Graphic by Cath Virginia
Whether you’re bullish on cryptocurrency or think it’s bullshit, you cannot live a day in the world without hearing about the various digital currencies that are popping up on what seems to be a daily basis. Crypto is everywhere, and—if it’s up to Jack Dorsey—it will create world peace.Rappers, for their part, have been name-dropping cryptocurrencies since at least 2013. In conversation with Time, multihyphenate Donald Glover said that bitcoin felt “more real” than currencies backed by gold. In 2017, on “Down,” G-Eazy rapped that “loyal bitches get crypto” while the less fortunate would simply get Lyft codes. Though in other spaces cryptocurrency is seen as a massive leech on environmental resources that will primarily enable the rich to get richer, in hip-hop, the sentiment towards cryptocurrency is often more glowing.
Soulja Boy claims he was the first rapper to make a song about bitcoin when he made the song “Bitcoin” in 2018. This year, Nas called himself “cryptocurrency Scarface” on DJ Khaled’s “Sorry Not Sorry,” referencing an early investment in the cryptocurrency marketplace Coinbase, which netted him a fortune after its IPO. More recently, Big Sean bragged about giving your girl a Robinhood portfolio with $30,000 worth of Dogecoin, as he rapped on Sada Baby’s “Little While,” as the co-creator of Dogecoin, Jackson Palmer, decried cryptocurrency as a right-wing, hyper-capitalist technology. Meanwhile, Sir Michael Rocks, the rapper and one-half of The Cool Kids, made a song that touches on both of the allure of investing and the darker, more depraved elements of the cryptocurrency world.
“Everybody who mentions crypto in music—especially rap music—has always taken the position of, ‘Yeah, I'm a super genius trader. I just made a billion dollars on Bitcoin, man,’” Rocks said. In April, as part of his Mystery School Twitch stream, he made a song called “Selling at the Bottom” to share a more realistic alternative to the sunny outlook often portrayed on social media and in hip-hop. Over the past two years, he estimates he’s made hundreds of meme-y songs riffing on trending topics, putting out two per week—but “Selling at the Bottom” has been the most widely circulated, with the original video exceeding 200,000 plays on Twitter.
“The weird part is when I drop these meme songs, they always get way more love and rotation and plays and views than if I dropped a ‘real song.’” Rocks said. “Which is pretty funny. But it makes sense,” he said, as the subject matter appeals to a broader audience than his “actual” music, which he considers more niche.“I just wanted to take the position of the other side of what crypto's like. It's fucked up. You take L's. You get smacked. You lose.”Rocks’s video is a stark contrast to other, brighter depictions of the cryptocurrency, such as a recent commercial for Coin Cloud ATMs, in which the legendary director Spike Lee positions cryptocurrency as an “inclusive” alternative to “old money.” As someone who’s taken an interest in cryptocurrency for the past several years, Rocks wanted to make a song to capture a more realistic depiction of what it’s like to be a crypto trader—complete with the paranoia, the FOMO, and feigning savvy when you don’t know what’s going on. “I'm a liar, though. So if you ask, I'ma play along. If I fuck up on my short trade I say I'm trading long. If I fuck up on my long trade, I say I'm trading short,” he raps.
Though Rocks is clearly an enthusiast in the cryptocurrency space, he doesn’t have the same rose-colored glasses that typically come with the territory. “Nine times out of ten, people don't make any money, you make fucking terrible trades, and you get your position blown out, Elon Musk comes on SNL and fucks up your entire portfolio. That's how actual crypto trading goes,” Rocks explained. Rocks made “Selling at the Bottom” in less than an hour, he said, at a time when Bitcoin prices were crashing. Now, the song is a sort of indicator of Bitcoin movement—if you see “Selling At the Bottom” making the rounds on Twitter, you can assume the price is currently dropping. For currencies that are affected by SNL appearances, this all makes sense. A couple years ago, Rocks said, most people thought cryptocurrency was just for “crime or black market shit,” if they even knew what it was. In 2019, on “Maybach Music VI,” Rick Ross alludes to the privacy aspect of digital currency, rapping, “Currency come in crypto, you know they tapin' our calls.” Though he wasn’t expecting such a big response to his song, he’s gotten feedback from other traders that he hit the nail on the head of capturing the uncertain reality that underpins the cryptocurrency world. Others, apparently upset, told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Some traders have also contacted Rocks to request he make a song for their specific coins, which he declined.
“In crypto, a lot of people are shills, or little scammers for the most part, people pumping little shitcoins, just trying to get their bags off.” In the past, some rappers have drawn the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission for promoting illicit initial coin offerings, or ICOs. The S.E.C. hit T.I. with a $75,000 penalty last year for his participation in a “fraudulent cryptocurrency scheme.” This year, Game was named in a class-action lawsuit that claims he deceived investors for his participation in an ICO involving a now-bankrupt cannabis blockchain company that took place in 2017.Rocks and his fellow Cool Kid Chuck Inglish have discussed how if you’re getting your cues from mainstream rappers, you’re likely late to the party, whether it’s fashion trends, or now, cryptocurrency investments. “There's something in hip-hop especially. It's like a barometer for if you're too late on something, and we used to reference it with fashion, clothes, and gear. We always would base it on like, ‘Okay, if whatever X generic popular rapper right now is wearing this article of clothing, or this clothing line, then it's played out.’Once you start hearing references from “really normal rappers,” Rocks said, “ it's getting too late.”“You should have had your money in way earlier, because once Meek Mill starts talking about it, it's old news.”The future of cryptocurrency still feels uncertain. Meek Mill’s $50,000 Dogecoin investment in May, for example, is worth approximately $15,709 at the time of writing. But for a set of financial products whose prices can be moved by Saturday Night Live appearances, it makes sense that a meme song from one of the Cool Kids is part of the fucked-up weathervane that tells you which way the wind is blowing. Follow Ashwin Rodrigues on Twitter.