#What is Phonk Music? A Deep Dive into the Origins, Characteristics, and Subgenres

#What is Phonk Music? A Deep Dive into the Origins, Characteristics, and Subgenres


Phonk is a subgenre of hip hop and trap music directly inspired by 1990s Memphis rap. Mostly found on the SoundCloud platform, this music is characterized by vocals from old Memphis rap tapes and samples from early-1990s hip hop, often incorporating elements of jazz and funk. The genre utilizes techniques such as chopping and screwing to create a darker sound.

Originating in the Southern United States in the 1990s, particularly in Houston and Memphis, early pioneers of this genre include DJ Screw, X-Raided, DJ Spanish Fly, DJ Squeeky, and the collective Three 6 Mafia. In recent years, with the emergence of streaming platforms like SoundCloud, phonk has evolved to include more jazz and classic hip-hop influences.

Phonk gained further popularity through platforms like TikTok and the drift community on social media. "Drift phonk," a subgenre that originated in Russia, features the use of cowbells and deep bass sounds. It is often associated with lo-fi videos showcasing drifting cars. As the popularity of drift phonk grew, the term "phonk" became more closely associated with this subgenre rather than the original genre itself.

What is Phonk Music?

Phonk is a distinct subgenre of hip hop and trap music that draws direct inspiration from the 1990s Memphis rap scene. This unique style of music is primarily found on the SoundCloud platform and is characterized by the use of vocals from old Memphis rap tapes and samples from early-1990s hip hop. Phonk often incorporates elements of jazz and funk, resulting in a fusion of different musical genres. The genre also employs distorting techniques, such as chopping and screwing, to create a darker and more atmospheric sound.

Definition and Description

Phonk music is a subgenre that emerged in the 1990s, primarily in cities like Houston and Memphis. It gained popularity through the contributions of influential artists such as DJ Screw, X-Raided, DJ Spanish Fly, DJ Squeeky, and the collective Three 6 Mafia. These pioneers played a significant role in shaping the early development of the genre. Phonk initially showcased a mix of jazz and classic hip-hop elements, but it has evolved over time, incorporating new influences and attracting a diverse audience.

Influences and Origins

Phonk music finds its roots in the Southern United States, particularly in Houston and Memphis. The genre drew inspiration from the distinct sounds and styles of the local rap scenes in these cities. Artists and producers experimented with different techniques and samples to create a unique sonic experience. The fusion of old Memphis rap vocals, early-1990s hip hop samples, and elements of jazz and funk contributed to the creation of the phonk sound.

Image: Fusion of Old and New

Placeholder for an image depicting the fusion of old Memphis rap and modern influences in phonk music.

The popularity of phonk music has grown in recent years, thanks to platforms like SoundCloud and the influence of social media communities such as TikTok. In particular, the "drift phonk" subgenre emerged in Russia in the late-2010s and gained traction within the drifting and motorsport community. Drift phonk incorporates unique elements like cowbells and high bass, which are often featured in lo-fi videos showcasing drifting cars. This subgenre has further expanded the definition of phonk and attracted a new wave of listeners.

Phonk music continues to evolve and gain recognition within the broader music landscape. Its fusion of different influences, dark atmospheric sound, and emphasis on sampling make it a distinct and captivating subgenre within the hip hop and trap music scenes.

For further information about the influences and origins of phonk music, check out these related websites:

  • Memphis rap: Learn more about the influential Memphis rap scene, which played a crucial role in shaping the phonk genre.
  • Southern hip hop: Discover the rich history and diverse styles of hip hop originating from the Southern United States.
  • Trap music: Explore the origins and characteristics of trap music, which serves as one of the foundational elements of phonk.
  • Chopped and screwed: Gain insights into the distorting technique that is commonly used in phonk music to create a unique and darker sound.

Continue reading the next sections to delve deeper into the different aspects of phonk music and its subgenres.

Characteristics of Phonk Music

Phonk music is a subgenre of hip hop and trap music that draws direct inspiration from 1990s Memphis rap. This unique style of music is primarily found on the SoundCloud platform and is characterized by its use of vocals from old Memphis rap tapes and samples from early-1990s hip hop. Phonk music often combines these elements with jazz and funk influences to create a distinctive sound.

