Studio X at the Paramount Recording Studio in Hollywood is vibrating from the paralyzing trap beat that $not (pronounced “Snot”) is about to lay verses over.
The smell of old weed smoke hangs thick in the air and the TV is tuned to the QVC network. Almost no one crowding the studio seems to notice the programming outside of the rising rapper, who is curled up in a corner intently watching a saleswoman hawk sterling silver earnings with the vigor of a game show host.
“Man, does anybody even buy this [stuff]?” he asks between giggles.
After two years of uploading music online, the 21-year-old, born Edy Edouard, has found himself on the brink of rap fame.
The tracks he’s released on SoundCloud and Spotify — including his breakout record, an eerie banger titled “Gosha” — have racked up more than 45 million streams, Billie Elish is among his fans, and his music is featured on HBO’s heavily buzzed drama “Euphoria,” all the result of a cult Gen Z following $not’s amassed with his woozy emo raps.
“At first, it all felt crazy,” he said of his sudden rise. “And now it feels, I dunno, normal. I’m just having fun making music or whatever. I never thought about any of this happening — it just did.”
Dressed in tapered slacks and a blue hooded sweatshirt pulled so tightly that only his eyes, nose and mouth are visible (a signature look that started in high school, he says), the South Florida native would be an imposing sight if it weren’t for the Cheshire grin that often spreads across his face.
In person, he’s reserved, stoic even. It’s the complete opposite of what appears in the raw, diaristic entries on heartbreak, sadness, violence and drugs that punctuate his short catalog and his social media presence, where he tweets whatever thoughts he has without hesitation.
“Love the way you hold my hands and the way that you kiss / You’ve been cryin’ in my arms, see the cuts on your wrist / I can’t feel the … pain ‘cause it’s been killin’ my brain,” he raps on the sobering “My Nightmare,” a record that feels like a drunken 3 a.m. text rant to that ex who broke your heart and blocked you on Instagram. It has more than 1 million streams on SoundCloud.
“It’s crazy. I just started getting like 100,000 [streams] in a week. Crazy numbers. Like, ‘What the...’,” $not said. “And then my manager hit me up and told me ‘Euphoria’ was adding my song to an episode. I thought it was going to be [dumb] but it was dope that they put it on a good scene.”
He’s largely unfazed by his status as a rising rapper, even as everyone around him in the studio on a recent afternoon is feeling the pressure to keep the momentum going.
Marvy Ayy, the producer behind $not’s numbing breakup anthem “Megan,” is frantically trying to get the laptop that contains the litany of beats he’s working on for the rapper to reboot. Label reps from 300 Entertainment, which quietly signed the rapper to a distribution deal, are busy keeping the day organized. And in the next room, away from the action, $not’s manager, Jake Markow, is shouting obscenities at his computer.
It all feels like a typical studio scene until Markow turns his laptop to show that his exasperation isn’t the result of an email or a fallen deal but from the Spanish homework he’s trying to complete while his client cuts a few records.
“I have an artist taking off, and I’m trying to finish college,” Markow, 24, says nervously. “At any moment, this could all fall apart, and I’m trying to keep it together.”
At a time when rap stars are born online and not through radio or a major label, $not and Markow offer a peek at what that success looks like.
Born in New York, $not moved to West Palm Beach, Fla., when he was 7 and soon discovered a love of rap music. In high school, he and a friend began experimenting with rapping, recording themselves on a dinky USB microphone before the friend’s cousin let them borrow nicer equipment.
In 2017, $not started uploading brash, lo-fi records on SoundCloud that closely mimicked the bursts of melancholic rap he heard from Yung Lean, Raider Klan, Night Lovell and XXXtentacion, the controversial artist who became the face of a loose-knit collective of young, off-kilter rappers disrupting hip-hop before he was killed in 2018. $not’s music closely mirrors that of his fallen hero — a swirl of emotions that range from introspective to furious. It’s music for a generation that expresses itself in 140 characters or less and experiences life through sleek Snapchat filters.
“I was seeing artists making songs and it was like, ‘Yo, I could do this.’ Not even trying to be cocky, but it randomly started like that,” $not said. “It was fun, and then it became addicting. That’s how I make [music]. I see or hear something and then I want to do it. Even if sounds like trash, it’s still fun for me.”
“He’s really the first ASMR rapper,” Ayy said, describing $not’s slow, chilled-out delivery. “There’s no one like him, and that’s what’s going to put him in the books.”
Among the clicks $not’s emo raps logged were those from Markow, who was interning at 300’s New York office while studying public relations at the University of Houston. With ambitions to become a music industry executive and build his own label, Markow took a millennial approach to gaining experience by dabbling in whatever he could — tour managing, beat making, music blogging — before discovering $not’s music on SoundCloud. He messaged him on Instagram to persuade $not to let him be his manager.
“I told him, ‘You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I wanna manage you. I think you’ll need it,’” Markow recalled. “He’s the epitome of the new wave of SoundCloud rap. The music is connecting because he’s the American teenager’s dream big brother. He hangs out with his fans on Instagram, and they see that he’s a regular suburban kid.”
Markow leveraged his connections at 300 to get $not a partnership with the label and they’ve been hitting the pavement hard ever since — but it’s still mostly a seat-of-the-pants operation
“We worked really hard to get here. We didn’t have investors in Europe looking at a deck or a major label swinging behind us,” Markow said. “I’m going to make him a star — and I’m going to graduate.”
Back at the studio, Ayy has gotten his laptop running and is cycling through beats for $not to pick from. They’ve got only a few more days in the studio before the rapper returns home to Lake Worth, and Markow reminds his client of this — before sneaking out to head to their hotel to cram for exams and finish that homework. There’s no immediate plans to release an album. For now, $not is just dropping music whenever he feels like it.
“People think I’m trying to be this mysterious artist or something,” he said. “But I’m not. I’m just chilling and trying to finish up this music. I like keeping people waiting, though. Supply and demand. The longer people wait, the more hype is built.”