Music is tribal—it’s in our blood. Don’t believe me? Take a look back in history. The oldest piece of music dates back 43,000 years, and there’s reason to believe it was around long before that. Music is a powerful social mechanism used to bring people together: from early tribes creating drums out of animal skin to thousands gathering for Woodstock in the 1960s.
Over the years, humans have inevitably changed and so has music. As computers have become interwoven with civilization, the digitalisation of our daily lives in turn impacted the way we both create and enjoy music. Along came algorave, music generated from algorithms, often using live coding techniques. Here’s everything you need to know about the musical movement in order to debate whether algorave is a natural progression in our constantly evolving musical trajectory.
‘Algorave’ is a mash-up of ‘algorithm’ (from computer code) and ‘rave music’—the name pretty much speaks for itself. Coined by musicians Alex Mclean and Nick Collins, the scene was born in a relatively small London club back in the early 2010s.
In an interview with Pink Waver, Alex Mclean described the term as “a stupid word I came up with in 2012. Essentially it’s the idea of taking live coding and using it to make dance music. People dancing to algorithms.” It has since flourished into an international musical movement, with computer-assisted raves now happening across the world.
Although not claiming to represent the entire scene, Whiting views algorave as “making music but using code as a media to express themselves. And like code it’s often batten based, repetitive and beat centric, which lends itself well to dance music. It’s all about expressing music in terms of code, and creative coding in order to make music for people to dance to.”
Like many others in the scene, Whiting’s passion for algorave was a natural progression. “I’ve always been making music and writing code for as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids who sat in front of the computer, a lot of the time learning to programme but also getting excited about the prospect of making music.”
With the rise in AI replacing everything from delivering sermons to determining your crush—is there anything a computer can’t do? It’s the age-old question, and an essay topic I completely flunked in my undergraduate philosophy class: can computers be creative?
I have to admit, it’s a misleading question and an aspect of the music genre that’s often misunderstood. Whiting emphasises how the movement is often confused as a product that’s solely generated from artificial intelligence. Instead, algorave uses algorithms as a medium to express the emotion, and the primal energy, that embodies dance music. The mastermind behind the music is the musician—not the computer.
He uses the analogy of sewing to best describe the making of algorave: “One of the steps in the process of sewing is pattern making, when you create shapes and figure out how they’re going to fit together to make clothes. Making the pattern is just as creative and interesting as the rest of the process. When you create the pattern, you’re designing the process of making clothes, not making the clothes itself but designing how to make the clothes.”
The act of coding, or creating the initial algorithm that will then form the music, can be seen as the ‘pattern making’ of textiles. It forms the foundations for the music to be built upon—essentially, innovatively designing music. He continues, “in my mind, I consider the code to be an art, not the thing that makes the art.”
Whiting adds how the act of writing scripts of code bears more resemblance to writing traditional music than you might think: “I’ll have an idea and it’s usually the kind of thing that would sound good if I was making non-coded music. For instance, I might think the scale that the computer script produces is a good fit for the track.”
“It’s a charming composition process happening at a different level of abstraction,” Whiting continues, explaining the creative process behind making his next algorave techno hit—experimentation and intuition are key. “I’ll come up with ideas and experiment, like using a random number generator to create a sequence. However, I’m always checking it back against my aesthetic sense. I ask myself whether it’s something I’d want to listen to, whether a sample of sound is something I’d dance to.”
Live algorave events, like many things in life, are on pause due to COVID-19. As of writing this, we’re deep into the first half of 2021 and the return to booming sound systems can’t come any sooner. The pandemic has forced the scene into a digital world, which to an outsider might seem quite fitting for a computer-assisted music genre. However, the algorave community thrives from its live events, where artists code in their algorithms live, combined with live visuals to fit the vibe of the room. Until then, creatives will continue to push the digital music in a digital way.
“The government tried to ban me from the dark web. I downloaded TOR Browser and got back in. Went and got a VPN, just bought another BIN,” raps away Teejayx6, a 19-year-old from the east side of Detroit. Decked in a black ski mask, the young rapper illustrates the process of accessing the dark web in great detail—down to the bank identification numbers he uses to make fraudulent transactions. Welcome to the fringe world of scam rap, a viral subgenre glorifying and breaking down fraudulent activity step-by-step for listeners.
Mentions of fraudulent activity in music is nothing new. Future, Meek Mill, City Girls and Kodak Black are all on the long list of rappers with scamming-related lyrics. You are most likely to have already been introduced to this subgenre even if you don’t follow any of the artists mentioned.
In The Secret Life Of Pets 2, Kevin Hart voiced a bunny named Snowball—a former anti-human revolutionary who has come to believe that he is a superhero. The movie ended with Snowball rapping away Desiigner’s 2015 smash ‘Panda’. “Credit cards and the scammers!” bellowed Snowball in a snapback as scam rap quickly infiltrated the kid movie pantheon.
