Phonk (//) is a subgenre of hip hop and trap music directly inspired by 1990s Memphis rap. Mostly present on the SoundCloud platform, the music is characterized by nostalgic funk samples, often accompanied by vocals from old Memphis rap tapes. The genre typically takes samples from early-1990s hip hop, combining them with sounds from jazz, and deploys distorting techniques such as chopped and screwed to create a darker sound.
|Cultural origins||2000s, Southern United States, especially Houston and Memphis|
Often defined as the "sound of Gen Z", phonk took inspiration from trap roots in the Southern United States in the mid 1990s. Artists or musical groups like DJ Screw, X-Raided, Phonk Beta, DJ Squeeky, and the collective Three 6 Mafia all helped pioneer the foundations for the genre to emerge many years later, with the Houston chopped and screwed seen as the precursor to the genre. While phonk died down at the end of the 2000s, it saw a resurgence in the early 2010s. A darker, ominous take on the 1990s trap music emerged from key producers such as SpaceGhostPurrp, DJ Smokey, and Mr. Sisco.
The word "phonk" was popularized by SpaceGhostPurrp, who released tracks such as Pheel Tha Phonk, Bringin' Tha Phonk, and Keep Bringin' Tha Phonk. YouTube channels, such as TRILLPHONK, Emotional Tokyo, Ryan Celsius, and rare also helped popularize the genre. The music featured eerie samples, distorted snares, and a low end that dominated the mix. Phonk producers continued to push this sound in the underground, before the genre gained real momentum during the mid-2010s. By the end of 2017 phonk had evolved to become more contemporary, moving away from the "gritty, dark, Memphis-oriented sound" and including more modern vocals, bringing to light more jazz and classic hip hop. Between 2016 and 2018, phonk was one of the most listened genres on SoundCloud, with the hashtag #phonk among the most trending each year.
A peculiarity of phonk is the fact that it is not anchored to a regional "scene": this is tied with the nature of SoundCloud itself as an online platform, which highlights subgenres derived from hip hop and experimental pop. Indeed, phonk artist Lowpocus stated in an interview in 2017: "What is fascinating about [phonk] is that these artists come from all over the world: you can find producers of phonk in Canada, in the United States, in France, and even in Russia!" Other artists associated with phonk include DJ Smokey, Soudiere, Mythic, DJ Yung Vamp, NxxxxxS, and SwuM.
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