Vocal and Sampling Techniques

Phonk music heavily relies on vocal and sampling techniques to achieve its signature sound. Artists in this genre utilize vocals from vintage Memphis rap tapes, incorporating them into their tracks to capture the raw and gritty essence of the original recordings. By sampling early-1990s hip hop tracks, they infuse their music with a nostalgic vibe, paying homage to the golden era of rap. These vocal and sampling techniques contribute to the distinct character of phonk music, setting it apart from other subgenres of hip hop and trap.

Distorting Techniques

One of the defining characteristics of phonk music is its use of distorting techniques. Artists employ a technique known as "chopped and screwed" to manipulate the tempo and pitch of samples, creating a slowed-down and darkened sound. This technique originated in the Southern United States, particularly in Houston and Memphis, and was popularized by pioneers like DJ Screw and Three 6 Mafia. The distorted and surreal atmosphere created by these techniques adds a layer of intensity and moodiness to phonk music.

Combination of Genres

Phonk music stands out from other subgenres by its combination of various music genres. Apart from the prominent influence of Memphis rap, jazz and funk elements are often incorporated into the tracks, elevating the musical complexity and diversity. These genre fusions result in a dynamic and multi-dimensional sound that captivates listeners and keeps them engaged. The combination of genres in phonk music showcases the artists' creativity and ability to blend different musical styles seamlessly.

Grayscale Photo of House Interior (Photo by Pixabay)

In conclusion, phonk music is characterized by its vocal and sampling techniques, distorting techniques, and fusion of various genres. This subgenre of hip hop and trap music has gained popularity on platforms like SoundCloud, thanks to its unique sound that pays homage to the 1990s while incorporating modern influences. The use of vocal samples from old Memphis rap tapes, along with the inventive distorting techniques and genre combinations, contributes to the distinctiveness and allure of phonk music.

Development and Pioneers

Phonk, an underground style of hip-hop/trap music directly inspired by 90s Memphis rap, has experienced significant development and has been pioneered by influential artists. Let's take a closer look at the evolution of Phonk and the key figures who played a crucial role in its rise.

Early 1990s in the Southern United States

During the early 1990s, in the Southern United States, particularly in Memphis, Tennessee, a unique style of rap music emerged. This era saw the rise of influential groups like Three 6 Mafia and solo artists such as Juicy J, DJ Paul, and Project Pat. The gritty and energetic sound of 90s Memphis rap laid the foundation for what would later become Phonk.

Phonk also draws inspiration from 90s Houston rap, particularly from DJ Screw's innovative chopped and screwed technique. This distinct regional sound heavily influenced the development of Phonk, contributing to its hypnotic and slowed-down aesthetic.

Popularization through SoundCloud and Streaming Platforms

Phonk found its home on SoundCloud, an online platform known for its support of underground and experimental music. Artists like DJ Yung Vamp, Soudiere, and DJ Smokey utilized SoundCloud as a launching pad for their unique style of music.

These pioneers of Phonk crafted their tracks using classic samples, eerie effects, and nostalgic references, creating a sonic landscape that evokes a sense of nostalgia and familiarity. DJ Yung Vamp, in particular, gained recognition for his skillful use of famous acapellas and vintage artwork inspired by The Simpsons.

SoundCloud allowed these artists to build dedicated audiences and connect with like-minded individuals who appreciated the immersive and unconventional nature of Phonk. The platform became a hub for Phonk enthusiasts to discover new tracks, remixes, and mixtapes.

As Phonk gained traction on SoundCloud, it eventually caught the attention of streaming platforms like Spotify. The subgenre experienced rapid growth, with Phonk playlists amassing millions of followers in a short span of time. The popularity surge can be attributed to the genre's unique blend of nostalgia and modern musical elements.