Scam rap has been associated with Detroit-based artists where the subgenre is deeply rooted in credit card frauds, identity thefts and other illicit ways of splitting people from their money. Credited with its own rap scene, scam rap in particular seems to be flooding out of Motor City with many upcoming rappers mentioning scamming in their lyrics.
Though not exclusive to Detroit, the city’s scam rap can be differentiated from the rest with its off-beat flow and rap style. Artists like Kasher Quon and 10kkev leverage bouncy beats filled with high synths to produce sounds similar to “a loading screen on a low-budget video game.” Their rap style lies somewhere between frenzy and monotone to create feverish energy that eventually matches the anxiety-ridden sentiments of the scamming lifestyle they allegedly live in.
Scam rap surfaced in 2017 when Bossman Rich dropped his single ‘Jugging Ain’t Real’. The track featured the rapper flashing stacks of cash while rhyming off-beat about BINs, Bitcoins and credit card frauds. Interest in the subgenre along with true scam cases peaked post that.
Scam rap went mainstream in 2019 with the rise of GuapDad 4000, an Oakland-based rapper. Styling himself as a charming conman, the artist is credited with scamming celebrities like Drake into performing at his afterparty for free—later boasting about it on Instagram. However, it wasn’t until Teejayx6 (real name unknown) came onto the scene that the subgenre really took off.
Incriminating himself to insane degrees in just about every song, Teejayx6 shot to fame with his breakout single Dark Web where he coaches listeners by giving them step-by-step instructions on how to access the dark web using the TOR browser. Immersed in pop-culture references and terminologies, most of Teejayx6’s songs are dramatic scam stories that play out like heist movies.
In Swipe Story, the 19-year-old artist breaks down the process of stealing PS4s from Walmart, outlining everything from embossing fake credit cards to lying to the cashier about why he needs $3,500 worth of gaming equipment. He later raps about scamming different Walmarts in a sum total of 50 times. In Violin he raps about buying social security numbers, and in Blackmail he goes as far as scamming his own grandmother.
During his first-ever show in Los Angeles, Teejayx6 was arrested on-stage by US Marshals. But internet nerds were quick to theorise that the arrest was staged with a bunch of actors and that the whole thing was a publicity stunt—yet another scam. So why hasn’t the real police caught on yet? Is scam rap legal in the first place?
Scam rap’s existence highlights a cultural shift to psychological, data-driven crimes where rappers involved aren’t afraid to delve into the details regardless of the authenticity of their claims. Given that many of Teejayx6’s ‘alleged’ crimes involved swindling some of the wealthiest companies on Earth, artists like him are considered “Robin Hoods for the age of cryptocurrency.”
Acknowledging the fact that “scamming celebrities is easier than normal people because they fall for it quicker,” Teejayx6 has allegedly scammed Blac Chyna and Dave East. The young rapper further separates himself from the ruthless types of frauds with a positive motive backing him up. “I’m really helping people in the long run,” he admitted in an interview with Genius. Upon purchase of his mixtape The Fraud Bible, Teejayx6 stated that his fans get an actual fraud bible—a guide which includes “actual methods, BINs and everything required” to carry out scams.
“People want to label me a scammer,” he mentioned in an interview with Pitchfork. “But I’m really helping fans out, giving them advice and even money if they need it.”
“Scam rap is going to be a thing for a while because it’s money,” admitted Teejayx6. “Anybody would like to make money. So it’s just a matter of time before the whole world catches on.” The artist, however, warns against the repercussions that entail the subgenre’s mainstream popularity.
“It might bring problems like the police only if it gets too popular,” he said. In an interview with Complex about the future of scam rap, the young artist mentioned how scamming is increasingly becoming the “standard job for rappers” replacing what once was drug dealing. When asked if he was worried about the repercussions of his self-incriminating lyrics, Teejayx6 stated that he was only worried about seeing somebody he has scammed in real-life.
“If I ever get big, somebody that I scammed in the past might book me for a show just to rob me. In the life I live, I always have to be careful. I scammed so many people from different cities, different states. I don’t know who’s trying to book me. So I’m really terrified.” In his No Jumper interview, the 19-year-old perfectly sums up the doubts we currently harbour in the back of our minds, “Even if I was under investigation, there is no proof, there’s no video proof. I could be saying all this, it could be a lie, it could be entertainment.”
While scam rap’s influence is yet to ‘ill-favourably’ manifest itself in popular culture, you can either head to the comments section of these music videos for detailed how-to guides from other fans (in hopes of not being scammed yourself in the process) or bop your head to its anxious synths and off-beat rhymes. The so-far legal choice is yours.