Back in the city for their second year at New York’s CMJ festival, Hollywood Squadda and Mondre MAN are spending this particular day with producers Supreme Cuts and Ryan Hemsworth, plus Bajan rapper, Haleek Maul. We meet high up in the clouds of a studio in Manhattan’s Chinatown on a particularly foggy day. As Mondre discusses the early days of making music in their home studio, he touches on his band mate’s culinary skills: “Squadda should be cooking up turkey burgers right now.”
But before he can get started in the kitchen, there’s a call from Kitty Pryde, who’s performing in Brooklyn, and the group stream back into the city streets, racing to the venue before the end of her set. They just miss it, arriving minutes after she steps off stage. Instead they watch Diiv’s show, with Mondre expressing his desire to find a live band for the rap duo to record with. It’s this experimental side that’s seen them team up with alternative producers like Supreme Cuts, Beautiful Lou, Friendzone and Ryan Hemsworth. Following a stream of mixtapes and independent albums since 2010, last October saw the release of ‘Bossalinis & Fooliyones’, the debut studio album from Main Attrakionz.
It’s been a long time since a musical sub-genre baffled music journalists and fans alike, but cloud rap is slippery. Not necessarily defined by sound patterns or drum style, it’s ethereal, celestial. Almost conceptual, it’s like the feeling of drifting above the clouds. Never before have MCs rapped over ambient instrumentals reminiscent of the soundtrack to childhood cartoons like ‘The Land Before Time’ and ‘My Little Pony’.
The term ‘cloud rap’ refers to the mellow, atmospheric melodies laced with manipulated samples and a heavy bass line. Originally linked to a sequence of rappers based in Oakland, the majority of early production is credited to Squadda and Clams Casino, a New Jersey producer with beat credits for Mac Miller and The Weeknd. His song ‘Take 1 (Leaf)’ is a stripped down-haunting instrumental featuring Main Attrakionz and A$AP Rocky, which appeared on both artist’s projects, ‘808s And Dark Grapes’ and ‘LiveLoveA$AP’.
The sound first appeared in 2010 and evolved into a minor phenomenon in the rap blogosphere with Lil B and Main Attrakionz producing the majority of music eligible for definition. Main Attrakionz moved past the initial hype of 2010 and continued to make music and release projects, including 2011’s ‘Blackberry Kush’ and ‘808s And Dark Grapes’. Mondre isn’t exactly sure why the name was given to their sound, but it stuck. “When cloud rap came, I don’t know if it’s because of the samples or that we sound like we rapping under water.”
While seeming to have died down, in 2012 it crept back into discussion thanks to the release of ‘Bossalinis & Fooliyones’. Music blog Southern Hospitality, who are credited with coining the term, observe that rappers working within the genre are not limited to it. They explain: “cloud rap’ is more of a thematic movement: not all rappers make rap, and not all rappers that make cloud rap make it exclusively.”
As one of the producers responsible for the sound, Squadda attempts to define it: “I don’t know what to call this - it’s like a lifestyle, it’s unexplainable. But once you look at Main Attrakionz, you’re gonna see cloud - it’s a way of life.”
This is an excerpt from the April 2013 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.
Words: Lily Mercer
Photography: Hayley Louisa Brown