Moreover, the rise of TikTok further propelled the mainstream visibility of Phonk. The hashtag #phonk has accumulated billions of views on the platform, showcasing the creative and viral potential of this distinctive subgenre. Phonk's enduring appeal lies in its ability to fuse classic elements with contemporary musical technology, ensuring its continued relevance and evolution.

In conclusion, the development of Phonk was shaped by the influential sounds of 90s Memphis rap and Houston rap, as well as the emergence of SoundCloud as a platform for artistic experimentation. Pioneers like DJ Yung Vamp, Soudiere, and DJ Smokey paved the way for Phonk's popularity and growth, leading to its integration into mainstream streaming platforms and viral success on TikTok. With its rich heritage and innovative approach, Phonk is poised to continue captivating audiences and evolving in the years to come.

People at Concert (Photo by Vishnu R Nair)

Did you find this section interesting and informative? Let us know!

Subgenres of Phonk Music

Phonk music, with its distinct blend of hip-hop, trap, and chopped and screwed techniques, has given rise to various subgenres that cater to different musical tastes and preferences. Let's explore some of the notable subgenres within the world of Phonk music.

Drift Phonk

Drift Phonk, also known as Death Phonk or Dark Phonk, is a subgenre that emphasizes eerie atmospheres and haunting melodies. It often incorporates horror movie samples, distorted vocals, and heavy basslines to create a sense of darkness and mystery. Drift Phonk artists skillfully infuse their tracks with elements of horror, conjuring up images of abandoned urban landscapes and gloomy nights.

One notable aspect of Drift Phonk is its association with the Memphis rap scene and the musical aesthetics pioneered by artists like DJ Smokey and Soudiere. With its atmospheric soundscapes and brooding energy, Drift Phonk appeals to fans of horror-themed music who appreciate the fusion of trap and dark ambiance.

Other Related Genres

Cloud Rap

Cloud Rap, also referred to as "Screwgaze," is a genre that emerged in the early 2010s. It combines elements of phonk music, trap, and ethereal textures to create a dream-like and atmospheric sound. Cloud Rap often features hazy, slowed-down beats, emotionally charged lyrics, and abstract or introspective themes.

The genre gained popularity through artists like Lil B, Yung Lean, and Clams Casino, who embraced the fusion of trap production and introspective lyrics. Cloud Rap stands out for its ethereal and trance-like vibe, as if floating through a hazy dreamscape. It appeals to listeners who enjoy mellow and introspective music that blurs the boundaries between hip-hop and ambient genres.


Lo-fi, short for "low fidelity," draws influence from the imperfections and nostalgic sound of older recordings. It encompasses a range of genres, including hip-hop, jazz, and electronic music. Lo-fi Phonk, in particular, infuses the gritty aesthetic of lo-fi with the characteristic trap elements of Phonk music.

Characterized by its warm and crackling vinyl sound, Lo-fi Phonk often features dusty samples, filtered drum loops, and soulful melodies. Artists like DJ Smokey, Soudiere, and Eevee have played significant roles in popularizing this subgenre. Lo-fi Phonk appeals to fans of both Phonk and lo-fi music, offering a unique blend of rawness and nostalgic charm.

By exploring subgenres such as Drift Phonk, Cloud Rap, and Lo-fi Phonk, you can dive deeper into the diverse and evolving world of Phonk music. Each subgenre brings its own flavor and atmosphere, expanding the sonic boundaries of this captivating genre.

A Mannequin in Front of Neon Lights Background (Photo by Alena Darmel)

Note: The use of images is highly recommended for better engagement, but actual images can be added during the formatting phase of the article.


In conclusion, phonk music is a unique and vibrant genre that blends elements of hip-hop, Memphis rap, trap, and chopped and screwed music. With its dark and atmospheric beats, catchy hooks, and slowed-down vocals, phonk has gained a dedicated following in recent years. Its distinct sound and nostalgic appeal have made it popular among both old-school hip-hop enthusiasts and a younger generation of music listeners. As an emerging genre, phonk continues to evolve and push boundaries, attracting new artists and fans alike. So, if you're looking for a fresh and captivating musical experience, give phonk music a listen and immerse yourself in its hypnotic rhythms and raw energy.

Related Articles