Detroit has always been a hub for new music. In the ’60s, it was the rhythm of Motown music that swept the nation. At the turn of the century, it was Eminem’s lyricism that helped to popularize hip hop (a genre that was before dominated by coastal American cities) in the Midwest. Now, a new genre is primed to pop from Motor City: scam rap.
Scam rap is a subgenre of rap that is centered on the action of scamming people, businesses, credit card companies and anything else you can think of. Songs by artists like Teejayx6, who is largely credited with popularizing scam rap, can often sound like step-by-step tutorials for various schemes. In his song “Swipe Story,” Teejayx6 describes stealing PS4s from a Walmart in great detail, outlining everything from the process of embossing fake credit cards to lying to the cashier about why he needs $3,500 worth of gaming equipment.
In “Dark Web,” Teejayx6 narrates a different type of scam. He raps in the chorus that “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.” Teejayx6 describes the process of using the TOR browser to access the dark web (a collection of websites hidden from the internet where illegal sales take place) and obtaining a Virtual Private Network that scammers use to change their IP addresses to hide their activities from the government and Internet Service Providers. To top it off, he outlines buying bank identification numbers that he can use to make fraudulent transactions.
If you’re feeling lost, don’t fret. These lyrics describing highly specialized and technologically advanced schemes are far-flung from the easily digestible messages of most modern-day hip hop. Scam rappers like Teejayx6 have never claimed this lifestyle is easy. But the steps are outlined for you nonetheless.
While scam rap gets its name from the content of its lyrics, the real eccentricity of the genre has to do with the offhanded, almost apathetic flow and rap style of its artists. Scam rappers like Teejayx6 and Ypsilanti rap group ShittyBoyz utilize bouncy beats filled with high synths and drum hits that produce a sound similar to a loading screen on a low-budget video game. These artists rap in a frenzied but somehow monotonous manner that creates a feverish energy in all their music.
Often cutting themselves off in the middle of a bar, failing to rhyme consecutive lines or rapping completely off-beat, scam rappers like Teejayx6 and ShittyBoyz break every rule in the book and create songs that end up sounding like one giant run-on sentence. Their flow never crescendos, rather they constantly approach the apex without ever seeming to reach it. In this sense, the sound of these scam rappers matches the anxiety-ridden sentiments of the scamming lifestyle that they illuminate in their lyrics.
At the same time, there is unmistakable humor inherent to the genre. Layered into the step-by-step instructions of scamming are often completely incoherent tangents. In “Swipe Story,” between highly technical explanations of scamming a Walmart, Teejayx6 recounts a conversation with the cashier in which “She asked me what I like to do, I said playing golf.” Nonsensical lines like these paired with a rhyme scheme and flow that contradict conventional rap expectations often produce incredible comedic timing. It is impossible to tell whether these artists are completely self-aware or just straight up bad at rapping, and that discrepancy makes the music all the more fun to listen to.
Finally, it is impossible to discuss scam rap without addressing its direct correlation with digital culture. Although ShittyBoyz and Teejayx6 hail from the Metro Detroit area, it can be argued that they owe their real influence to the internet. Much of the scamming these artists describe in their music takes place online, so it’s not surprising that digital culture would permeate the genre.
Teejayx6 and ShittyBoyz are constantly calling attention to the digital sphere where their music was born. One of ShittyBoyz’s most streamed songs (which happens to feature Teejayx6) is called “Super Smash Bros” and alludes to various video games. The general aesthetics of the artists reflect this interest in gaming as well. Babytron, my favorite of the three members of ShittyBoyz, is uniquely swagless. I can only describe his style as Fortnite-core (Bape hoodies, Just Do It T-shirts), and his goofy haircut gives off the vibe that he’s just like any one of us who spends too much time on the internet. Their music sounds like, looks like and feels like the experience of being on the internet. It is constant overstimulation and nonsensical detours; it is indecipherable from satire or genuity, and it is very, very fun.
Scam rap is not easily approachable, nor is it particularly good. On the other hand, it is almost undeniable that it is some sort of genius. It’s one of those phenomena that you love to make fun of until you find yourself unable to listen to anything else. Its influence has yet to fully manifest itself in popular culture, but I’m confident more hip hop will mimic the idiosyncratic style of Detroit scam rap before long.
Daily Arts Writer Leo Krinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.