Ugly God was a recent guest on a series of YouTube videos that attracted more than five million total views in under a week.
These numbers are high for a rapper like Ugly God, but not completely out of the ordinary. The source of the views is surprising, however. This wasn’t the result of a press run through big market radio stations and traditional media outlets. Ugly God didn’t sit down on the couch of a late night network TV show. All of this exposure came after a visit to “The Clout House” with a group of popular YouTube vloggers.
The videos are fairly straightforward. In the most popular clip, Ugly God shows up to the house, holds a watermelon, and goes on a trip to Target—not a bad day of work for a video that exposed him to millions of potential fans.
When I first came across these vlogs in my “Related Videos” sidebar, it felt strange to watch Ugly God hang out with a bunch of YouTubers. But as I saw the view counts rise, the whole scenario started to come into focus.
In the past, if an artist wanted to widen their fan base outside of a core hip-hop following, their options were limited. If the artist's label had a good connection, they could land a guest verse on a song with a pop star. Or if their buzz was big enough, they could book a late night TV appearance or play a multi-genre music festival.
Now, they have other options.
In Ugly God’s case, his afternoon with a group of vloggers reached a much larger audience than his previous visits with mainstream outlets. A single video with “Clout Gang” ringleader FAZE Banks reached 3.5 million views within a week. In comparison, the combined view counts on his interviews with traditional outlets XXL, Power 106, Sirius XM (Sway's Universe), and HipHopDX only total 1,425,000. Our interview with him currently has less than 20,000 views.
This increase in viewership is nice, but more importantly, the audience is outside of Ugly God’s wheelhouse. Viewers regularly checking out XXL’s YouTube channel are far more likely to be familiar with his music than those watching FAZE Banks’ videos—a group of people who subscribed to a channel that began as a Call of Duty gaming group.
In 2017, a lot has been made of the massive followings that underground rappers have managed to build by tapping into an active underground scene on SoundCloud. But if they want to grow and reach new ears outside of their core group of fans, they need to look elsewhere.
After the success of “White Iverson,” Post Malone befriended Ethan and Hila Klein of popular YouTube comedy channel h3h3Productions. But unlike Ugly God, Post's cameo wasn’t limited to a one-time appearance. He’s been featured in seven videos and podcast episodes with the duo, which have been viewed over 25 million times in total.
At this point, it’s a pretty safe bet that the majority of h3h3’s five million subscribers are now aware of Post Malone’s music. More importantly, some of them have watched him in enough candid moments (like an 80-minute ghost hunting journey) to develop an attachment on a personal level—an important step to gaining dedicated fans.
A lot of things have lead to Brockhampton's rise in popularity this summer, but one of the most important building blocks was put in place when Kevin Abstract went on tour with The Neighbourhood in the summer of 2016. Playing before a popular rock band with a strong teenage following every night, Abstract’s music was introduced to an intensely loyal group of young fans. Many of them weren't typical listeners of rap, but they connected with his vulnerabilities.
While the connection was made in a live setting, Abstract’s internet habits turned them into dedicated fans. By answering personal questions on ask.fm, talking with them directly on Periscope, and being honest about his insecurities on Twitter, he tapped in to a large group of kids on the internet who felt like outcasts.
They were looking for an entertainer who interacted with the world (and the internet) like they did, and Abstract was doing things online that no other rappers were doing at the time. I remember watching him broadcast a live feed of his computer desktop to anyone who wanted to watch for a full day back in late 2014. At that point in his career, Kevin Abstract wasn't getting asked to do interviews, but opening himself up like that to a group of kids on the fringes of the internet went a long way to developing loyal fans.
Similarly, Lil Yachty has figured out a way to connect with his young audience in a language they understand through video game culture. Sharing his Xbox gamertag on Twitter, he regularly plays games like NBA Street and GTA IV with fans on Xbox Live. Rappers like KYLE have taken a similar approach and Logic even has his own gamer channel on YouTube.
Understanding that new forms of communication like memes resonate with young fans, record labels like Interscope have connected with PizzaSlime and other online creators to promote music with viral moments like the #MannequinChallenge trend. These interactions hold even more weight when they're coming from the artists themselves, however, and rappers like Ka5sh and Ugly God are seeing results.
Before his music career took off, Ka5sh built a following as a professional meme-maker, and Ugly God is the proud owner of Instagram meme page, The Meme Hut, which attracted a quarter million followers in less than a week.
Of course, by now, most artists understand the importance of being active on social media, but it goes beyond having a strong Twitter and Instagram presence to really stand out and reach new fans.
Outside of his vlog cameos, Ugly God has a history of interacting with weird corners of the internet in a way that we’re not used to seeing from rappers. A scroll through his Twitter replies (before a recent round of deletions) revealed a long list of interactions with prominent personalities in obscure internet subcultures like Twitch video game streamers. He also took an afternoon to meet with Twitter troll Beats by Saif (who then spent the next three months spamming their interaction to anyone who would listen).
When popular YouTube reaction channel CUFBOYS' "Mom reacts to Ugly God" video went viral, Ugly God embraced it and sampled the mom's voice on his mixtape, endearing him to the channel's large fan base.
In an era where media distribution channels have been flattened by the internet, it makes sense that crossover between subcultures would happen more often. We’ve watched internet personalities like Filthy Frank use massive YouTube followings to help launch a music career, and now we’re seeing rappers like Ugly God take the inverse approach to reach new fans.
Ugly God doesn't have a big radio hit and Justin Bieber isn't in his DMs asking for a guest feature. Jimmy Fallon isn't calling and asking if he wants to perform with The Roots on national TV. But he's managed to build an impressive following by getting his face in front of potential fans in creative ways.
It's important to note that none of the interactions mentioned above feel like calculated moves to with the sole end goal to build larger followings. Post Malone was showing up in Minecraft YouTube videos long before he ever recorded "White Iverson." And Ugly God is an internet-born rapper who doesn't feel out of place hanging out with a bunch of gamers.
Regardless of motive, it's interesting to see rappers find new ways to access huge untapped markets online, while traditional platforms like network TV continue to lose viewers.
Now, go follow Ugly God’s meme page.