The past few months, there’s been one song that I can’t get out of my head. It’s far from a chart-topping hit that’s haunting every supermarket aisle and every radio station, kicking around in the public consciousness for months after release la Shallow, or Sunflower, or Sucker. It’s this song that I found on Twitter – most likely retweeted onto my timeline by comedian Zack Fox – that tapped directly into the pleasure centres of my brain the second I clicked into the video.
It’s Tisakorean’s Brush My Teeth, a lightning bolt of corny, thematically-loose rhymes (“If I hit the streets I gotta brush my teeth / take a bite because her ass is a peach”) propelled by a minimalist string of keys and a 'lax beat. The song on its own it might just be a catchy underground rap hit but combined with the video of him dancing to the song in the back of a car, all the while looking like the happiest person in the world, it was entirely impossible get out of my head.
if I hit the streets I gotta brush my teeth pic.twitter.com/nnW0B0ndJt
— Tisakorean (@cudyman) September 1, 2018
There’s a sense that this kind of rap stuff is built for and into the platform – too infectious a beat or catchy a lyric for you to just scroll past and forget about. Everything online is fighting for your attention but come across something enough times and it’s hard to forget.
Take Blueface for example. It’s amazing what an arrhythmic delivery and a few gauche, character-defining dance moves can do for your celebrity. At first glance, the Bust Down may be a ridiculous attempt to craft a specific character-tied dance move like BlocBoy JB’s Shoot or even Soulja Boy’s Crank Dat, but when Blueface wets the tips of his respective index and pinkie fingers and smooths back his brows, it’s hard not to be infatuated with his cool demeanour. It moves from off-putting, to meme, to earnest in just a few scrolls.
Tisakorean know this and leans into this approach with comical intent. The Houston rapper/dancer/producer could be written off as an Uzi clone just by scanning his hair, or his ear-to-ear glee, but his music is the opposite – pure ecstasy, as opposed to Uzi’s down-trodden demeanour. If you’ve not caught a glimpse of one of his semi-viral freestyle videos, you’re missing out on an entire genre of spiralling, stream-of-consciousness bars punctuated by eccentric dance moves that seem to just unfold in any location he finds himself in. He shows up somewhere – a playground, a quiet, unsuspecting suburban street – with a line or two in his head, hands his phone to a friend, and then lets the rest of the skit work itself out – and you’ve gotta give props the way he stretches a single prompt into a whole bit. Highlights include the Aeropostale-dressed, gas station jamboree, which shifts serendipitously from dance to brag to a tangent about his wallet falling out of his pocket, coalescing in a battle rap-esque inventory of gas station snacks. The whole time he’s jumping and yelling and freestyling between all the dance moves he’s cultivated as part of his brand – it’s completely ridiculous, sincere and hilarious. He’s like a real-life Casey Frey character, just without the irony.
Tisakorean and Blueface are doing the strangest shit in their raps and I’m finally excited again
— Zachary Fox (@zackfox) October 18, 2018
The improvisational MO of his freestyle dance raps extends itself formally in his music. Tisa’s recently released album, A Guide To Being A Freshman, is top to bottom a kaleidoscope of half-baked rhymes, excessively-looped hooks strung lightly together by a narrative of schooltime crushes and Project X-style parties. It’s mixed all over the place – deafening on album opener LalalaLah (intro), near-silent on highlight Preball & Club Dumb Dawg, and whenever he adlibs his iconic (?) “AYEEE” it’s another shot of adrenaline on an already heart-palpitating tape.
There’s a demand for whatever the hell he’s doing too, a sense that people in the industry know he’s on the cusp of a mainstream hit – among his fans you’ll find artists like Ski Mask The Slump God, Rico Nasty and Tierra Whack, all the way up to potential collabs with Lil Yachty, Chance The Rapper, A$AP Ferg and A$AP Rocky. He’s about six months (and a handful of dance rap freestyles videos) out from a FADER cover.
Charting a parallel, slightly more successful career path, is meme account-turned-rapper Lil Nas X. If you’re at all tapped into Twitter’s music criticism circles, the controversy around Billboard removing Lil Nas X’s breakout, Hot 100-charting track Old Town Road from their country charts has been hard to miss. As a rap-country hybrid, Old Town Road follows the likes of Lil Tracy’s Like A Farmer which reimagines the Wild West through an ironic rap lens, playing up this cowboy image, leaning into these comically Southern accents. They both slap – as throwaway meme songs and as legitimate musical ventures – and with the recent push of the “yeehaw agenda” in popular internet culture, Old Town Road breaking into the Billboard charts is far from surprising. And, although the song’s success can be attributed to an influx of TikTok videos attempting a viral challenge, Lil Nas X has been pushing the song on Twitter since its release last December, pasting it into any cowboy-themed video, disseminating as far and wide as possible. Scroll past it enough times and it’s impossible to forget.
And what do you do when you’ve got all this clout and nowhere to put it? Sign a record deal. Lil Nas X signed to Columbia Records last week, turning his weirdo Twitter account and niche record into a seven-figure deal. It’s an extremely online practice, requiring a lot of faith in the algorithm, but more than anything it’s another testament to the way these social technologies allow just about anyone to walk off the street and chart a Billboard hit. There’s a defining sense of impermanence in this SoundCloud era, and while the virality is a great temporary step towards some kind of online fame, there has to be more behind the curtain. You can meme your way to the top – by rapping off beat, or posting a hundred freestyle videos, or dropping a genre-bending meme song – but just how long can you go viral for?