Step into any college party and you will most likely hear a lot of the same music. Steve Aoki’s remix “Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi, RL Grime’s “UCLA” and Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE” are all likely to be played at every outing. There are some songs from the early 2010s, however, such as “All Night Longer” by Sammy Adams, which can be heard everywhere as well. Sammy Adams was a leader of the “frat rap” era in music.
Before the days of Lil Baby and Gunna, from around 2009 through 2015, the music industry was met with a new subgenre of rap music. The artists who embodied it were dissed by those who held rap to high standards and didn’t enjoy hearing songs about doing keg stands and playing beer pong. “Frat rap” bred a few stars such as Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa who started off in the genre. Even more established rappers such as Childish Gambino and Chance the Rapper rode the wave of “frat rap” at the beginning of their careers and have pivoted to gain further success in the music industry, while others chose to stay within the bubble of their own genre.
Carter Reeves, one half of the duo Aer, talked about the subgenre and why it was so crucial to music today. Aer broke up in 2016 but still brings in over 694,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Their most well-known hit, “Floats My Boat,” is a feel-good, summer party anthem that has over 46.5 million streams on Spotify. Aer’s self-titled 2014 album peaked at number 4 on the Billboard U.S. rap chart and number 3 on the U.S. independent chart. Aer was one of the largest “frat rap” acts of its time.
Understanding the time frame in which “frat rap” existed is crucial to grasping its effect on music today. In the early 2010s, the internet was still being explored as a space where independent artists and musicians could explode. Songs went viral on sites like Facebook and YouTube and fans were let into artists’ lives through social media, which Reeves said was a reason for their fandom becoming so large.
“People want more from an artist than just like a song or a couple of photos or like a music video every now and then,” Reeves said. “They want to invest in your character. They want to invest in who you are as a person. They want to know about you as a person.”
Fans were getting unlimited access to their favorite artists in the early 2010s. A freshman in college could hear “Floats My Boat” or Asher Roth’s “I Love College” at a party and immediately share it with their friends. Before you knew it, these songs were playing at parties across the United States. Reeves said that the use of musical instruments and diversity of lyrics helped cement Aer’s legacy as one of the first “frat rap” artists and have their music continue to play at parts five years since the breakup.
“[Aer was] definitely a little different than just like a frat rap group because of the beats and the instrumentation and the live show,” Reeves said. “I was playing guitar on stage and we’re singing, you know, we’re singing a lot.”
Aer found success after Reeves’ high school years. Mac Miller notably graduated high school with a career in front of him after releasing a successful mixtape. It was essentially kids making music for other kids, and for added effect, the songs were almost always about being young, drinking and smoking.
“[It] took me a long time to realize, like, sincerity is everything,” Reeves said. “It has to be honest.”
As the era of “frat rappers” died down in the late 2010s, ticket sales began to grow for more established and serious rappers and hip-hop artists like Drake and Kendrick Lamar.
“How do you get introduced to a certain type of music?” Reeves said. “I think you always are going to listen to the more accessible watered-down version of that before you go deeper down the rabbit hole and find out the real, like, the real shit.”
As the subgenre aged, so did its fans and its artists. Some fans jumped down the “rabbit hole” and some rode the coattails of their favorite “frat rapper” as they pivoted sounds. Either way, as fans went deeper into rap music, Childish Gambino’s aforementioned demographic of “young white kids with money” dispersed across the rap genre. “Frat rap” shepherded young people into rap music and some fans aren’t aware of what led them to their favorite music nowadays. All music tastes started somewhere and for many, it started with songs about partying, living easy and enjoying the moment more than anything.