Phonk, and the Carcasses of A Million Sub-Genres

How streaming services are incorrectly categorizing unique styles of music


Jackson Crocker, Staff Writer

In the early 2000s, OutKast sat at the top of the hit lists with “Hey Ya!,” and a small genre called “Phonk” was just taking shape. Heavily sampled and combined with distorted vocals, Phonk is an extremely unique style of Hip Hop. The genre’s rough and gritty sound drew fans to the closeted style and it quickly gained a cult following. As the genre slowly grew in back alley record labels and soundcloud tracks, a new sub-genre of Phonk emerged, dubbed “Drift Phonk.” Due to its popularity in car drifting compilation videos, this new take on Phonk focused less on the heavily altered vocals and more on cowbell heavy yet upbeat jams.

While the original genre had never found a real mainstream audience, Drift Phonk quickly found its home on the short clip landscape of TikTok.

Drift Phonk’s newfound TikTok fame caught the eye of Spotify whose editorial staff quickly started on a playlist for Phonk. Although the playlist includes some of Phonk’s early pioneers like DJ Screw and DJ Smokey, the more traditional style of Phonk was almost entirely absent from the playlist itself.

The Spotify collection was almost entirely composed of Drift Phonk songs, the description for the playlist on Spotify references this sub-genre calling the list “The beat of your drift.”

Unfortunately this was most people’s first introduction to Phonk, and it forever warped the genre. The Phonk landscape became completely dominated by Drift Phonk, stomping out all other creative takes on the genre and destroying the original sound.

Phonk is not the only victim of this kind of genre generalization, although not all transformations are so drastic. “There are a lot of genres like that, they have evolved and replaced other ones,” said Gus Anderson, a sophomore and Shoegaze fan. Another notable genre, known as Jazz rap has suffered a similar fate, with bands like Digable Planets at the forefront of the genre its popularity slowly died out as its sound warped into that of modern R&B with artists like Frank Ocean.

Some genres like Shoegaze evolved a little less drastically and ended in a similar sound. Shoegaze’s origins lie in bands like Duster, but it quickly evolved into modern Dream Pop when Beach House exploded onto the scene.

These underground genres have all had their landscapes largely taken over by a specific subsect of themselves, or an adjacent genre. In this takeover, many of the unique, diverse sounds coming out of a genre are stifled. Countless hits are lost in the wave of change.

These lost genres usually die out as artists continue to write music catering to what the market demands, completely changing their creative sound. Because of this stagnation, formerly popular genres are lost to time, shrinking to a shadow of their former selves.

Hayden Brinker, a religious Kanye listener, and similar fans, miss these older inactive genres that could potentially become popular with fans like him who haven’t taken time to look back through their favorite genre’s history.

There’s a story behind every genre, a long and winding one, with countless sounds discarded along the way. But, if the original path that paved Phonk is left behind, many things will be lost.

Here are some notable tracks from the genres and artists mentioned in the story, give them a listen:


Duster: inside out

Dream pop:

Beach House: Space Song


DJ Screw: My Mind Went Blank

Drift Phonk:

DVRST: close eyes

Jazz Rap:

Digable planets: Where I’m From


Frank Ocean: Lost