather to display what he’s been through. With more than 670,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and a co-sign from rapper/producer Earl Sweatshirt, his fans hear what he’s saying.
On how his projects specifically distinguish themselves from each other, Rivera responded, “I mean if you listen to them they’re literally all completely different—like, sonically, the way I construct some of my songs—the intros and outros.”
Under a record label, artists have a 50/50 chance of flourishing into success or killing their dreams. Not all have great relationships with their acts. In past interviews, Rivera stated that he would never sign to a label, and would stay totally independent but he had a change of heart with his recent sign to Alamo/Interscope in March.
He discussed how his choice was based on trusting the label with not only his career, but his vision. If the notion had not popped up in his head at that specific moment, he admits he’d probably still be independent right now.
When asked about whether he missed being independent, he commented, “Do I miss being independent? Yes, because I actually had way more fun, but fuck it at this point.”
Chance the Rapper is an example of the success an independent artist can have, but there are obstacles and challenges in this path: touring, managing, figuring out whether a decision will work or not, and gaining a following. Parts of it are luck, success and talent of the artist among other factors. But with Rivera, his insight today is that the quality of music doesn’t matter.
“People don’t appreciate music as much as they used to,” Rivera said. “But then again, I feel like everybody is at that mental state that nobody really gives a fuck about music. Like, everybody just gives a fuck about what’s happening right now.
“No one cares what’s going to happen two to three years from now especially on the music tip,” he continued. “For the most part, it’s like if you want to get rich quick, hey bro, here’s your golden ticket.”
With this new generation he describes the lack of authenticity in not only music but of young audiences themselves.
“Kids don’t act like themselves,” Rivera explained. “Half of America is just fucking followers. We don’t see someone do anything innovative or something that fucking inspires someone. You just realize that they don’t care. And then you’re like if they don’t care, why should you care?”
As far as upcoming work, Rivera’s scrapped his 27 Club project, and doesn’t plan on coming out with a debut album anytime soon. He continues to work on his craft with producer and friend Cris Dinero, but we’ll have to see if his music will reach as far as their internet connectivity, or disconnect.
See Wifisfuneral live at Holy Diver (1517 21st St.) on Nov. 8, 2017, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $17 in advance and can be purchased through Holydiversac.com. This is an all-ages show.
**This piece first appeared in print on pages 20 – 21 of issue #251 (Oct. 23 – Nov. 6, 2017)**