In the online age, away from the bright lights of mainstream scrutiny, niche fandoms are the new normal among younger audiences. From obscure chat rooms to subreddits and Twitter communities, fans gather to share their love of hyper-specific content and artists who otherwise might never gain recognition through traditional media conduits. However, an increasing number of these underground acts are emerging into the mainstream.
Internet indie-pop sensation Kero Kero Bonito went from a little known forum for Japanese expats in Britain to headlining global tours. Lil Nas X, perhaps the biggest name in music during the peak of his “Old Town Road” virality, initially released the track on TikTok as a meme. Such unconventional avenues toward fame and industry success now greatly outnumber more traditional stories of “discovery” via scouts and label execs, and nowhere is this more true than the world of underground hip-hop.
This online zeitgeist is where Houston-based rapper and creative Billyracxx has thrived for more than half a decade. The Florida native, who’s lived in Houston since his early formative years, has been releasing highly conceptual, singular rap projects on outlets like SoundCloud and YouTube (originally under the name Billy Ocean) since 2014.
In that time, he’s cultivated a niche underground following for his experimental, perhaps disarranged, music and cinema-inspired visual components. Now, amidst the ongoing two-month release of his latest multi-track release, Butterflies, the self-dubbed “alien” might find the breakout moment he’s been after all these years.
“My creative process looks chaotic and hectic, and beautiful, and scary,” the “Shadows” artist says of his freeform, often stream-of-conscious method of songwriting and recording. “Rap is the new rock ‘n’ roll, pop, and all of the above. So I can’t limit myself or set boundaries.”
In 2019, Billyracxx dropped a catalogue’s worth of music, including a solo eight-track project titled Religion, mixed and mastered by St. Louis producer ChaseTheMoney, whose work on Dreamville Records’ Revenge of the Dreamers III garnered him national attention that same year. Religion amassed hundreds of thousands of SoundCloud and Spotify streams, while the video for its single, “Dead Friends”, released in partnership with Elevator Mag, has racked up over 21,000 views on YouTube—all signs of Billyracxx’s emerging online presence.
Late last month, Billyracxx and his camp released the first single and video from Butterflies: a contemporary sounding, trap-inspired track titled “Kill Me,” produced by Texas up-and-comer Young God. The record is something of a departure for an artist whose past work transcends underground and delves into experimental, like the rap version of noise punk. With “Kill Me," Billyracxx refines both lyrics and vocals to arrive at a distilled, perhaps more marketable version of his traditionally violent sounding verses. The outcome is catchy and more sing-song than past projects, which featured vocals in a raspy, high-pitched register resembling something out of The Exorcist.
As usual, Billyracxx directed the track’s visuals in collaboration with model and garment designer King Minzly, whose work has been featured in Nylon, Complex, and The Fader, and whose custom garments have been worn by the likes of Quavo. In keeping with the cinematic and darkly artistic nature of his other videos, the direction for “Kill Me” mixes elements of horror and performance art to create a manic art-film aesthetic.
When asked to weigh in on this latest project and its creative origin, Billyracxx's answer is, like the music he makes, ambiguous and hard to track. “The concept for butterflies can go on and on,” he says. “Especially with all the complexities that come with my sound, my visuals, and how people generally receive me. I have to first ask, ‘What does a butterfly sound like?’ No one will be able to answer that question. And then I will respond by playing you this project.”
"Pt. 1" of Butterflies, a special four-track release, drops on Friday. The EP’s second single, “Butterfly” is slated for release on the 20th of this month, with a second multi-track release set to follow in April. For now, you can stream what’s available of Butterflies on platforms like Spotify and iTunes. Follow Billyracxx on Instagram for the latest updates on this and future projects.