In a Shallow Music Landscape, Ashton Traitor Goes Deep

The rising alternative rapper empowers fans through vulnerability, breaking multiple boundaries of the genre at the same time.

“When u dont sell your soul this shit hard to do” Ashton Traitor recently tweeted. Traitor is an anomaly in 2020. His follower count is scant, yet his streams are through the roof. He doesn’t even have a website. What’s he doing right?

No one knows his real name, or even what he looks like, and yet Traitor represents a new vanguard in the currently tenuous music world. Rising stars are no longer being spoon-fed to us by big labels. They are self-made and get discovered through Soundcloud or Reddit. If anything, labels these days are just trying to play catch up. They care more about the “content” you create for Instagram than for the actual album you’re working on. Power and creative direction are going back into the hands of artists. The old structures are floundering, and underground artists like Traitor are setting the tone in the newly-liberated soundscape.

His videos are self-directed and maintain a chaotic, lo-fi quality that spits in the face of sleek showiness and the corporate sentiment of “likability.” Visuals like in “Meet My Ivory Heart” have Traitor grappling with his shadow and battling inner demons.

The combination of drum and hi-hat beats accentuated by melodic piano provides a deep backdrop to his brazenly poignant lyrics. Ironically, his vulnerability shines through his alter ego, empowering his audience to know it’s okay for them to be vulnerable too. He’s not some out-of-reach superstar with a hundred million hits on Youtube, spitting about that good life the rest of us can only dream of. It doesn’t matter if his identity isn’t accessible, because his music and his message is. Take this hook from “Pumped Up Kicks”:

Why do I gotta suffer by myself?
Ay, it’s so hard to explain

And I did this dirt by myself

Ay, so imma put it all in my name.

The last year has been his most prolific, with singles like “Foreal,” “New Girl,” “Hellcat Freestyle,” “Ghost Town,” and “Neva Look Back,” which was released just days ago. Even without dropping a full-length album, Traitor has proven that his songs run the gamut of somber and energetic, and his dual style gets fans moving. Underground artists develop a deeper connection to audiences, though I wouldn’t plan on Ashton Traitor staying underground for long.

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