Creating a culture that causes Gen Z hysteria is no easy feat, but SCARLXRD is a master at breaking those kind of boundaries. At the age of 24, the Wolverhampton-born artist has amassed a following most underground hip-hop stars would dream of: 1.5 million Instagram followers, a slew of sold out shows and a million-or-more-strong legion of fans who religiously stream his music online. His trick? To reject the current blueprint and forge another path; one few people in rap have dared to tread so far.
Donning gothic manga-inspired fashion, neck tattoos and a ubiquitous surgical mask to shield himself from view, SCARLXRD’s fame is practically inexplicable to anybody who grew up before the age of social media. An internet-bred rapper with a heavy-metal style of screamo delivery and a subcultural appeal that permeates the stratosphere, he didn’t even have to leave the Midlands to achieve hip-hop notoriety.
And that’s exactly what he’s done, without ever having to pander to what industry gatekeepers want from a rapper today. Having grown his following independently through his own voice and tightly curated presentation on social media, he’s proved himself to be the kind of artist completely unique to the here and now. Your parent’s don’t know him, nor do they need to care: SCARLXRD has got what he’s got because he speaks to a generation who find artists their own way; mass radio play and a glossy seal of approval mean nothing.
His art is purposely affronting, and yet liberating to a crowd of fans who resonate with his incendiary perspective on life, brotherhood, and solitude. Laced with lewd samples, his songs offer up a headrush of grinding, scuffed trap beats that could bring down whole housing estates with the right level of decibels. When it comes to his rhymes too, the overdone tropes of rap flows are nowhere to be heard. Instead, SCARLXRD possesses a singular kind of chaotic and furious energy: he screams his self-penned lyrics, like a creative outlet cum personal exorcism.
Despite the ‘fuck you’ outward facing image, he still bears the hallmarks of a normal upbringing. Born Marius Lishtrop in the summer of 1994, he has fond memories of his expressive, creative childhood in Wolverhampton. First came his mother’s attempt to coerce him into the world of tap dancing alongside his brother (“She stopped us from going because we’d always fall asleep in the back!” he laughs), before dabbling in the world of martial arts. By the time teenagehood came around, he was trying his hand at street dancing and simultaneously falling in love with musicians at his own accord. First came a wave of West Midlands grime artists, before he segued into the American rap world, shaped by the presence of 50 Cent and Eminem. It was, back then, that the roots of SCARLXRD started to spread.
But he’s lived his life in phases: a high profile stint as a YouTuber earned him a huge online fanbase, but just like he did with street dancing, he eventually fell out of love with it when the prospect of making music came formally to the fore. It was through a site called FindMyBand.com (“like Tinder for musicians!” he jokes) that his first alt-rock group ‘myth city’ came to be. Back in 2015, Marius and his new-found bandmates released a slew of singles under their collective moniker, but emboldened by his obsession with musical antagonism, SCARLXRD parted ways with the group and started making art in total solitude.
In a new era defined by scuzzy, distorted 808s and faster BPMs, the lines between hip-hop and metal were already beginning to blur when SCARLXRD stepped solo onto the scene. But by maintaining the fundamentals of both on UK soil, he helped propel his singular genre into Generation Z’s line of vision. “Hip-hop has never been so mainstream; every rapper’s a pop star, and alternative metal is huge too,” he says of today’s scene, “but when you bridge the gap between the two cultures, you get me.”
It was in that serendipitous moment that SCARLXRD finally broke through. Back in 2017, he uploaded the music video for ‘Heart Attack’: the sonic story of man running away from his previous existence and reinventing himself. Peppered with cutting, incisive brags (“Everything I spit is hot shit and unholy”), it predicted SCARLXRD’s ascent to the top tier of the rap game, as he went from “that Railcard to the Range”. Fast forward 18 months and the self-released track boasts over 56 million YouTube views alone.
He’s been prolific ever since. Three years since his first release, he’s managed to drop 11 full length records, seven of which are seen as formal studio albums. It’s a skill that few artists possess: a refusal to compromise or conform, and an unwavering belief in the work they put out in the world. In a time when the traditional album cycle has been turned on its head, replaced by singles, mixtapes and surprise drops, SCARLXRD feels like the guy who’s mastered the theory for success on his own accord. Sometimes, he even surprises himself. After returning from a tour of Australia at the tail end of 2018, he planned to cancel taking Christmas to wrap up work on his latest release ‘INFINITY’. Instead, he powered through, and wrapped the entire record in under a week. Its follow-up due later this year, the 15-track IMMXRTALISATION, is already in the bag too.
It’s no surprise that he can make such frenetic bodies of work in such short periods of time. When he’s restless and unable to sleep, it’s not unusual to find SCARLXRD venting in his home studio in the dead of night. He might be a nice guy in conversation, but his music still mines that sable and brooding place inside of him. ‘I WANT TX SEE YXU BLEED’, the opening track of INFINITY, is harnessed by sounds of fury and destruction; what you hear is all real. “That actually happened,” SCARLXRD says of the recording session. “I kept fucking up the lines and couldn’t get it right, so I was going crazy.”
He describes himself as a “middle fingers, don’t give a fuck” type of guy: hellbent on doing everything he sets his mind to; stubborn in a way that leads to fascinating, untethered art. Rejecting the holy rule of hip-hop, collaborations aren’t really SCARLXRD’s thing either. His songs are, after all, so deeply rooted in personal thought and trauma that it would be strange to bring in someone for a lucrative or eye-catching co-sign. For now, that’s one thing of many that he’s unwilling to change his mind about.
But there is something that has changed with fame, and that’s the responsibility of being a young man with an audience of millions watching on. “I’ve seen what culture can do to impressionable minds,” he says. “As artists, we have a responsibility to be true to ourselves, but be aware.” For the most part, he tries to see it as a blessing, though he’s aware of just how intimidating having that gigantic fanbase consume his life and art can be.
By doing what he does so relentlessly – fusing genres, filling venues and funneling the sombre, fucked up mood of a generation through his music – SCARLXRD has established himself as a true original. Pioneers are hard to come by, but in a sea of money-chasing hip-hop stars with their eyes on taking someone else’s crown, it’s rare to see someone running off-piste towards a different goal altogether. “I don’t think there’s going to be another SCARLXRD while SCARLXRD exists,” he says, his words prolific. “I’ll firmly have the torch. I’m the one with the story.”
And he’s right: no matter how many copycats and homages come later, we never forget the number one.