Though they're based out of San Antonio, Virtual Thugz rep the internet first and foremost, like an arched ab tat of 'Wi-Fi' in gothic font. Or, as frequently depicted on their URLs, an ethernet cable IV'd into the wrist of a user.
Founded by SA musician Ben Benjamin, Virtual Thugz began as an umbrella group for his split artistic identities. "I had multiple ideas for different projects under different names," says Benjamin. "I decided to have Virtual Thugz and all my projects in Virtual Thugz. More like a label for me to have projects under."
Confusing? Perhaps. But broken down into styles, it begins to make sense. Lil Gvcci is the "rap name and persona," engaging in the art of ignorant and cloudy rap. At a recent show at the Bottom Bracket Social Club, Gvcci flexed in a combat vest and mesh Windows 98 tee, flailing his long and elastic limbs. Mic in one hand, iPhone in the other, he cruised through a short and intense set. "Too relevant, internet can't handle it," he pounded into the mic.
Raw and unmastered, Little Tearz is the "indie and vaporwave" project, tapping into the rainy day, sad rap internet aesthetic. In "Forgive Me," his best video yet, Benjamin frames a lo-fi montage of bedroom blues within footage of generic plants. The simultaneous videos create an appealing art-house effect. "It's filler, but it's cool," says Benjamin.
Void is the "dark stuff." In the video for "Lifeless N Emotionless," Benjamin creeps around late at night, his eyes rolled back in his head in the looped VHS footage. "I ain't got no feelings to hurt," he boasts.
Though it began as a collection of Benjamin's works, Virtual Thugz has become an internet collective, with producers from Texas to New Zealand putting on for the VT crew. Though the sounds vary, the Virtual Thugz producers generally traffic in "the more popular styles of music on SoundCloud," says Benjamin. "Underground SoundCloud music."
For the uninitiated, that means genres like cloud rap and vaporwave. It's music that avoids taxonomy, but generally involves non-sequitur rhymes, repurposing of corny new-age tunes, rapid evolution in styles and a whole lot of weed.
Other SA members of Virtual Thugz include Das Names and Yung Allah. On "She Only Want Me 4 My Money," Allah pulls out an image of Bret Easton Ellis bored juvenilia, rhyming in haphazard singsong: "I ain't gonna lie, I don't really care / Was she really cute or did she just have colored hair?" Released in May, Das Names' Sad Antonio leans on old school video games and positive energy through seven weirded-out tracks. "I'm on the run a lot, Crazy Taxi flow," he shouts, as a pitch wheel bends his voice around.
Despite the frequent changes in internet music, Virtual Thugz intend to maintain a step ahead of what Benjamin calls "underground pop," doing so by anticipating trends. "I know that you can become associated with a trend and once that trend is dead people will view it as old," says Benjamin. "I guess that's why some people don't like to be trendy. I personally like it. It's always changing. Trends make it easier for people to identify with stuff."